Charlotte offers city manager job to Ron Carlee

Ron Carlee


by STEVE HARRISON & APRIL BETHEA / Charlotte Observer

Posted on February 22, 2013 at 2:06 PM

Updated Sunday, Nov 3 at 2:41 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Charlotte City Council has offered the city manager job to Ron Carlee, the former county manager of Arlington, Va., two council members told the Observer.

If Carlee accepts the job, as expected, he would be the first outside hire for Charlotte’s top job since Wendell White in 1981.

After council members met for more than three hours in closed session Wednesday night, Carlee was offered the job. He has been negotiating with the city over his contract since Thursday.

The city plans to announce its new manager Monday.

Carlee was manager of Arlington County, Va. from 2001 to 2009 and is currently the chief operating officer of the International City/County Management Association.

City Council members and Mayor Anthony Foxx chose Carlee over two internal candidates who were finalists: Deputy City Manager Ron Kimble and Assistant City Manager Ruffin Hall.

Some council members pushed for the city to hire from the inside. But Monday’s vote is expected to be unanimous, according to two council members.

Carlee, 59, would come to the city at a critical time.

Some city officials believe Democrat-controlled Charlotte is under attack from the Republican-controlled General Assembly in Raleigh, which is considering a bill to remove control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city to an independent authority.

In addition, Foxx has feuded with Republican Gov. Pat McCrory over transit funding. McCrory has told the city that it could lose funding for the Lynx Blue Line Extension if it builds a streetcar line with property taxes. McCrory opposes the city’s plan to build the streetcar.

During interviews, council members were impressed by Carlee’s experience running a large urban/suburban county. He is a supporter of streetcars, saying they can bolster economic development. And he has experience dealing with authorities that run airports. Both of Washington, D.C.’s major airports are run by an authority.

Carlee would replace Curt Walton, who retired in December after five years as manager.

Hall, 43, has been an assistant manager since 2012. He was previously budget director.

Kimble, 59, holds the city No. 2 job as deputy. He is in charge of economic development and was worked on a number of high-profile projects such as the NASCAR Hall of Fame and is the city’s point person in negotiations with the Carolina Panthers over renovations to Bank of America Stadium.

Carlee said he learned of the Charlotte job last fall from a former city manager in Texas who works for a search firm that was bidding to help recruit for the local position. Carlee said that while he had been “wistful” at times about rejoining the public sector, he enjoyed his work at the ICMA and wasn’t actively looking for another job.

But then he read the criteria that Charlotte leaders were looking for in the new city manager.

“If I was going to be writing a profile for myself, it would be that profile,” Carlee said in an interview Wednesday. He heard similar things from two people he asked to serve as his references.

Carlee began his career as an assistant to the mayor in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

He moved to Arlington County in 1980 where he held multiple positions within the organization, including serving as director of parks and recreation and leading the human services department for 13 years. He became county manager in 2001.

As the top executive in the combined city and county government, Carlee oversaw a wide array of projects. He promoted Arlington’s transit program, including expanding bus service and ensuring the vehicles ran on clean, natural gas. He also help lead a multi-year effort to look at ways to revitalize the corridor along Columbia Pike, with leaders ultimately deciding to put a streetcar in the area. The project, like Charlotte’s streetcar, was contentious and officials are still awaiting money for it.

Walter Tejada, a longtime member of the Arlington County Commission and its current chair, said Carlee also led efforts to boost the amount of affordable housing in Arlington, working with developers, lawmakers and others to come up with a deal that could get buy-in from various stakeholders. He also supported a 10-year plan to tackle homelessness, promoted diversity in the community as its demographics changed and helped Arlington get a triple-A bond rating.

“Those are very significant contributions to the quality of life that we enjoy here in Arlington,” Tejada said. “And in the large part, he (Ron) had his fingerprints all over that.”

Carlee said that by the time he retired from Arlington, he’d seen a “radically transformed community where the opportunity and quality of life, I think, by any objective metric is second to no place in America. And in Charlotte, I see similar kinds of opportunities.”

Carlee and his wife, Emily Cross, drove to Charlotte last weekend. He said he drove around the city, talking with people of all ages and backgrounds, about what they think of Charlotte. “Without exception, and this really surprised me, without exception everybody said they really love living in Charlotte,” Carlee said. “That’s an awesome thing. You may take it for granted living here that people love a community, but that’s not true everywhere.”