After two months on the job, new Raleigh City Manager Ruffin Hall has a few ideas for reorganizing and modernizing city government.
Hall shared his impressions with the city council Thursday during its two-day retreat, stressing that any changes need more review. He said Raleigh currently has its manager heavily engaged in day-to-day operations, and the job’s 14 direct reports is a high number compared to similar cities.
“The city manager role in Raleigh is highly operational and transactional in its orientation,” he said. “I am spending a tremendous amount of my allocated time reviewing and approving operational items. 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. And other large cities like Charlotte, the city manager has up to four assistant managers each charged with overseeing a portfolio of city operations. Hall’s says it’s too soon to say whether he’ll reorganize the manager’s office or delegate more of the “operational items.”
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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.
“We need to re-address the building facilities downtown with an eye toward leveraging economic development,” Hall said.
Hall also voiced concerns about the city’s streets. Raleigh has a long backlog of streets overdue for paving, partly due to 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.
On the personnel end of the budget, Hall thinks it’s time for an update in how Raleigh sets employee pay and conducts annual evaluations, though he didn’t provide specifics. “There are a lot more options,” he said. “Our current compensation structure is outdated.”
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.