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Charlotte juggles staffing nightmare while pushing forward on major goals

Published: Dec. 27, 2021 at 5:01 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Two of Charlotte’s key leaders announced they’re leaving city government this month, causing concern among councilmembers about how they will charge ahead on their top priorities in 2022.

Former Charlotte Planning Director Taiwo Jaiyeoba was the man behind the 2040 plan, which lays out the future of the Queen City twenty years from now.

He’s headed to Greensboro as city manager.

Former Housing and Neighborhood Services Director Pam Wideman was the architect of Charlotte’s affordable housing projects and also helped oversee the 311 program.

She announced she’s retiring.

Both departures happened in December as city councilmembers started ramping up their agenda wish list for 2022.

“It gets a little tougher and harder,” Councilman Malcolm Graham said.

“Because those are two individuals that are first stringers, they’re all-stars.”

Councilman Malcolm Graham said he’s sorry to see both Jaiyeoba and Wideman leave.

Jaiyeoba was helping oversee the continued progress of the UDO, which is ordinances that will help regulate the city for decades to come, and the mobility plan that could spend billions on buses, light rail, roads and more.

Wideman helped build thousands of affordable housing units and assisted in disbursing millions of dollars in rent relief during the pandemic. She also previously oversaw code enforcement and 311.

Many of the projects previously under their purview ranked among the top priorities for the city.

“It’s like Golden State trying to replace Steph Curry and (Klay) Thompson,” Graham said.

“You can replace them with someone in the starting lineup, but you lose so much not having them there.”

Councilman Larken Egleston shows a little less concern about what will happen on the court of public policy and says the city has seen this play out before.

“City of Charlotte has an incredibly deep bench as it relates to our staff,” Egleston said.

“A couple of years ago where we also saw several assistant city managers and directors retiring or taking new opportunities...and what we saw in the aftermath of that was a lot of people that we already had on our team stepped up and filled those shoes, and I think they did so very capably,” Egleston said.

Jaiyeoba and Wideman aren’t the only key city staffers to leave this year. In July, Chief Financial Officer Kelly Flannery left the city not long after a WBTV Investigation found emails showing disagreements between her and city manager Marcus Jones.

Jaiyeoba’s departure comes after repeated criticism from Councilman Tariq Bokhari during the 2040 plan.

“I called at that time Taiwo is doing this for, among other things, a win that will be on his resume that will enable him to go to another place,” Bokhari told WBTV.

Both of their departures also come as City Manager Marcus Jones continues to shake up his assistant city managers and add new faces from different places.

In July 2020, Jones hired former Duke Energy Executive Shawn Heath as an assistant city manager and in October of the same year Jones moved Brent Cagle from the Aviation Department to assistant city manager.

Currently, the longest serving assistant city manager is Tracy Dodson, who was hired in April 2018. Marcus Jones was hired as City Manager in October 2016.

Regardless of their reasons for leaving, the search to replace Wideman and Jaiyeoba now begins as city leaders continue their work.

“I am concerned as we move forward,” Graham said.

“We will embrace the individuals who will step in those roles in the interim. But certainly, a lot of eyes will be on the city manager in terms of how we fill those positions.”

The City Manager’s office has started a nationwide search to fill both positions. Previous attempts to fill key positions provide evidence that can sometimes be a long process.

In a statement sent to WBTV, city spokesperson Cory Burkarth said that key staffers getting plucked from Charlotte is a compliment.

“The City of Charlotte has a great reputation and when other municipalities are looking to hire talented leaders, they look at Charlotte. That’s a great reflection on the leadership of the city and also demonstrates the city’s ability to recruit and develop talent,” Burkarth wrote.

“In terms of continuing to address key programs and strategies that Pam and Taiwo were working, the City is well positioned because of the processes and people in place who helped to lead that work and who will continue that work.”

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