Assistant City Manager Rolanda Russell is the interim City Manager. In an executive City Council meeting held on May 7, Council members appointed Ms. Russell to be manager effective May 12. Ms. Carroll resigned on April 28, and at that time she said her resignation would be effective June 26. But last week was her last week in office.
In a letter to City staff members, which she distributed to City department heads the following day at their regular Tuesday meeting, Ms. Carroll said, “In my resignation letter to Mayor Lorraine H. Morton, I cited declining personal health as my reason for departure from the City.
“I have very much enjoyed my position as City Manager for the past few years and will miss the great City employees, working with elected officials, and the interaction with the public. I believe we have a group of talented staff, and I know they will continue to do their best to provide great service to our community.
“Julia was hard-working and cheerful, and she tried to keep us on track to do the things that cities do … Being the city manager is an impossible job. We have to make it less impossible for the next city manager.” — Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl
“I must do what is best for me at this time. I hope that the City employees and the public will respect my right to privacy as I transition from this organization. I am not going to another position, but I will take some time off to get well.”
At the Civic Center
The departure of Ms. Carroll leaves the City with interim appointments at the top executive and financial positions, as there has not been a finance director for several months. Steve Drazner, the assistant finance director, has been holding the fort in the finance department since Matthew Grady III tendered his resignation after less than a year in that office.
Several other department heads have left this year or will be leaving by July 1. The total number of City staff members who have left since Ms. Carroll began her tenure is 44, another City official told the RoundTable. Morale has been very low at the Civic Center for quite some time, a recently retired department head told the RoundTable.
Among these are the heads of the following departments: Community Development (James Wolinski); Health and Human Services (Jay Terry); Law (Herbert Hill); Library (Neal Ney); Public Works (David Jennings); Emergency Management (Max Rubin); Human Resources (Judy Witt). Some of these positions have been filled: Health and Human Services, Evonda Thomas; Library, Mary Johns; Public Works, John Burke. In addition, the Human Relations department has been subsumed into the Human Services department. Further, the positions of Paula Haynes, who served as director of human relations, and Harvey Saver, assistant director of mental health services, will not be filled. City Clerk Mary Morris, whose position is an elected one, has announced her retirement as well.
Most City staff members and elected officials said they had not seen Ms. Carroll’s resignation coming. Alderman Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he was “pretty taken aback by it. [Her leaving] is a real loss for the City, in my opinion.”
Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, told the RoundTable she was stunned at the news.
Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, said, “Julia’s leaving is such a shock. Of course I’m concerned for her health and understand, but I think her leaving will be a huge loss to the City.”
In her role as the City’s chief executive, Ms. Carroll eliminated some departments, consolidated others and subsumed several formerly independent departments or divisions to the city manager’s office. She proposed sweeping budget cuts, which included last year’s closing of the health department, in each of the years she was in office. She also hired a new actuary for the City, who estimated that the City’s unfunded liability to the police and fire pension funds was $140 million, compared to prior estimates of $100 million. One of her innovations was the early retirement incentive, of which several department heads availed themselves, causing in part a large exodus of senior staff from the Civic Center. Since she resigned before April 30, Ms. Carroll herself can take advantage of this incentive package.
“Although there is no way to time health issues, this resignation comes at the worst time possible, less than 48 hours before the retirement of longtime assistant city manager Judy Aiello and City Attorney Herb Hill. I wish her a speedy recovery”– Alderman Ann Rainey
The combination of her management style and the loss of City staff made some of Ms. Carroll’s critics question whether she fully understood the nuances and values of the community or whether she was doing the bidding of the City Council. In some cases criticism of Ms. Carroll appeared to arise from disagreements with her course of action; in other cases it appeared closer to a “shoot the messenger” attitude.
While some Council members appeared to be at odds with the City Manager over the past few weeks – Ald. Rainey said her support of Ms. Carroll had waned over the years – others praised her for her hard work and for taking on the City’s tough, but somewhat under-addressed, issues.
In an e-mail response to a question from the RoundTable, Ald. Rainey said, “Although there is no way to time health issues, this resignation comes coincidentally at the worst time possible, less than 48 hours before the retirement of longtime assistant city manager Judy Aiello and City Attorney Herb Hill. Having Judy or Herb on staff would have made transition seamless. I wish the City Manager a speedy recovery.”
Ald. Moran said, “I think she’s done a great job of getting the staff in pretty good shape. She started to engage the Council in important planning processes. We have the Central Street Plan, the Downtown Plan, the West Side plan, the Lakefront Plan, the Arboretum Plan and the strategic plan. … She was the first person in her position who was willing to tackle the pension problem. I worried she would end up as the murdered messenger.”
Alderman Elizabeth Tisdahl, 7th Ward, said, “Julia was hard-working and cheerful, and she tried to keep us on track to do the things that cities do – pick up the garbage, keep the streets repaired and keep us safe. She leaves a great legacy of hires – John Burke (public works), Bill Dunkley (zoning), Police Chief Richard Eddington and Fire Chief Alan Berkowsky.”
Commenting on the animated and sometimes hostile atmosphere at City meetings – something also noted by the departing Ms. Aiello – Ald. Tisdahl added, “Being the city manager is an impossible job. We have to make it less impossible for the next manager.”