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New Mecklenburg County leader reorganizes executive team

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- Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio

After one week on the job, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio is already shaking up the county organization, announcing her new executive team on Wednesday that doesn’t include longtime Assistant County Manager John McGillicuddy.

Diorio declined to say whether McGillicuddy had been terminated or offered a lower job – or if he’d retired. She’d only say that on a “go-forward basis” he wouldn’t be a Mecklenburg assistant county manager.

“This reorganization was designed to achieve certain goals: to streamline reporting, improve communication and to better align services and to improve delivery of services,” Diorio told the Observer. “I am putting people in the right buckets that I thought was the most efficient way to run the organization.”

In a memo to county employees, Diorio said two positions had been eliminated that will save the county about $325,000 a year. McGullicuddy had been the fifth-highest-paid county employee at nearly $195,000 a year.

Diorio’s reorganization elevates county Human Resources Director Chris Peek to a newly created position of deputy county manager/chief of staff – presiding over three assistant county managers.

In the new structure, current Assistant County Manager Michelle Lancaster will oversee health and human services departments. Leslie Johnson, who was an interim assistant county manager under Interim County Manager Bobbie Shields, has been promoted to assistant county manager over “sustainable communities.” One assistant county manager position over financial services needs to be filled.

McGillicuddy, who didn’t return a call Wednesday, has worked for Mecklenburg since 1991, first as a public information specialist. He was promoted to head that department in 1994. In 2000, former County Manager Harry Jones promoted McGillicuddy to interim assistant county manager; McGillicuddy then served as Jones’ executive assistant from late 2000 to November 2002. That was when Jones promoted him to general manager. Shields retitled that position as an assistant county manager last year.

Three county commissioners reached Wednesday wouldn’t say what happened to McGillicuddy because it’s a personnel matter.

Board Chairman Trevor Fuller would only say that the board supports Diorio’s decision to restructure her executive team.

“We have every confidence that our county manager has thought through the changes that need to be made, and she is executing those changes as compassionately and as effectively as is required under the circumstances,” Fuller said.

Commissioners Pat Cotham and Bill James said Diorio has done what most new leaders do by putting an executive team in place that she can trust to support her vision and execute her changes.

“In any company, people in management are allowed to pick who they want on their management team,” James said. “Harry (Jones) did it. (Former County Manager) Jerry Fox did it before him.”

Peek on the rise

Cotham preferred to talk about Peek’s elevation.

“He’s a good fit for that job,” she said. “He knows how to keep the trains running.”

As board chair last year, Cotham said she relied on Peek for advice on a number of issues and came to appreciate his “trustworthiness.”

“It’s important to have people around you that you can trust, who has your back,” she said. “Chris will always have Dena’s back. He has always had the county’s best interests at the forefront. He has no personal agenda.”

Last year, Interim County Manager Shields, who retired in late December, emailed Cotham recommending Peek for the interim job if he had to retire sooner.

At the board’s Tuesday meeting, Cotham said she was moved when she looked up in the gallery and saw department heads sitting there. Diorio explained their appearance will be required at future meetings.

Cotham said that scene and the changes Diorio is making provide some vindication for Cotham’s often lonely work to make changes and remove Jones as county manager. The board fired him in May.

“A year ago, we were in a bad situation,” she said. “This is an affirmation that we made the right decision to ask tough questions and do what taxpayers wanted us to do.

“Now I can look people in the eye and say, ‘Your county is headed in the right direction.’ 

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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