New city manager mulls changes for Raleigh government

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 31, 2014 

  • Strategic planning

    The final day of the Raleigh City Council’s retreat focused on launching a strategic plan for the city’s future needs and priorities.

    After much discussion of word choice and where to focus, the council agreed on six categories that the plan will tackle: safe, vibrant and healthy community; transportation and transit; economic development and innovation; arts and cultural resources; organizational excellence; and growth and natural resources.

— After two months on the job, new Raleigh City Manager Ruffin Hall sees a need to modernize government, from employee pay to street paving.

Hall shared his first impressions with the City Council during its two-day retreat, which wrapped up Friday. He said Raleigh now has its manager heavily engaged in day-to-day operations and that the job’s 14 direct reports are a high number compared to similar cities.

“I am spending a tremendous amount of my allocated time reviewing and approving operational items,” he said. “The span of control is very wide.”

Hall’s predecessor – Russell Allen, who was fired last April – was known for a down-in-the-weeds style of management that saw him working frequent evenings and weekends. In other large cities such as Charlotte, the city manager has up to four assistant managers, each charged with seeing a portfolio of city departments.

Hall said it’s too soon to say whether he’ll reorganize the manager’s office and delegate more of the “operational items.”

On the physical side of city government, Hall thinks Raleigh should consider the future of its downtown properties – namely the vacant police headquarters on McDowell Street and the One Exchange Plaza building on Fayetteville Street. The former police building was the site of the proposed Lightner Public Safety Center, a project that was scrapped in favor of smaller public safety facilities outside downtown.

Both the police building and Exchange Plaza sit on prime pieces of real estate.

Hall also voiced concerns about the city’s streets. Raleigh has a long backlog of roads overdue for paving, partly because of funding cuts at the state level. “Our funding level and street conditions are going down,” he said. “That’s one of the bread-and-butter items, and there are some trends that we’re going to have to deal with.”

Councilman John Odom noted that the topic is particularly timely after the snowstorm. “It just got worse over the past few days,” he said.

Hall also wants to reconsider how Raleigh City Council meetings work. He suggested holding work sessions where council members can gather information, saving the formal vote for a business meeting. “In some of those circumstances, there would be value in staff bringing forward an item in work session and getting feedback, so the first time you see it isn’t when you’re going to vote on it,” he said.

Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said she’d also like to revisit the council’s committee structure, where five committees within the council meet monthly to review complex issues. “None of that has changed in 20 years,” she said. “Are we using our time wisely?”

Overall though, Hall said he’s found the city in good shape. “I think our financial position is pretty solid so far,” he said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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