CINCINNATI – Incoming Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black has a hefty to-do list to tackle as he prepares for his September start date.
After months of having someone temporarily handling the day-to-day operations of the city, council approved Black, 51, for the position on Wednesday.
Black hails from Baltimore, where he's been that city's financial director since 2012. On Sept. 8, he’ll become Cincinnati’s 15th city manager.
In accepting the position, Black made a pledge to Cincinnati on Wednesday.
"I promise you will be proud of all the things we do and even prouder of how we do those things," he said.
Following council's approval, Black said his short term to-do includes “paying attention to the workforce” and creating an office of Performance and Data Analytics by the end of this fiscal year.
“We’re going to be asking the workforce to do more, to do things in a different way and at the same time we have to take care of the work force,” Black said. “Everything we do will be results-oriented, outcome oriented. We will develop and ability to track, monitor and measure everything we do. Therefore, performance is critical.”
Also important -- leadership, he added.
Several top city departments, including finance and economic development, have interim directors.
“I want to deal with that as quickly as possible in terms of appointing permanent directors and stabilizing that part of our government,” Black said.
Also on top of his list: Bringing more, new jobs to the city.
“Clearly, what will be critical is to continue to build on the economic development momentum - i.e. jobs,” said Black. “Obviously attracting new jobs, but then also working with the team to identify an initiative that will be of an internal, organic job-creation nature.”
Black received unanimous support from council with a vote of 8-0 Wednesday. Councilman Chris Smitherman was absent.
“I’m proud to have selected Harry,” Mayor John Cranley said Wednesday. “The more time I spend with Mr. Black, the more excited I am about this decision.”
Still, Black’s approval included skeptics among council.
Before the vote, Councilman Chris Seelbach questioned how prepared Black is to craft new ways to grow the city’s economy while tackling the hefty challenges ahead including the looming budget woes and pending pension litigation.
When pressed on those and other issues in recent days, Black failed to share specifics, Seelbach said.
“I’m not 100 percent convinced that you are the best person for the job,” Seelbach told Black on Wednesday. “I think we have to be willing to make hard, visionary-type decisions….I hope you take my skeptical yes vote, and use it as energy for your underdog persona.”
Vice Mayor David Mann said before Black's full approval hearing he thought the new city manager's experience outside of Cincinnati would help him take on the city’s finances in a unique way.
“He takes up his responsibilities without any pre-existing relationship,” Mann said. “Sometimes, when you come in from outside, you can do things that you can't do if you come up through the organization."
In his new role, Black will be paid $240,000 in his first year.
Other than his time in Baltimore, Black has served as:
- Executive Vice President & COO at Global Commerce Solutions, Inc.
- Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CFO) for the City of Richmond, Virginia
- Vice President and Program Manager at McKissack & McKissack
- Deputy Chief Procurement Officer and Director of Budget and Finance for the District of Columbia Government
- Assistant Director of Fiscal Management and Investments at New York State Insurance Fund
- Assistant Director of Special Projects at the City of New York Mayor's Office of Contracts
Black said he’s a family man, and is married with two children. Growing up in the Lower Park Heights neighborhood of Baltimore, he said he became well acquainted with obstacles.
"Our neighborhood was pretty tough," he said. "It had everything you’d expect in a hardcore, inner-city area. My brothers and I would take turns walking (our mom) to work."
In his position as Baltimore’s finance director, Black has safeguarded the city’s fiscal integrity, overseeing a $3.3 billion all-funds budget, Cranley’s office said.
Baltimore has 620,000 residents and a 15,000 member municipal workforce. It is the 26th largest city in the United States.
During Black’s tenure in July, Standard & Poor’s raised Baltimore's bond rating to AA, up from AA-minus. The agency also raised the city's appropriation-backed debt rating to AA-minus, up from A-plus.
Among the factors S&P cited for the improved ratings was a 10-year financial plan crafted and implemented by Black’s office.
But he’s not a man without controversy.
As Richmond, Virginia’s CFO between 2003 and 2007, Black was called the mayor’s “pit bull,” The Baltimore Brew reports.
The daily online news outlet says Black caught the attention of the public and press after Richmond’s mayor wanted to force the city school board to accept an outside audit of its finances. Black then withheld half of the board’s non-payroll funds and tried to evict them from their offices, the website reports.
Cranley called The Baltimore Brew's report "silly," saying, "This was a blog... and (Black's colleagues) say that he’s a very sensitive person who is open and transparent."
According to Cranley, Black has long-term plans to stay in Cincinnati.
"I promised my daughter, who is 12 (years old), that good, bad or indifferent, she will graduate high school here," Black told the mayor.
Black isn't Cranley's first nomination for city manager.
Former city manager, Milton Dohoney Jr. resigned from the position in November 2013 before Cranley took office. Cranley then nominated Cincinnati Parks Director Willie Carden Jr.
But just nine days after his nomination was announced, Carden withdrew his name from consideration.
Since December, long-time Cincinnati employee Scott Stiles has acted as interim city manager and had applied for the top role.
On Wednesday, Stiles says he plans to stay in Cincinnati – taking on his former role as assistant city manager.
“My old position is still vacant,” he said. “I think my role will be to help (Black) transition like any good assistant city manager would do.”