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Raleigh not renewing city manager Allen's contract

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J. Russell Allen. Photo courtesy of the City of Raleigh. J. Russell Allen. Photo courtesy of the City of Raleigh.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

The Raleigh City Council on Wednesday voted not to renew City Manager J. Russell Allen's employment contract, meaning he will leave the city at the end of June.

Council member Bonner Gaylord said the only council members opposed to the move were Mary Ann Baldwin and Eugene Weeks.

"He has been a great service to our city, and we appreciate all he has done to help Raleigh become an award-winning municipality," the Council said in a statement. "Just as Raleigh has grown and changed, so have the skills needed to manage and grow the city.

"We are excited and look forward to the new possibilities and insight that a new city manager will bring us, and we are grateful for all the work Russell has done as well. Russell has agreed to stay through July 1 and we appreciate his willingness to work with us on an orderly transition."

The City Council did not address why it decided not to retain Allen. Gaylord said, "I am thankful for Russell's service to the City of Raleigh and I wish him all the best.  This is an internal personnel matter, and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to discuss any further."

Allen, reached by a WNCN reporter, said he couldn't answer why the decision was suddenly made. He did not confirm or deny if a performance evaluation led to his dismissal but said an evaluation is due every year at this time.

He also said he prided himself on answering questions from the media but could not on this issue because it was a personnel matter.

In Raleigh's council form of city government, the city manager is the day-to-day manager of city affairs, and the position reports to the City Council. The city manager is critical to the budget process, which is currently ongoing. Allen presented a budget update to the City Council April 1 and is scheduled to present a budget proposal to the council in May.

Allen makes a salary of $232,000 annually.

Allen said he "will miss this job."

"I am honored and proud to have been the city manager of Raleigh for the last 12 years," Allen said in a statement released by the city.

"Raleigh is one of the most successful cities in the country and is poised for even greater achievements. As much as I will miss this job, I am thankful for the experiences and confident in the City's future."

Former mayor Charles Meeker, who worked closely with Allen, had high praise for him.

"Russell Allen was an outstanding city manager," Meeker said. "He was manager for all of 10 years I was mayor. Of all the people that worked to make Raleigh rated No. 1, Russell Allen worked the hardest and accomplished the most."

Meeker said one of Allen's "great talents" was his ability to select strong department heads.

"Some were promoted internally and some were brought in from the outside but he's got a real eye for talent and was a great service to us," Meeker said.

The departure of Allen would end the long, and overall successful, tenure of one of the city's most powerful leaders. For example, Allen led the decision in 2006 to block a bold idea by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa that would have transformed City Plaza with a colorful display of lights and water.

Allen was concerned that Plensa's project would block the view from the Capitol to Memorial Auditorium, which opened up when the old Civic Center was torn down.

Plensa eventually withdrew from the project after the city set strict parameters for what he could do, and many in the arts community in Raleigh saw the demise of the project as a missed opportunity for a bold and visionary plaza in the heart of the city.

But Allen drew praise for shepherding the building of the new Convention Center and overseeing a growing city that functioned relatively smoothly despite difficult economic times. And downtown Raleigh in particular began to thrive in that tenure as restaurants, condominiums and stores began to flourish in the heart of the city.

Allen did take some criticism for accepting a $10,000 raise in 2009, at the height of the recession.

Allen came to Raleigh from Rock Hill, S.C., in 2001, when Paul Coble was mayor. In his 12 years in Raleigh, the city is routinely named one of the nation's best places to live. The city population was 302,000 in 2001 and shot to 416,000 in July 2011.

He replaced Dempsey Benton, who served in the role from 1983 to 2000 before moving to senior roles in state government.

When Allen took over in 2001, he created a "5 and 5" plan that proposed five major changes, including opening Fayetteville Street to traffic and a new convention center.

But he also dealt with the tough side of the recession, with the city eliminating some jobs and leaving some vacant positions open.

Charlotte Huffman

An award-winning journalist with an investigative edge, Charlotte has driven legislative change with reports on workplace safety concerns and contaminated groundwater. Contact our Investigative Team anytime HERE. More>>

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