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New Petersburg COO is excited and confident about fixing problems in her hometown

Posted at 1:12 AM, Mar 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-05 01:12:02-05

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Dironna Moore Belton, 38, is a local, and definitely in the hot-seat. Some might say she's walking into a buzzsaw.

Certainly, all of this historic and somewhat famously dysfunctional city - along with much of Central Virginia - will be watching carefully to see if she can whip Petersburg into shape.

But she's not the least bit daunted.

"I'm excited," she said happily. "It's a wonderful opportunity."

She'll be the interim Chief Operating Officer and filling in for the fired city manager. She will be on the hook for the day-to-day operations and services, some of which have crumbled in recent months or haven't been exactly solid in a long time.

Belton grew up here, attending the schools, marching in the band, working at a pharmacy and learning the habit of hard work (along with hog-slaughtering) on the family farm.

But she graduated from Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University for this kind of work. And she previously managed programs and policies for Tennessee's transportation department, then Virginia's.

She came to Petersburg to solve its transit problems.

"When I went over to transit," she said, "I think it was 34 days of 16-hour nights, literally straight, before the problem was fixed."

Dironna Belton

Dironna Belton

She and her family expect more of the same - much more.

Belton said she has five bags of city problems and issues she's bringing home for the weekend. She's already met with city department heads, talking with them about their issues, so they can start consolidating, discussing and problem-solving.

And that's going to be the emphasis, she said: solving problems and not just talking about them.

Belton pledges to be hands-on. "The next set of water bills - whether estimated or actual . . . I will touch every single one of them."

The foundation of the course she'll be setting will be based on two words:

"Ethically driven . . . Be true to your word, and honest. And try to explain things while explaining the truth."

She believes once problems get solved - and she has no doubt about that happening - confidence will surge. Then her other plans for elevating this city that already has a buzz about it will take root and bloom.

Belton said ever since her sixth-grade civics class, she wanted to run a city. She and her "super nerd" friends had it all mapped out.

And now it's happening. Right here in her home, and in a way that everyone can see what she's doing.

"These people are my friends," she said, her eyes filling with tears. "They're my cousins, they're my mom and my grandma. And I'm not one to just talk about something. Somebody has to do something and I'm just truly blessed that I've been allowed the opportunity . . . We have to do better. There's no other way for us to go but up."