Q&A: Eden Ratliff, Township Manager for Kennett Township
● By J. Chambless
Eden Ratliff was officially named Kennett Township’s new Manager in late September. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)
Q.: You came on board on
Sept. 23, at a time of great transition in Kennett Township. What steps have
you taken to help fully immerse yourself in the business of the township?
A.: That process is still ongoing and it’s something I am really enjoying, and in a lot of ways is my favorite part about this career. It's getting to know the community and throwing myself into it. My approach may be different than others', but I want to talk to anyone who wants to talk to me – whether they're involved in local government or paying attention to it, or if there are simply a township resident.
That's what I've done over the past month, and that's what I will continue to do. I began getting to know the staff and the Board of Supervisors, and I've continued with members of this community. Each time, I ask the same question: “What is one thing you absolutely want to make sure that I know about Kennett Township?”
Everyone has answered the question differently, and I have gotten as many different answers as people I have spoken to. I come to the Township Building every morning, and my calendar is filled with meetings with township residents and board members of local non-profit organizations, and they allow me to learn things about the township that may have taken more time to learn, had I not asked to meet them, and allow them to get to know me.
You had served as borough manager and chief administrative official of the Borough of Greencastle in Franklin County, Pa. What intrigued you about the position of Kennett Township Manager?
I wasn't looking to leave Greencastle. It's a wonderful town with great people in it. I had a great team and a great board that I worked for. There was no reason on paper for me to leave other than the fact that Gabrielle and I are both originally from Chester County, and that Kennett Township needed a new Township Manager.
When I first learned an amazing community like Kennett Township needed a manager, I thought that it would be too good to be true. Gabrielle talked about it over the summer, and I thought that this was an amazing opportunity and I don't know what they're looking for, but I will throw my resume in, and see what happens.
Gabrielle and I made a lot of visits to Kennett Township, and every time we came here, it became more and more clear – that this is a great place to be. I am lucky to be the Kennett Township Manager.
A key component of an effective township manager is to provide accurate and timely information to the residents, such as weather emergencies, policy changes and breaking news. Talk about the importance of communication in your job, and how you plan to use tools to help you communicate with the residents you serve.
I think it's incredibly important for any government to have an informed population who feels as though they are a part of the decision-making process and can influence their government. That is critical, and unfortunately, I think that is missing in a lot of local governments. I've built my career on engaging and informing the public to play a role in the decision-making process of their government.
One of the things I'm looking forward to implementing is to teach everyone who is not directly involved in our government – but certainly impacted by it -- to understand our complex web of how Kennett Township works. Whether it's committees or departments, we're going to come up with a model that works for Kennett Township.
I also want to make sure that the Kennett Township residents know that I am accessible and available to them – that I want them to engage me and I want to engage them. I want them to know that the dialogue is open to them.
There is not one municipality whose approach to management exactly overlaps anothers'. In what ways does Kennett Township's management differ from the Borough of Greencastle?
Kennett Township is larger, has more development, and is a community that is in transition. We once were and in some ways still are a rural farming community, and that's really important and we need to hold on to that. However, we are growing and developing to become a more urban community, especially in the ring around Kennett Borough.
There are some in our community who are embracing this, and others who are more hesitant. That's a bit different than some of the boroughs I have worked in who are more regulated, but while those are the differences, I also look at them as opportunities, and I look forward to engaging or residents in determining what we want our community to look like in 20 years, and to ask, 'What do we need to be doing now from a planning and municipal management perspective, to properly manage that growth?'
In what ways are the municipalities the same?
Just like in Greencastle, there are great people here who want to influence and want to be involved. I continue to be impressed by the intricate web of committees and task forces and volunteers who are highly motivated, highly educated and highly curious about their government, and want to influence our process.
There are communities that would do anything for that web of people to help influence their own community's process. I am very excited to engage with them as we continue to plan our community over the next several years.
While you and Gabrielle are not new to Chester County, you are new to Kennett Township. Have you both determined any favorite spots in the township or the Kennett Borough?
I have been going to Longwood Gardens since I was a little kid, when my grandmother would take me, my two brothers and my two cousins there for Christmas. Gabby and I love to go to Anson B. Nixon Park, we both enjoy the Kennett Creamery, and the trail network has been great for walking our dog, Otis! I say every morning and night as I either arrive or leave work, “It was a beautiful day in Kennett Township.”
You throw a dinner party, and you can invite whomever you wish. Who do you want to see around that table?
I would love for one more time to have dinner with my wife, my two brothers, my two cousins and my niece, as well as my mother, who is still alive, and my aunt, who passed away five years ago. I miss my aunt very much, and I know that she would be very happy but not surprised to see what's changed over the last five years, and where we all are in our lives.
The spirit that my aunt had and the joy that she put into all of our lives has been something that's been unmatched. I also know that she would have loved to meet Gabrielle, and Gabrielle would have loved to meet her.
What food or items can always be found in the Ratliff refrigerator?
It would have to be cheese. Gabby cooks with a lot of cheese. She puts it on a lot of sandwiches, and she puts it over a pork casserole we have often.
– Richard L. Gaw