By Steve Harrison, The Charlotte Observer
A little more than a year into his tenure as Charlotte’s city manager, Marcus Jones has made significant changes among the city’s highest-paid staff, moving some long-time leaders into lesser roles or retirement.
City Council has approved of Jones’ performance, and gave him a 6 percent pay raise in November. But there is concern among some officials that Jones is relying too heavily on colleagues he brought from his previous job in Norfolk, Va., while long-time city employees are out of loop.
The most recent move came last month when Jones shifted Pat Mumford, who headed Neighborhood & Business Services for nine years, into a new position, executive strategic leader, where he will “help strengthen our organization for future challenges and opportunities,” according to the city.
Mumford oversaw the city’s economic development efforts, including efforts to redevelop the Eastland Mall. Since buying the mall in 2012, the city hasn’t been able to attract new development to the site, except for a planned new middle school.
Jones pushed out Jon Hannan as fire chief last summer, soon after a jury found the Fire Department and the city retaliated against a former fire investigator. The city ended up paying $1.14 million in damages and attorney’s fees to settle. Jones hasn’t yet named a replacement.
Since Jones came to Charlotte from Norfolk, Va., in December 2016, the city has a new head of Charlotte Water; a new leader of the transportation department; a new head of engineering and property management; and a new human resources director. Other top officials have retired or been moved into positions with less responsibility.
As Jones has remade the city staff, he has increasingly worked closely with two hires from Norfolk.
At the start of Jones’ tenure in December 2016, longtime deputy city manager Rom Kimble retired. Kimble – who specialized in economic development – still works for the city as a consultant.
To replace Kimble, Jones hired his deputy in Norfolk, Sabrina Joy-Hogg. Jones also created a new position, a marketing manager, and hired another Norfolk colleague, Brent Kelly.
As Jones has settled into his role, he has increasingly relied on Joy-Hogg and Kelly.
When the City Council gave Jones a 6 percent raise in November, former council member Patsy Kinsey was the sole no vote.
“I wasn’t comfortable with the direction that the city was headed,” said Kinsey, who lost her re-election bid to Larken Eggleston. “There seemed a disconnect between management and department heads.”
Kinsey, who was a council member for 13 years, said she felt it was much harder to get information from Jones’ office.
Last year, under Jones, the city conducted an audit that suggested City Council could run more efficiently if the city manager were given more leeway to award more city contracts without council authorization – similar to how things were run in Norfolk.
Today, all contracts over $100,000 must be approved by council. The audit suggested raising that threshold to $500,000. Council members were scheduled to discuss the issue at their retreat in Durham last week but ran out of time.
The previous city manager, Ron Carlee, hired in 2013, was the city’s first outside manager since 1981. He also made changes to city staff, and council members became alarmed at the discontent among high-ranking officials. The critical moment for Carlee came when former police chief Rodney Monroe announced he was retiring in 2015. That led to Carlee’s departure in the summer of 2016.
Jones, whose salary is $318,000, rarely gives interviews. He declined to speak to the Observer about this story.
During council meetings, Jones usually articulates his vision by saying he wants Charlotte to become what he calls a “Winning City.” The idea of being a winning city came from the Southeast Institute of Research, which focuses on what millennials want in a place to live and work. Among the aspects of being a winning city include having a “positive buzz,” “affordable spaces” and a “shared story.”
Council member Ed Driggs, who voted for Jones’ pay increase, said he has been pleased with the manager.
“Apparently they did some things differently in Norfolk, and they are trying to do them this way in Charlotte, and that represents a change,” he said.
Mayor Vi Lyles said she isn’t worried that longtime Charlotte employees will feel isolated if they didn’t work with Jones in Virginia. She mentioned Debra Campbell, a longtime employee who remains as assistant city manager under Jones.
“Debra Campbell will not be out of the loop at any time,” Lyles said.
Since Jones’ November review, five new members were sworn into City Council after the fall elections.
Some city departments have stayed intact. Jones has made no changes to management at the airport or the Charlotte Area Transit System. Kerr Putney is still the police chief.
And some people who have left have been replaced by internal hires from the city, including the new head of engineering and property management, Mike Davis.