Leading his part of the pandemic response in Williamsburg was just part of the job, according to City Manager Andrew Trivette.
Describing himself as “just a guy who works for the city,” Trivette detailed how he and city employees joined forces with William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg to mount a unified response to a massive challenge.
For those efforts and his role in building relationships between W&M and the city, Trivette will receive the 2021 Prentis Award on Oct. 29 in the Wren Building. The university has presented the award since 1980 recognizing those in the Williamsburg community who perform extraordinary service to the community and have a connection to W&M.
“Andrew is an invaluable partner and champion for William & Mary, and an extraordinary servant leader for the City of Williamsburg. He recognizes that our history and future are deeply intertwined. In the long run, success for one benefits all,” said W&M President Katherine A. Rowe. “When faced with the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic, the strong relationships that he helped forge between town and gown proved crucial to our success.
"We relied upon one another and on Colonial Williamsburg as partners in safeguarding the health and wellbeing of all of Williamsburg’s citizens. We knew the campus community and our neighbors were all in it together. And we knew we could count on each other. William & Mary is thrilled to be able to honor our city manager – and through him, the whole of the city’s organization that has been such staunch partners for this university.”
In his five years working in Williamsburg, Trivette went from assistant city manager to interim status before becoming city manager in 2018. He was soon called on to manage the city’s pandemic response when COVID-19 arrived in the U.S. in early 2020.
“Andrew reached out early on to see how the city could help W&M get access to vaccines,” said W&M Chief Operating Officer and COVID-19 Director Amy Sebring. “At a time when the nation was struggling to get such access, Andrew leveraged his team’s expertise to provide us with vaccination appointments, expecting nothing in return from W&M other than improved public health in the region.
“He worked nights, weekends and holidays to make sure we all had the opportunity to benefit. I am beyond grateful and could not imagine a better recipient for this award.”
When Trivette found out he was receiving the Prentis Award, he said he was quite surprised. When asked what he does, his answer is always that he works for the city.
“I never lead with my rank in the organization because I really just think of myself as yet another city employee,” Trivette said. “I consider all of us to be colleagues. And so to be singled out to receive an award based on leadership activities is not something I’m accustomed to.
“And so my initial reaction was to tell President Rowe, ‘You’re sure?’ And she said: ‘Yes, and here’s why.’ And I said, ‘Well, I was just doing my job.’ Because I really think that is the job. My job is to protect and lead this community as best I can, along with 217 colleagues.”
Path to Williamsburg
Trivette benefits today from training that started when he was an intern in Albemarle County’s planning department while a student at the University of Virginia. He planned to work in his major — environmental science — but interning as a geographic information systems technician allowed him to work with a lot of different county departments.
“The thing that I was struck by almost immediately was how varied the responsibilities of local government are,” Trivette said. “So that really appealed to me because one of the things I tell every employer that I have is I don’t like to get bored.
“And so that appealed to me because it seemed really difficult; you would have to work really hard to get bored in local government because there’s always some new challenge, some new thing to focus on, an opportunity to move into a new position that can keep you excited about what you do. And of course there’s the overarching mission of public service and improving the community you live in.”
Trivette worked his way up in local governments in Monroe County, Florida, and Bristol, Virginia, before coming to Williamsburg. One of his focuses is on organizational culture and making the workplace as good as it can be, he said.
Keeping city services at the level they’ve been built to and improving on that has also been at the forefront. Jack Tuttle, former city manager and previous winner of the Prentis Award, set a standard of excellence that others coming behind have a responsibility to honor and maintain, Trivette said.
“When I got the chance to be the city manager, that continued to be my mantra: We need to continue on the path that the former city managers have set us on — building on a culture of innovation and striving for the next level of public service in government,” Trivette said.
Seeing that big-picture planning hadn’t been done in decades, Trivette guided City Council into a strategic planning process to define a new vision and goal set. That became the plan for Williamsburg in 2040, he said.
“I came to Williamsburg because of what Williamsburg has been, and I’m staying in Williamsburg because of what Williamsburg is going to be,” Trivette said. “And for me that’s a really exciting and proud moment.”
An essential relationship
Williamsburg’s small size makes the relationship between city government, William & Mary and Colonial Williamsburg “essential,” Trivette said. Rowe, himself and CW President Cliff Fleet ’91, M.A. '93, J.D. '95, MBA '95 realize they are all leading collectively.
Their unity was evident last year as the three entities mobilized quickly to address the pandemic as it became clear that COVID-19 would affect the entire world. Trivette said a phone call with Rowe before the virus had reached Virginia prompted officials to begin meeting on a regional level to plan for possible scenarios.
“It was those early meetings that really inspired us to start thinking and being prepared so that when fast action was required, we were ready,” Trivette said. “I think conversations like that with President Rowe and President Fleet helped mature our working relationship in a way that without COVID maybe we wouldn’t have.”
He recalled that the three leaders being able to talk about how their organizations would meet their missions even under those circumstances highlighted their special and unique closeness. Relatively new to each of their positions, they were starting with a clean slate.
“I think that that level of partnership is really what brought Williamsburg through the pandemic with the success that we were able to,” Trivette said.
Trivette is also working to increase opportunities for W&M’s intellectual community to benefit the city. Currently student interns work for the city during the summer, and this past summer another student made a report on designing the planned African-American heritage trail that will be used to springboard the city’s internal design process.
Another group of people Trivette values are W&M employees who live in the city. His wife, Ali, works as events and conferences coordinator at W&M Law School.
“William & Mary has been very rewarding for her, so I’ve become part of the William & Mary family through her,” he said. “I have an appreciation for all of the city residents who work at William & Mary. We have an improved community because of their service to William & Mary.”
Trivette’s own place in the community serves as his guide.
“I’m a guy who enjoys working for the city toward that common purpose, which is what we, the community, want Williamsburg to be,” he said.