Russell Allen’s legacy

April 17, 2013 

When the Raleigh City Council of 12 years ago hired the veteran city manager of Rock Hill, S.C., to do likewise in the Capital City, they were cautioned that while Russell Allen was a good manager, they’d have to order him to take vacation from time to time, because he worked too hard.

Allen, 61, did indeed put in long hours for the city in and out of his office, and seemed possessed of endless energy. He also over this past dozen years did some good hiring in the areas of public safety and planning. As a result, Raleigh is a well-run city, efficient in delivery of services and responsive to citizens complaining about everything from trash pickup to property taxes. And downtown has blossomed in Allen’s tenure.

So why has the council fired this veteran manager? Not much has been said thus far, but Allen apparently was seen by some council members as unwilling to embrace change or new ideas, and perhaps as not the best choice to lead the city government in a place that has grown so much in the last decade. It’s likely as well that there’s just a little weariness here between some council members and the manager, a hazard in Raleigh’s form of government, which rightly gives the manager great authority to insulate staff from politics.

The problem is, divergent opinions on the part of council members, and this council isn’t lacking in opinions, eventually can put the manager, any manager, in an awkward position. Thus, a city manager has to try to keep council members feeling like their input is respected, and to help them get along with each other, all the while running the city. Russell Allen did that very well for what was, in the city manager field, a long tenure.

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