Mayor-elect Michael Nutter yesterday selected Camille Barnett, a well-traveled professional city administrator, as Philadelphia's next managing director, filling the critical post with an accomplished and charismatic appointee.
Barnett, 57, has held senior management positions in municipalities across the country, including Dallas, Houston and Austin, Texas; Washington; and communities in California and Michigan.
Although she now works for the Philadelphia-based firm Public Financial Management, Barnett has never lived in the city or its suburbs. Nutter said her relative lack of familiarity with the city wouldn't be a problem for Barnett, who he said was "at the top of her field."
"Good management is good management, wherever you are," Nutter said as he announced his selection in an ornate room at City Hall. "What we're looking for is excellence in management and service delivery. Those principles, those concepts, are universal."
Nutter likened the position of managing director to chief operating officer, and said the city's departments would report to Barnett, who, effectively, will run the city day to day. Nutter indicated she would be a member of his inner circle, saying he expected to talk to her several times a day.
Asked what she brings to the job, Barnett said: "I'm really good at running things."
A star on the public-policy lecture circuit and a published scholar, Barnett will bring more direct municipal management experience to the job than any of her recent predecessors did.
"She's literally spent her whole adult life in the practice of running municipal government, either as a consultant or a direct practitioner," said F. John White, chief executive officer of Public Financial Management and Barnett's current boss.
"He could not have picked anybody better. She really understands public policy, how to institute best practices, how to motivate a workforce."
White, who was on former Mayor Ed Rendell's transition team in 1991, said Rendell had considered Barnett for the managing director post, but had decided the city couldn't afford the salary she would certainly command. There was no word yesterday on what her salary will be in the Nutter administration. Current Managing Director Loree Jones is paid $169,062.
Nutter said he had met Barnett several years ago at a National League of Cities meeting where she was a speaker. He was impressed, he said, by her performance and her ease in handling his many questions.
"I'm literally giddy with excitement," said Brett Mandel of Philadelphia Forward, who, like Nutter, saw Barnett at a lecture and came away wishing she worked for Philadelphia.
"The city for too long has had political fixers in the managing director's post, they've been friends of pols or otherwise politically acceptable people instead of having somebody who really has experience running a government," Mandel said.
Yet reviews of Barnett's performance are not uniformly positive. Indeed, conflicts with new mayors in Washington and Austin led her to leave before her contracts had expired.
Asked late yesterday to discuss her accomplishments, Barnett was plainly proud of her 1989-94 tenure as city manager in Austin.
"We really turned the city around. I got there right at the end of the oil bust and the real estate bust, and the city was in pretty bad shape," she said in a telephone interview as she drove around Philadelphia looking at neighborhoods. "By the time we left, it was known for its award-winning customer service."
It was harder going in Washington, Barnett said. She arrived in late 1997 to become chief management officer, a position newly created by the federal panel then overseeing the city's finances and much of its administration.
Barnett had to contend not only with the federal panel, but with Mayor Marion Barry, whose office had been stripped of much of its power by Congress.
Though she was in the post for just a year, her office was the subject of investigations by the city's inspector general and Congress' General Accounting Office.
At issue were contracting procedures, including an $893,000 no-bid contract awarded to a Texas company with ties to one of Barnett's friends. The bid was canceled, and the investigations never led to any punishments or prosecutions, but they did generate plenty of negative press.
Nutter, who made ethics a cornerstone of his campaign, said he was not troubled by those reports.
"Camille Barnett has an excellent reputation, and I'm very proud to have her as a part of our government," Nutter said by phone yesterday. "The incidents out of Washington, D.C., did not give me any concern, as they were fully examined and investigated, and nothing was found to be inappropriate."
Chief management officer for Washington, 1997-99; city manager of Austin, Texas, 1989-94; director of finance and administration for Houston, 1987-88; deputy city manager and other positions in Dallas, 1977-87. Barnett has taught at the University of Southern California, and worked at government consulting firms in North Carolina, in Minnesota, and most recently for Philadelphia-based Public Financial Management.
bachelor of arts degree, Lawrence University; master's and doctoral degrees in public administration, University of Southern California.
Barnett, 57, is married and has four stepchildren.