Charlotte’s new city manager, Marcus Jones, said in his introduction Wednesday that he was “absolutely, positively not” deterred about accepting the job because of the Keith Lamont Scott shooting and civil unrest, and he said the city can begin to heal by listening to the community.
“We should never minimize the art of embracing people who have differing opinions,” said Jones, who was the city manager of Norfolk, Va., for six years before being hired.
Council members said they hired Jones because of his strong financial background and also because they view him as someone who will create a collegial work environment. Under Jones’ predecessor, Ron Carlee, several high-ranking officials left the city.
“It can be said the past few years were very bumpy,” said Republican council member Kenny Smith. “I think he will really bring out the best in our staff.”
Jones, who will start Dec. 1, was chosen in a closed session Monday over an internal candidate, Kim Eagle, who works in the city’s budget office.
During the initial round of voting in closed session, nine council members and Mayor Jennifer Roberts supported Jones, while two council members – Patsy Kinsey and Greg Phipps – supported Eagle. Wednesday’s public vote was unanimous.
Jones, 49, will be the city’s first African-American manager. Council members said the Scott shooting and its aftermath didn’t play into their decision to hire Jones.
Jones and five other candidates were interviewed at the Omni hotel on the morning of Sept. 20, the day of the Scott shooting. Before the shooting occurred, council members had already decided that Jones and Eagle would be the two finalists.
Jones’ total compensation continues sharp increases in pay for Charlotte’s top official.
When Curt Walton left the job in 2012, his total compensation was $258,000 a year.
Jones’ total compensation will be $329,000, which includes $29,000 in deferred compensation. Jones also will receive an expense allowance and a car allowance of $5,700 a year. He will be eligible for a temporary housing allowance of $2,000 a month for a year.
When Carlee was manager, he had a three-year contract. Jones’ agreement with the city is not a contract, though he would be paid a severance package if he’s terminated before he completes his first three years.
If he is let go in his first year, he would receive a full year’s pay.
Facing two large challenges
In Charlotte’s form of government, the city manager is responsible for hiring and firing of employees, as well as the day-to-day operations of the city.
Jones comes to Charlotte with the city facing challenges.
The first is how the city reacts to the Scott shooting. The City Council has asked the Police Foundation to review Charlotte-Mecklenburg police procedures, a process that will take several months. If changes are recommended, Jones and police Chief Kerr Putney would be responsible for their implementation.
“He is a calming influence,” said former Norfolk City Council member Barclay Winn, who served from 2000 to 2016. “We all have racial discussions and situations, and he has been good at diffusing that and working with citizens. We have had some police killings and he has a great relationship with the community. He has a soothing effect.”
In addition, council members have pledged to build 5,000 affordable housing units in three years. In the past, the city hasn’t come close to building that much low-income housing, having completed 4,640 units in 14 years.
Jones will have to find a new way to work with residential developers to build more housing quickly.
He also must navigate how the city deals with fallout from House Bill 2, which was passed by the General Assembly in March to nullify Charlotte’s nondiscrimination ordinance for the LGBTQ community.
Jones was asked what he thought about HB2.
“I know about the issue,” he said. “What I’d like to do is have an opportunity to work with the council and be as informed as possible. What we want to do is make sure we are doing something that’s to the benefit of Charlotte.”
Norfolk is a much smaller city, with 250,000 people. It’s the second largest city in the Hampton Roads metro area, which has about 1.7 million people.
Charlotte’s population is about 810,000.
Jones grew up in Caroline County, went to James Madison University and earned a master’s degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. He is the son of a Baptist minister and has three children, according to a recent profile in the Hampton Roads Business Journal.
Jones has been Norfolk’s city manager since early 2011 and had worked in the city from 2004 to 2009 as budget director and assistant city manager. From 2009 to 2010, he worked for the city of Richmond.
Council members have been secretive about the search, especially compared to 2013, when they last hired a manager. They all signed confidentiality agreements that were written by the city attorney’s office.
In 2013, the city announced that there were three finalists and allowed the public to meet them. They ultimately hired Carlee, who didn’t seek a contract extension this year.
Jones will replace interim City Manager Ron Kimble, who has held the job since July, when Carlee left the city. Kimble plans to retire later this year.