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Black looks back on three-year accomplishments as city manager

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City Manager Harry Black is shown at a podium at one of the numerous events he attends. Mayor John Cranley is at left and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld is at right. Photo provided

By Dan Yount

The Cincinnati Herald

Cincinnati City Manager Harry Black, who is serving in his first position as city manager of a city, says it has been a privilege to serve as Cincinnati’s city manager the last three years. He is the City of Cincinnati’s 15th city manager, and the 4th African American to serve in that position, following Sylvester Murray, Valerie Lemme, and Milton Dohoney Jr. He manages 6,400 City employees in 25 departments and a $1.6 billion budget supporting 300,000 residents.

“I am appreciative of the support from Mayor John Cranley and the City Council enabling us to achieve success across the board, and the involvement of the City’s 52 neighborhoods.’’ Black said. “This represents only part of the stellar work that is done every day by our dedicated workforce. Without their buy-in and extra effort, these types of results are simply not possible. For this, I am immensely grateful.’’

Cranley selected Black for the position to succeed former Manager Milton Dohoney Jr., who resigned shortly after Cranley was elected four years ago. Black came to Cincinnati from Baltimore, where he served as that city’s Chief Financial Officer. Before that, he co-managed Global Commerce Solutions Inc., a government services company he cofounded. He has worked at various positions in departments of the City of New York, N.Y., and in Washington, D.C, and Richmond, Virginia.

As a young man, Black said he wanted to become a physician, but ended up on a full scholarship in public administration at the University of Virginia.

Then, while he was loading groceries in his car one evening, he received a call from an executive search firm about the Cincinnati city manager job. He applied, making four trips here and being interviewed by about 180 people, including the African American clergy and also business executives at a CEO roundtable. At the time of his vetting for the position, Cranley said he and Black were standing on one of the Downtown streets discussing his being hired when Black said that if he is selected the buck stops with him, and Cranley decided to hire him at that point in the process.

Black, who says he is “big on self accountability,’’ said his goal in taking the position here was to make Cincinnati the best managed City in the country.

“I am proud to be working in an area that allows me to optimize my talents, especially in municipal government, by integrating sound labor management practices, which can be done through performance and data analytics,’’ he said. In fact, he has written an article about this topic titled “The Cincinnati Story’’ in the June 2017 issue of Government Finance Review.

One of his first initiatives here was to develop an Office of Performance and Data Analytics (OPDA) approved by the Council in October 2014 and bringing on board a chief performance and chief data officer. By May 2015, the City had built a state-of-the-art facility to house this new office. Over time the new OPDA has improved quality of customer service, increased accountability, reduced turnaround times, produced cost reductions, enhanced revenue, improved transparency, optimized performance, stimulated economic activity, and increased goodwill, he said.

The City has achieved an initial 7 percent increase in average overall customer satisfaction due to these initiatives, Black said. City employees have passionately embraced the new way the City does business.

Following initial meetings here with more than 180 business, neighborhood and religious leaders, Black said it was clear that Cincinnati was ripe for performance and data analytics.

“Everyone who took part in these discussions shared a desire for an effective, efficient, and responsive city government to improve customer service; be more responsive; improve economic inclusion; overcome infrastructure challenges; reinvent the City’s permitting process; and enhance safety,’’ he said. Thus Black had his marching orders from the community.

“Good government is about our customers, making them proud of their government, and proving government can work for them. The last three years in Cincinnati have been the most productive of my career,’’ he said. “Also, the world is taking note of the good things happening here in Cincinnati government,’’ he said.

A sampling, in Black’s progress report to the Mayor and City Council, includes some of the initiatives that have been set in motion during his administration:

A growing economy:

  • Restructured a third of the City workforce to make it easier to do business with the City, and faster and more efficient to obtain permits or initiate development projects. As approved by City Council, the Department of Trade and Development has been reorganized as Community and Economic Development. Also, the Department of Buildings and Inspections has been reconstituted and a stand-alone Planning Department is now in place. The City has re-launched its One-Stop Permit shop to streamline processes.
  • Building on the Mayor’s Economic Inclusion Advisory Council Recommendations, the Administration recommended, and City Council approved, the creation of the City’s first Department of Economic Inclusion and hired the first director.
  • M/WBE results. The City’s new Minority/Women Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) Program is demonstrating success. Since its launch in January 2016, more than $27 million has been awarded to M/WBEs. Minority business inclusion in City spending has increased from about 2 percent three years ago to more than 17 percent today.
  • Continue to assist the Mayor and City Council with driving strategic economic development projects including redevelopment of Hamilton and North Bend in College Hill, Wasson Way Bike Trail, the MedPace Campus in Madisonville, and the Fourth and Race and Eighth and Sycamore in Downtown.

Thriving & healthy neighborhoods:

  • Recommended, and City Council approved, a new Community Engagement Challenge Grant program whereby community groups can apply for grants up to $10,000 to create unique community engagement strategies to bring people together in new and innovative ways. Year three of the program is beginning now.
  • As part of the recommended budget, Neighborhood Support Program funding was increased for neighborhood improvement.
  • Tackled neighborhood blight through stepped up enforcement efforts and restructuring of the Private Lot Abatement program as approved by City Council.
  • The Administration worked with the Avondale Community Council and the Community Builders to bring a 20,000 square-foot grocery store and more than 70 apartments to Avondale on Reading Road next to the Avondale Town Center. The broke ground last month and is part of a broader transformation effort to remake the Town Center.
  • Blight removal. A re-vamped Private Lot Abatement Program cleaned up 1,264 blighted lots, well exceeding the 1,000-lot goal.
  • Community engagement. An overarching community engagement initiative has been launched to enhance how the City interacts with and elicits feedback from the public. As part of this effort, the City launched the Engage Cincy Challenge Grant competition. This year’s winners: Healthy Food for All Northsiders, Just Hire Me, Physi, Bridgeable and Faces of Homelessness.
  • Brownfield redevelopment. With the City’s partnership with the Port Authority, $2 million has been identified to repurpose and ready former industrial sites in Lower Price Hill for development.
  • Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA).The City’s NOFA process continues to provide a stimulus for neighborhood housing development.  Projects funded through the program offer residential units, both rental and homeownership, at a variety of price points to ensure affordability across income levels.  Through the 2015 NOFA, seven projects bringing 186 housing units, and more than $28.5 million in investment, are under contract.  2016 NOFA projects included funding awarded to ten projects across eight Cincinnati neighborhoods.  These projects will bring 265 residential units for a total investment of $57 million.
  • Downtown retail strategy. The new plan provides for sustained growth and establishes a clear blueprint for a vibrant retail environment that meets the needs of downtown residents and attracts visitors and guests.
  • Youth 2 Work. With strong support from the Mayor and City Council, the Youth 2 Work program has been bolstered with a goal of over 1,000 youth participating by 2020.
  • Cut permit times. In an ongoing effort to make it easier to do business in the City of Cincinnati, the Innovation Lab process was used to revamp the City’s permit process, realign the City’s building code and enforcement processes and move the Permit Center to a central downtown location. These improvements have resulted in a 60 percent reduction in average permit review times.
  • City investment for job growth.Through City investment facilitated by the Department of Community and Economic Development, in 2016 nearly 1,000 jobs have been created and more than 1,400 retained.

Safer streets:

  • Place-Based Investigations of Offender Territories (PIVOT) – This new approach builds on the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence (CIRV) and community policing models to use data and analysis to disrupt criminal activity in locations that experience persistent violence.
  • Adding officers. In July 2016, 50 police Officers were sworn in and a new recruit class began this month.
  • Adding firefighters. A 40-person fire recruit graduated in 2016 in January and another is set to begin in April.
  • CPD executive leadership. The leadership of the CPD has stabilized with the filling of a number of senior positions, starting with the chief and assistant chiefs. Police Chief Eliot Isaac and his team are to be commended for bringing much needed constancy and cohesion to the finest police force in the country. In fact, there are decreases in most forms of shootings and violent crime year-to-date.
  • Collaborative Agreement. The Administration remains committed to the tenets of the historic Collaborative Agreement. Housed in the City Manager’s Office, the newly created Collaborative Agreement Sustainability Manager is leading other City staff, law enforcement personnel, partners, social service providers and community stakeholders in the implementation of CIRV and in a “Refresh” initiative that will update and improve the Collaborative Agreement.
  • Body worn cameras. The Mayor and City Council tasked the Administration with an aggressive timeline to develop and implement a comprehensive BWC program, which are now deployed on all patrol officers.

Innovative government

  • The Office of Performance & Data Analytics (OPDA) has been fully operationalized and is producing results. Initiatives include: CincyStat, the Innovation Lab and Departmental Performance Management Agreements.
  • Customer service enhancements. Permit processing times have been reduced, past due collections have improved and process enhancements have been achieved throughout the organization.
  • Fiscal impact. The performance management initiative has an estimated $2.8 million annual impact. For example, the City saved $300,000 in capital requests through enhanced IT governance. Last year, models were created to intervene and prevent blight before it occurs. This year, the focus is on using analytics to improve EMS response.
  • Open Data Cincinnati. The City’s transparency portal was re-launched with over 20 newly accessible data sets.

Fiscal sustainability and strategic re-investment

  • Procurement reform. The City’s procurement policies and regulations have been methodically overhauled to foster an environment of competition, save money and implement best practices ensuring process integrity.
  • CAP: More roads are being repaved and repaired and new vehicles are hitting the streets, saving millions in maintenance and repairs.As a result of the CAP program, in 2016 nearly 200 additional lane miles were either rehabbed or repaired. Also, $6.5 million was spent in CAP fleet (a fleet total of $11.3 million) to purchase 73 new and necessary vehicles.

Black is married to Sheryl Black, and they have two children, Sydni and Bryan.

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