When she took her last city management job in Washington a decade ago, she jokingly called herself "the dragon lady" for her reputation as a demanding manager during two decades as a municipal bureaucrat in Texas.

But yesterday, as Mayor-elect Michael Nutter introduced her as the city's next managing director, Camille Cates Barnett was not focused on managerial toughness.

Rather, in her first comments, Barnett, 58, echoed Nutter's themes of improving customer service and efficiency in local government.

"I asked Camille to come here to make this city work and run," Nutter said.

Barnett is a top official with Philadelphia-based Public Financial Management in its Washington office.

She will be the third woman to oversee day-to-day operations in a city government with 24,000 employees and a $3.9 billion budget. And she's the second Washingtonian Nutter is bringing to the city, the first being Charles Ramsey, the new police commissioner and former Washington police chief.

At PFM, Barnett has been working with the city of New Orleans, helping the city develop better operational and financial practices.

About her skill set, she said: "I'm really good at running things. So, my experience is in management and in operations with a particular emphasis on two things, improving customer service and reaching out across boundaries to think differently about how we govern."

Nutter said he met Barnett about five years ago at a conference sponsored by the National League of Cities at which Barnett spoke on budget practices. Both recall Nutter's asking many questions, and both were impressed with each other.

"She is at the top of her field in collaborative approaches to city government," Nutter said.

Barnett has a doctorate in public administration and has a substantial body of publications. She worked in local government in Sunnyvale, Calif., and then in Dallas, Houston and Austin before joining the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority in early 1998 as its chief management officer, a position she held for slightly more than a year.

There, her internal efficiency reforms became a target for Washington politicians, who chafed under the congressionally created Control Board's oversight of D.C. government. Questions were raised about her award of a contract to a Texas consultant.

When she starts work in January, Barnett said, she'll bring a "strategic focus" to issues like jobs, crime and education.

"We're going to make that real with some operational measures so that you can track our performance. . . . " she said. "We'll be working as a team doing the things that most matter to the people of Philadelphia." *