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CMPD chief’s departure sparks concern on Charlotte council about city manager

Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee addresses the audience during a recent Charlotte City Council meeting.
Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee addresses the audience during a recent Charlotte City Council meeting.

Police Chief Rodney Monroe’s retirement announcement Monday has drawn concern among some on the Charlotte City Council about City Manager Ron Carlee’s management style and whether there was any friction between him and Monroe.

Council members discussed Monroe’s retirement in closed session Monday night for about 30 minutes. They asked that Carlee not be in the room.

Some council members are concerned about a number of high-ranking city officials who have left during Carlee’s tenure, with Monroe’s departure in six weeks considered the most significant. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg chief has been credited with lowering the crime rate during his seven years in Charlotte.

Carlee, who started in April 2013, is now in the last year of his three-year contract. At one point during the meeting, council members discussed whether to take a vote of confidence on the manager’s performance, but they decided against that, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

Democrat Claire Fallon said she urged her colleagues not to take that vote.

“I have had my differences with the manager, but right now we are in a budget crisis, and in an election year, the stability of Charlotte is the most important thing,” she said Tuesday.

Monroe spoke to members of the media Tuesday afternoon for about 20 minutes.

He said he’d been contemplating retirement for several months and came to a decision Saturday after playing a round of golf with Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera. They talked about their lives and what their version of success is, Monroe said.

He said he hadn’t been asked to leave. He deflected questions about whether there was any tension between him and Carlee.

“I can honestly say that that decision is solely based on a decision that I have been contemplating for months now with my family, with a few close associates, and it’s not based on anyone running me out of here,” Monroe said.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years. I’ve been a chief of police for 15 years, and at some point, I knew that this day was coming. I’m at peace with it. I’m happy with it, and I’m going to look a little bit forward to moving forward,” Monroe added.

Management style

Carlee has worked to bring best management practices to the city, saying he wants the city to be transparent in how it operates.

He has released audits of city departments online, for instance, and decided to reopen a selection process for taxi companies permitted to work at the airport after taxi owners complained the selection process was unduly influenced by former Mayor Patrick Cannon.

More recently, Carlee hired an outside attorney to investigate claims of retaliation against an employee in the Fire Department.

That investigation – which found that the department probably didn’t retaliate against an employee who said she was a whistleblower – strained the relationship between Carlee and Fire Chief Jon Hannan.

Carlee was the first outside hire for the manager’s job since Wendell White in 1981.

Turnover among staff

Carlee’s arrival has coincided with, or led to, a number of high-ranking city officials leaving.

Some council members have said he has shaken up the city in a good way by bringing accountability to departments, while others are concerned about whether the city is losing effective employees.

Former aviation director Jerry Orr was the first to depart. His departure is disputed as to whether Carlee fired him or whether Orr resigned during the 2013 fight over who would control the airport. Council members generally approved of how the manager handled Orr.

Julie Burch, an assistant city manager, retired. Ruffin Hall, another assistant city manager, took the manager’s job in Raleigh. Former Assistant City Manager Eric Campbell left for a similar job in Dallas.

Hall left for a better job, and Campbell makes more money in Texas.

Greg Gaskins, the former finance director, retired and then took a job with the State Treasurer’s Office in Raleigh.

In the past two years, the city has also hired a new head of corporate communications, an economic development director and is looking for a new director to head the Charlotte Area Transit System.

To fill the top job at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Carlee has said Monroe has assembled what he called a “deep bench” of qualified chief candidates.

Carlee: Good relationship

Council member Ed Driggs said he doesn’t think there is a common thread among the high-ranking officials who have left. He said some are the “normal course of retirements.”

He declined to comment on what was said during the closed session meeting.

In an email to the Observer on Tuesday, Carlee said, “Council members and I have on-going conversations about their varying concerns. In the case of Chief Monroe, everyone – especially me – would have loved to see him stay longer.”

“Chief Monroe and I have had a close working relationship,” Carlee said. “He has been an adviser and friend. I have been fully supportive of all of his initiatives and I have tried to support him to my very best ability. I respect him professionally and personally.”

Earlier this year, Monroe asked for the city to purchase 1,400 body cameras to record police interactions with civilians. Carlee not only agreed to that request, he had council members approve the nearly $8 million expenditure as a special item outside of the usual budget process.

The city is trying to close a nearly $22 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year that begins in July.

It is expected that council members would tackle Carlee’s future this summer, after the final vote on the budget June 8. Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed.

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