CINCINNATI -- The person who manages Cincinnati’s park system is Mayor-elect John Cranley’s choice to be the next city manager.
Cranley announced Willie Carden Jr.’s selection at a Wednesday afternoon press conference at Krohn Conservatory in Eden Park.
"I am excited for the opportunity to work with someone as accomplished and talented as Willie Carden to move our city forward,” Cranley told WCPO.
“As director of the Parks Department, Willie has continuously exceeded lofty expectations and built a world-class, award-winning parks system,” he added.
“He has found ways to improve services despite facing budget cuts by finding creative ways to generate revenue, partnering with community members and other organizations, and making excellent strategic decisions. It's that kind of approach that we need from our city manager."
Carden, a lifelong Cincinnatian and 27-year city employee, has been Cincinnati parks director since April 2000.
As part of his job, Carden was responsible for raising $40 million to get the Smale Riverfront Park project started. In recent years, he’s also had to devise plans to deal with shrinking budgets and make cuts that didn’t jeopardize the park department’s core mission.
The current city manager, Milton Dohoney Jr., will leave office Sunday, the same day Cranley and the next City Council are sworn into office.
In a deal reached Nov. 13, Dohoney will receive one year’s salary -- $255,000 – as severance.
The city manager oversees daily operations of municipal government and a 5,600-member workforce. The manager leads 17 city departments.
The mayor and City Council determine policies and set direction for the city through legislative measures, but the execution of policy is the city manager’s responsibility.
Under Cincinnati’s form of government, although the mayor can suggest candidates for the city manager’s job, the final decision is left up to City Council. At least five members of the nine-member group must approve the choice before the person may be hired.
It’s expected that council members P.G. Sittenfeld and Christopher Smitherman, and Council Members-elect David Mann, Amy Murray and Kevin Flynn will sign off on Cranley’s selection.
Expected at Cranley's announcement were Western & Southern Financial Group CEO John Barrett; 3CDC President Stephen Leeper; and North American Properties President Tom Williams, who chairs the influential Cincinnati Business Committee.
They wanted to attend because they are big Carden fans, Cranley said.
The mayor-elect hopes Carden can start as city manager within a few weeks. Before that happens, City Council members will meet one-on-one with Carden, to interview him and ask about any concerns.
Cranley wants to offer Carden a $235,000 annual salary. That’s $20,000 less than the current city manager earns, but higher than Dohoney’s $185,000 starting salary seven years ago.
Under Carden’s leadership, the city’s sprawling park system has won multiple national awards including one for the design of Smale Riverfront Park, which is being created along downtown’s southern edge.
In fact, Cincinnati’s park system – which includes five regional parks, 70 neighborhood parks and 34 nature preserves – is routinely ranked as one of the nation’s top urban park systems by the Trust for Public Land.
Before taking his current job, Carden oversaw the city’s sanitation division and once managed Riverfront Stadium.
Former Mayor Charlie Luken, one of Cranley’s political mentors, has called Carden “the best department head we had while I was there.”
Carden serves as a trustee to the boards of Children's Hospital, the Cincinnati Zoo and DePaul Christo Rey. He graduated from Mount Healthy High School and the University of Cincinnati.