“I’m the guy who either has the answer or knows the person who has the answer. That’s my role — to figure stuff out and get it done,” said Steve Ostaseski, the city’s new long-term recovery manager.
Creating and funding such a position was listed as a high priority in the community recovery plan adopted in December 2011.
The reason given was the strain that the demands of recovery placed on the small staff running the day-to-day affairs of the city.
The plan states that a disaster recovery manager would be responsible for budgeting, project management and grant coordination. He or she would also be expected to be familiar with the process of planning, designing and construction of building and infrastructure.
Ostaseski has an extensive background in community planning, including more than a decade spent at the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham.
Mayor Drew Gilbert said that once funds became available through the Walker Area Community Foundation, hiring Ostaseski was an easy choice.
“His track record, energy, connections, and his skill set were exactly what this city needed at this point,” Gilbert said.
Ostaseski’s ties to Cordova date back to 2003. He was part of the team from RPCGB that assisted the city in developing a comprehensive revitalization plan as well as the current zoning ordinance.
“Starting to run out of energy. Just scratching to get along. Facing a lot of challenges, but good folks willing to look forward,” Ostaseski said of his first impressions of Cordova.
Ten years later, Ostaseski has been tasked with helping the city recover from not only tornadoes but decades of decay.
Demolition is the first project that he will be overseeing.
During his first weeks on the job, Ostaseski helped develop a grading system that was used in evaluating bidders for demo.
He was also responsible for investigating concerns raised about compacting the downtown lots.
Ostaseski determined that the federal money the city is receiving can only be used for demolition, not site preparation.
Ostaseski took to heart some advice given to him years ago by mentor George Ray at the Alabama Department of Transportation.
“George said, ‘Read the rules because nobody else does. You’ll have a leg up,’” Ostaseski said.
Ostaseski spent part of last week reading the rules regarding millions of dollars in additional disaster recovery funding the city is pursuing.
Ostaseski sees great potential for Cordova as a commuter community.
He wants to put the city in a position to appeal to locals and outsiders alike with outdoor recreation, affordable housing and a bustling business district.
Ostaseski also believes it can all be done without jeopardizing the small town charm that residents praised during a community meeting in the summer of 2011.
Ostaseski’s role in the process will be managing the daily details of recovery. It is a job he has been equipping himself for throughout his professional career.
“This is everything that I’ve been doing my whole life — reading those rules, writing those rules, practicing this stuff. And here’s a canvas with the most willing population I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with that just wants to rebuild their city,” Ostaseski said.