Centerville council: City hall turnover result of ‘cultural transformation’

Centerville Mayor Brooks Compton issued a statement from city officials saying a much needed cultural transformation of city government has been at the root of heavy staff turnover in city hall over the past year-and-a-half. Compton is pictured delivering the State of the City address earlier this year.
Centerville Mayor Brooks Compton issued a statement from city officials saying a much needed cultural transformation of city government has been at the root of heavy staff turnover in city hall over the past year-and-a-half. Compton is pictured delivering the State of the City address earlier this year.

Centerville officials say a “much-needed cultural transformation of city government” has been at the root of heavy staff turnover in city hall.

Nine department heads or assistants have left Centerville since the beginning of 2018.

Mayor Brooks Compton said that he and council decided to address the issue after receiving a request from the Dayton Daily News for information on those who left their positions as well as receiving questions from citizens.

The city released a 1,027-word statement in which the mayor and council supported City Manager Wayne Davis’ leadership and revealed council’s thinking of how the city has performed after former City Manager’s Greg Horn’s departure in 2017.

MORE: Multiple Centerville employees have left city jobs in past year

Davis was given a three-year contract with the city that ends July 21, 2020.

“The city experienced the retirement of its 25-year city manager in July 2017 and appropriately recognized his achievements at that time,” Compton noted in the statement, signed by each member of council. “Although significant progress had been accomplished under his leadership, no leadership succession plan was established or presented to the council. It appeared that no staff members were prepared to assume the position.”

The statement said the city had developed a negative reputation among citizens, businesses and developers for lack of customer friendly service.

“Council members had engaged in conversations with citizens expressing a wide variety of complaints and concerns that provided ample anecdotal evidence that a negative culture had evolved,” the statement said.

That tension was created between council and staff as “the result of council efforts to advocate on behalf of citizens. The council concluded the negative culture was creating a significant barrier for economic development in the city and was impeding progress.”

MORE: Centerville makes personnel changes in city hall

In February, Jennifer Brumby resigned as the city’s human resources manager after serving less than a year. Her last day was March 22.

Brumby filled the position left vacant when Jennifer Wilder left in 2018 for a similar position with the city of Oakwood.

In March 29, Andrew Rodney gave his resignation as city planner, and Community Resource Manager Maureen Russell-Hodgson left the city and took a similar job with Springboro.

In February, Cynthia Ryan, Centerville’s assistant finance director since 2016, left for Franklin as she was appointed as its new finance director.

Last year, Jonathan Hudson left as Centerville’s finance director to take the same position in Springboro. Kristen Gopman left her position as assistant to the city manager in Centerville, which she had held for 12 years, and took the position of director of Parks and Recreation in Moraine.

Nathan Cahall left his position as economic development administrator to take the administrator position in Plain City. Former Police Chief Bruce Robertson retired in February 2018.

MORE: Centerville mayor focuses on 5-year plan during State of the City

Council and Compton note that the decision to hire Davis remains the correct one in their estimation, adding that, “council is confident that the city of Centerville is on the right track toward continued progress and achievement of its strategic goals.”

As a 5-year strategic plan was developed when Davis took office, the city brought in a faculty member from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to conduct several days of comprehensive staff training for senior and mid-level staff members.

Council expressed in the statement that they were advised by the consultant: “Staff turnover is foreseeable whenever a new leader follows a long-term leader, especially when the new leader has been charged with the task of transforming the culture of the organization.”

Compton explained that the statement released by the city underscores the council’s belief that culture change is a difficult process for any organization.

“Staff members who are unable or unwilling to embrace the new culture are likely to leave,” the statement read. “It is also common that many staff members who could become successful in the new culture also choose to leave because it is personally difficult to process change.”

While not singling out any employee that has left recently, the city said in its statement that, “none of the recent senior staff departures in Centerville have been involuntary and each person has his or her own story.”

Former city councilman Paul Gresham, who served for 16 years before retiring in 2015, expressed dismay at the city’s statement and response to the recent turnover.

“My experience was different,” he said. “I am curious to know why Centerville has lost so many valuable staff members over a short period of time.”

The Dayton Daily News has reached out to eight of the nine employees (Robertson retired) that have recently left senior or mid-level staffing positions. None of those reached wanted to comment.

Centerville Council statement regarding recent staff turnover:

There has been recent interest expressed by citizens and media in staff turnover experienced by the City of Centerville over the past year and a half. The purpose of this statement by the City Council is to assure stakeholders that Centerville is in better shape than it was two years ago and continues to advance toward achievement of its strategic goals. During times of change, staff departures are not uncommon and are often healthy. Although respect for the privacy of staff requires that the Council cannot discuss individuals specifically, we want to share the Council’s view of recent staff turnover.

The City experienced the retirement of its 25-year City Manager in July 2017 and appropriately recognized his achievements at that time. Although significant progress had been accomplished under his leadership, no leadership succession plan was established or presented to the Council. It appeared that no staff members were prepared to assume the position.

The Council viewed the change in executive leadership as an opportunity for a much needed cultural transformation of City government. The Council observed that in recent years the City had developed a negative reputation among citizens, businesses, and developers for lack of customer friendly service. Council members had engaged in conversations with citizens expressing a wide variety of complaints and concerns that provided ample anecdotal evidence that a negative culture had evolved. Tension had been created between Council and staff as the result of Council efforts to advocate on behalf of citizens. The Council concluded the negative culture was creating a significant barrier for economic development in the City and was impeding progress.

The City Council conducted a national search for a new City Manager and retained a qualified consultant to assist in the process. The consultant interviewed each Council member and key staff in preparation for advising Council. Based upon feedback from such interviews and advice from the consultant, the Council developed targeted goals to be achieved by the new City Manager. Such goals were included in the position description. The job posting for the City Manager position placed heavy emphasis on goals that would lead to economic development and establishing a customer friendly service environment to achieve the cultural transformation expected by the Council.

After interviewing numerous applicants, the consultant recommended ten candidates to the City Council who narrowed the field to five that the entire Council interviewed personally. Senior staff members were given an opportunity to meet finalists and provide feedback to the consultant who conveyed their thoughts to Council. From the moment Council members met Wayne Davis, they were unanimous in their assessment that he provided the right fit to accomplish the goals they had established for Centerville. His successful 17-year career in the City of Montgomery, Ohio, including 5½ years as City Manager, inspired confidence in his abilities. The City Council approved the hiring of Wayne Davis as City Manager at a special meeting on July 10, 2017, and he commenced his service on August 21, 2017. The Council remains confident that they made the right choice of Wayne Davis as City Manager.

To fulfill the goals established by City Council, the new City Manager led the development of a strategic plan and creation of underlying statements of mission, vision, and values that would define the desired organizational culture. Senior staff members were invited to participate in the planning process and attended at least two retreats with the Council to provide input. To bolster staff understanding of performance levels that the new strategic plan would require, the City Manager brought in a faculty member from the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to conduct several days of comprehensive staff training. Several senior and mid-level staff members were invited to attend a one-week intensive course at the University of Virginia focused on creating effective, high performance local governments.

On July 18, 2018, the City Council adopted a comprehensive strategic plan for Centerville that sets aggressive goals in the areas of economic development, planning, finance, housing and infrastructure, core services, and technology. The Council also approved new statements of mission, vision, and values that define the desired organizational culture. Implementation of the strategic plan is in full force and has already resulted in significant advances in economic development, technology and customer service. Working to accomplish the strategic goals requires new ways of doing things for many staff and imposes greater accountabilities for changed priorities. These are necessary components of accomplishing the City’s mission. Conversational feedback from many constituents and community partners to City Council members suggests that the rollout of the strategic plan is starting to drive transformation of the City’s organizational culture as expected by Council.

The consultant who assisted the City Manager search process had advised that staff turnover is foreseeable whenever a new leader follows a long-term leader, especially when the new leader has been charged with the task of transforming the culture of the organization. Culture change is a difficult process for any organization. Staff members who are unable or unwilling to embrace the new culture are likely to leave. It is also common that many staff members who could become successful in the new culture also choose to leave because it is personally difficult to process change. This is especially true for employees who have been under the same leadership for decades. Those are individual choices. None of the recent senior staff departures in Centerville have been involuntary and each person has his or her own story. The City Council wishes success for all of Centerville’s former employees in their future endeavors.

Fortunately, the City of Centerville has many employees who embody the City’s newly stated mission, vision, and values, and are working hard to accomplish the City’s strategic goals. The City Manager has been successful in recruiting outstanding seasoned professionals to replace departed staff members and fill newly created positions. The City Council is encouraged by the quality of the team that the City Manager has assembled with new hires and remaining staff members to accomplish the strategic plan. The Council is confident that the City of Centerville is on the right track toward continued progress and achievement of its strategic goals.

NOTE: The mayor and council members all signed the statement.