Published in the Star-Ledger, Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Plainfield administrator to step aside
Official taking post in Atlanta schools after less than a year on job
BY ALEXI FRIEDMAN
The Plainfield administrator has accepted a job as chief financial officer of the Atlanta public school system and will leave his post by month's end.
Carlton McGee was appointed administrator by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs when she took office in January. He will remain until Oct. 31, he said, but would be available afterward to help with the transition. A successor has not been named. In fact, the mayor said she hadn't received McGee's letter of resignation as of yesterday afternoon.
The office of administrator is the city's highest-ranking full-time position.
McGee, 54, accepted the new job 3 1/2 weeks after he was asked to submit his résumé during a nationwide search.
The Atlanta school system educates 51,000 students in 85 schools. It will put McGee geographically closer to his son, Carlton Jr., a Morehouse College junior; McGee also has a daughter who is a senior at the University of Illinois. The position also comes with a $180,000 annual salary, up from his current $118,000 salary. "It was a larger challenge," he said in an interview yesterday. "From a professional standpoint, it was an offer I couldn't refuse."
The Internet blog Plainfield Plaintalker reported Friday night on his decision to leave.
Over the past 10 months, McGee said, he has tried to stress the need for a modernized information technology network for the city's departments. "Unless you have a strong IT structure to give fast data, you have a hard time keeping that organization accountable," he said. While the police and fire departments enjoy cutting- edge technology, he said, the other departments do not.
McGee also said the mayor let him begin the process of long-range planning. "If you don't take a longer view in this, you can't solve the problems. If you run from pillar to post, there's always something to do," he said.
But McGee and the administration have stumbled on several decisions, raising the ire of the city council, which has complained in the past few months that department heads do not communicate with each other, and that the mayor's office tries to ram through ordinances or appointments.
Last month, a squabble between the planning board and the engineer nearly cost city homeowners their flood insurance. The vote on a related flood damage prevention ordinance was almost put off, which would have meant missing a federally imposed deadline. Council members scolded McGee -- who oversees all department directors -- for not improving the lines of communication.
Even on McGee's way out, communication still appears to be an issue, this time between him and the mayor. Yesterday afternoon, Robinson-Briggs said she was expecting, but had not yet received, McGee's resignation letter, preventing her from advertising for the job or conducting interviews. McGee, meanwhile, said "we're in conversations with people right now" to fill his slot.
The mayor responded curtly when asked about the sudden departure.
"If in fact he is leaving," she said, "he did a fine job on behalf of residents of Plainfield. He is a conscientious person and I wish him well."
Councilman Rashid Burney said the next administrator should be "someone who can bring people together." The administrator must be in the business of "sharing information on a timely and clear basis."
Burney added that the office should have someone who can "set a vision and articulate that vision and hold people accountable." He credited McGee with setting objectives and striving toward greater accountability.
McGee has acknowledged his missteps at council meetings. "It's an open secret that we can do better," he said in the interview yesterday. "There's an old African proverb that says, if one does not admit his illness one cannot be healed."
But, he said, the effort was always there.
"I have a deep loyalty to the mayor," he said, adding, "I put blood, sweat and tears into this for 10 months."
Alexi Friedman can be reached at (908) 302-1505, firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.