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City manager nominee Black says he'll be part coach, part quarterback

harry black
Tana Weingartner
City Manager nominee Harry Black

Harry E. Black, the Baltimore finance director tapped by Mayor John Cranley to be Cincinnati’s next city manager, uses football analogies to describe his management style.

In an interview with WVXU, the 51-year-old Black said that in his 28 years in local government his management style has “evolved into one that can be characterized as coaching – collaborative, collegial, but very outcome-driven.”

“It’s very much a coaching and quarter-backing style,”’ said Black, who has spent the last two-and-a-half years as finance director of his native city, Baltimore. “Depending on the nature of the organization I am going to be in will determine how much I am going to need to be the coach and how much I am going to have to be the quarterback.”

Black has never held the title of city manager, but he was the interim chief administrator in Richmond, Va. about a decade ago for then-Mayor Douglas Wilder – a job he says was the functional equivalent of a city manager. He also served as Wilder’s deputy chief administrator under Richmond’s strong mayor form of government.

Black told WVXU there were two principal reasons why he became interested in the city manager’s job here when contacted by the national search firm hired by the city.

One reason, he said, “that in my profession, the ultimate goal is to be a city manager.”

But more importantly, Black said, “it’s about always being in a position to make a difference.”

“Being the city manager is the epitome, the epicenter of having that ability to make a difference in every level of life with respect to a city,’’ Black said.

“The buck stops with the city manager,’’ said Black. “So if something is not getting done, either something that is expected to be done or the community wants to see being done, then the city manager can only look at him or herself in the mirror”

Black said he has “high standards and expectations for myself as a professional and I am very results driven and oriented.”

He made it clear, too, that he will expect the same out of the city department heads he manages if he is confirmed by city council next week. He said he will institute “performance management initiatives” for city departments and hold the city administration responsible for meeting the goals he sets.

Black said it was clear from his initial talks with Cranley that he and the mayor were “on the same page.”

“Cincinnati is doing a good job in job creation and we want to continue to build on that,” Black said. “And we want to create added economic opportunities.”

But he echoed a theme of Cranley's  by saying that the city must first “make sure we are fulfilling basic services.”

“We must become the best trash collectors in the country; we must have the best law enforcement department in the country,” Black said. “Whatever makes life better for the people of the city, we must be the best at it.”

Cranley said in a press conference in the mayor’s office Wednesday that one of the reasons he chose Black was because he was responsible for putting a 10-year financial plan in place that has resulted in the first upgrade in Baltimore’s credit rating in 10 years.

Black earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Virginia in 1987. Previously, he earned a bachelor’s degree in in public administration from Virginia State University.

He has eight years of private sector experience, including five years as vice president and program manager for McKissack and McKissack, an architecture and engineering firm.

Black told WVXU that he grew up in one of the toughest neighborhoods in Baltimore as one of eight children in his family,

“I’m an inner city kid; and I grew up with all the challenges of an inner city kid,’’ Black said. “Fortunately, I had many mentors growing up who helped me on my way to achieve my goals.”

Black, who has a wife and two children, said his first impression of Cincinnati was positive.

“I found that there are very friendly people here,’’ Black said. “The city has that Midwest flair. I have to say this took me aback; I didn’t expect that level of friendliness.”

Black spent the day yesterday in one-on-one interviews with all nine city council members. He must be confirmed by a majority of council.

That process begins next Tuesday, when all nine council members are expected to question Black at a meeting of council’s Rules and Audit Committee.

Howard Wilkinson is in his 50th year of covering politics on the local, state and national levels.