City welcomes new manager Ron Carlee amid challenges

Capital plan, streetcar project, airport and Panthers still on city's agenda

by Matt Comer  Editor  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: April 9, 2013 in News

Originally published: April 9, 2013, 8:03 a.m.
Updated: April 9, 2013, 7:17 p.m.

Ron Carlee, at podium, speaks at a reception hosted by Mayor Anthony Foxx, left, and members of City Council, including John Autry, center, and David Howard, at right. File Photo.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mayor Anthony Foxx and members of City Council gathered with community members and city employees on Tuesday afternoon at a reception welcoming new City Manager Ron Carlee to his post.

“We were drawn really quickly to Ron Carlee,” Foxx said, praising Carlee’s decades of experience as he introduced him to those gathered. “We are very, very proud tonight to introduce Ron Carlee to the community.”

As city manager, Carlee will oversee the day-to-day operations of city government. He works closely with City Council to implement programs and policies.

“The staff in this city is truly second to none,” Carlee said at the reception. “Everybody’s truly first class.”

Carlee thanked several groups gathered for the reception, including neighborhood leaders.

“Neighborhood leadership is so important — that grassroots leadership,” Carlee said. “That you would take time out of your schedule to come and be a part of this means a lot to me.”

Carlee also thanked community non-profits and the business community.

“Non-profits can do things that other people can’t do because of the grassroots and volunteer support they bring to the table,” Carlee said. “I do not want to be remiss to acknowledge the people for whom this city is really recognized and that is the business community. This is seen as a community that is open for business and does business right.”

Carlee was hired as the city’s 11th city manager in February. He began work on April 1. He replaces longtime city employee Curt Walton, who served as city manager from 2007 until his retirement in December. In his time in leadership, Walton had a significant hand in several LGBT inclusion efforts. In 2010, he expanded workplace protections on the basis of sexual orientation. Before his retirement, he added protections for gender identity. Walton also included domestic partner benefits for city employees in the city budget approved last June.

Carlee served as the Arlington County, Va., manager from 2001 to 2009 and then worked for the International City/County Management Association.

Openly gay Arlington County Board Vice Chair Jay Fissette told qnotes in March that Carlee is an ally and friend on several progressive issues, including LGBT inclusion and immigrant rights.

“You guys are really fortunate. Ron is fabulous. He’s an outstanding public servant,” Fissette said. “It sounds like your council is at a place where they are really ready to keep building on the progress they’ve been making.”

City faces challenges ahead

Carlee comes to Charlotte as the city faces a multitude of important fiscal and governance issues, including a pending Capital Improvement Plan, possible city funding for Charlotte Panthers stadium upgrades and a potential transfer of ownership of the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport from the city to a regional authority.

Carlee is expected to give his budget recommendations in May. He told The Charlotte Observer this afternoon that he may consider separating a controversial streetcar project from the pending Capital Improvement Plan, which could invest nearly $1 billion in future growth and infrastructure projects in long-neglected areas of the city.

The streetcar project from Presbyterian Hospital in Elizabeth to Johnson C. Smith University west of Uptown has been a key stumbling block in deliberations on the plan.

Carlee is a supporter of streetcars. He says they can create economic development, a position Mayor Foxx has cited in his outspoken support for the $119 million East-West transit project. Carlee, however, wants to study the possible economic impact of the new streetcar line and isn’t sure he’ll have enough time to complete it before he presents his budget.

“I may not be able to complete my streetcar analysis,” Carlee told the daily newspaper. “It’s a complicated project, and there are a lot of pieces in play.”

The Capital Improvement Plan has been repeatedly postponed by City Council, after it was originally and unexpectedly voted down in June, a move former City Manager Curt Walton later criticized shortly before his retirement.

Foxx said on Tuesday that he expects some form of the capital plan to pass. He told qnotes that City Council has had plenty of time to debate the budget.

“I can’t imagine more meetings on one issue than the City Council has had on the budget,” Foxx said, noting Council’s three retreats on the topic last fall and two more this spring. “If folks haven’t bought into things, I would hope they would just say no to those things.”

Related Stories:
Charlotte council approves domestic partner benefits, scraps capital plan, June 26, 2012
New city manager will face challenges, opportunities for growth, March 1, 2013
Walton: Change slow, but times changed, March 1, 2013