Raleigh: A new city manager and a new start on transit

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When I listen to the recording, I'll tell you exactly how many times Mayor Nancy McFarlane used the words transit or transportation this morning as she introduced Ruffin Hall, the new city manager. For now, I'll just say it was a theme — THE theme, really — that Raleigh intends to get transit off the ground as its next big thing, and Hall is being counted on to help make that happen.

Ruffin Hall with City Councilor Eugene Weeks (right) this morning.
Hall comes to us from Charlotte, where he was an assistant manager and budget director with a big hand in all things transit, from adding bike lanes and the first streetcar line to building the Blue Line light-rail extension. (Hall's history is summarized in this press release from the city.)

Charlotte got the jump on Raleigh transit-wise in the '90s and has extended its lead every year since. Today, the Queen City has 15 years of progress under its belt. Raleigh? Zero years — or maybe we should be generous and say that the R Line counts for a month or two of progress.

Hall made an excellent first impression on his audience today. He's a polished, user-friendly public speaker and — here's another word McFarlane used repeatedly — "communicator." Russell Allen had many strengths as a manager. Communications, at least when it came to the public and the six City Council members who fired him, wasn't one of them.

Also, Allen seemed bored by development issues, or perhaps a better way to say it is that Allen gave every appearance of thinking that Raleigh isn't ready for transit. Hall, when I got a brief word with him, said he wanted to study the lay of the land before commenting specifically on Raleigh's transit potential. But he added that he's all about connecting land-use and transportation policies so they work in tandem.

"My background in Charlotte was very focused on transportation, transit and the relationship to land-use," Hall said. "That relationship is critical, to me, in high-growth communities."

The other knock on Allen, from the council members who lost patience with him, is that his concept of teamwork in city government didn't extend beyond the staff members who reported to him. Allen was popular with his staff. But the six council members who fired him — McFarlane included — got the message from Allen that he viewed them as not on his team, and maybe even an opposing team.

Thus, an excited McFarlane talked up Hall's commitment to the kind of teamwork that includes the Council and the public. And when Hall got up to speak, the big words out of his mouth were collaborations and partnerships, and he added nonprofit organizations, neighborhood leaders, institutions (e.g., NCSU) and the business community to the list of partners he intends to cultivate.

McFarlane called Hall a visionary, creative and a lot of other glowing words; today, at least, he exuded positive energy.

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