Charlotte has a new boss. Former Arlington County, Va., manager Ron Carlee was hired last night as Charlotte City Manager, making him the city's most powerful employee.
Charlotte has a weak-mayor form of government, meaning the day-to-day operations of its $1.7 billion budget and 6,800 employees are the city manager's responsibility. Last night, the city council and mayor decided to put an outsider in that job for the first time in more than 30 years.
Mayor Anthony Foxx said Ron Carlee's experience running Arlington County for nine years was a selling point, but so was his more recent time at the International City/County Management Association.
"He's been able to go all around the world and look at some of the greatest cities across the world and look at how some of the greatest cities are run," said Foxx. "And that perspective - from a global Charlotte perspective - we think, will be helpful to us."
The council and mayor voted 11 to 1 (Councilman Patrick Cannon being the one) to hire Carlee as city manager, passing over deputy city manager Ron Kimble and assistant city manager Ruffin Hall.
The job comes with a big pay raise for Carlee. At the International City/County Management Association he made $171,000 in 2011. As Charlotte City Manager Carlee will earn $290,000 in total compensation. The previous city manager, Curt Walton made $260,000 and prided himself on the team he'd assembled. Carlee paid tribute to that team in his welcome remarks.
"There's a real depth and a high degree of professionalism in this organization that I think is second to none," said Carlee. "So I don't see myself coming in to take over this organization. I see myself coming in to facilitate the leadership and talent of those already here and be a part of that team."
That team – for the moment – includes a large staff at the Charlotte Airport, which is a department of the city. Carlee says he does not support the current effort by some state lawmakers to place the airport under control of an independent authority.
"Keeping it as a city agency is the right position, I believe so that you have ultimate accountability," said Carlee.
Mayor Foxx stood off to the side, nodding in agreement with that comment. As he did when Carlee spoke about the value of building streetcars. The mayor is struggling to round up support for his own vision of a 10-mile streetcar running west to east through the center city.
Here's Carlee's take: "Too often streetcars are seen as just an expenditure. Should be seen as an investment. We should be looking for a return on that investment and a catalyst for economic opportunities in the communities it serves."
The streetcar is just one component of a nearly one-billion dollar capital investment plan Carlee's predecessor Curt Walton was pushing until his recent retirement. That plan called for raising the city's property tax rate by 3.6 cents. The city council has been sharply divided on the proposal for a year.
Carlee declined to comment on the size and scope of the plan, saying he'd need to study it further.
"But I expect that will be one of my top priorities unless the interim manager and mayor and council resolve it before I get here - and I will not have my feelings hurt if they do," quipped Carlee as city staff and council members laughed.
They'll have until April 1st to get it worked out before Carlee starts his new job.