Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick chose Kevin Sutherland to serve as the city’s first chief of staff. The mayor’s office announced on Oct.15 that Sutherland accepted the position. Sutherland is currently the executive assistant to Joe Mareane, administrator of Tompkins County, where he helped to formulate the annual county budget. He will begin working for the city in December.
After a 2011 study of city operations, conducted by the Novak Consulting Group, the top recommendation of how to improve city organization was to hire a chief of staff to assist the mayor and oversee internal operations. Sutherland said the mayor’s position was originally a part-time position, but Myrick works more than full-time.
The position is focused on assisting the mayor in daily operations of the city so Myrick has more time to focus on city policy and meetings with the public. The position will also include budget coordination, which Sutherland was involved in while working for Tompkins County.
Myrick said he was looking for candidates who had management, government and budget experience. The search committee consisted of Myrick; Schelley Michell-Nunn, director of human resources; Steven Thayer, the city controller; Aaron Lavine, the city attorney; and one city councilperson, Deb Mohlenhoff, and they narrowed down the applications to Sutherland.
Myrick said the search committee chose Sutherland because of his experience with the Tompkins County budget and his past experience in local government.
“As the executive assistant to the county administrator, Kevin was in charge of putting together Tompkins County’s budget, a budget that is considerably larger than the City of Ithaca’s, and he proved himself well capable of that,” Myrick said. “That experience really made him a front-runner and just getting a chance to get to know him through the interview process, we saw that he is a hardworking individual who contributes quite a lot to our city.”
Myrick said Sutherland’s responsibilities when beginning his new position will be to make the budget more transparent and accessible, to create performance measures so staff can hold themselves accountable to the public and to stay in contact with all the staff members to ensure proper oversight and access to the mayor’s office.
Sutherland said he accepted the position because it gives him a chance to become more involved with the city, and he will have more responsibility working for the city. He said he is excited to work for the City of Ithaca and with Myrick.
“I find Svante a very charismatic and caring person, really passionate about the city,” Sutherland said. “I want to get involved and work with him and work for him.”
Mareane said during Sutherland’s role as executive assistant, Sutherland helped transform the county budget into an easy-to-read document.
“He helped transform the process [and] made things much more understandable for both the community and legislators and departments,” Mareane said. “He’s really demystified the budget and made it a more effective process.”
Sutherland worked with the $164 million Tompkins County 2013 budget and said he could use financial management software that he developed at the county and apply the software to balance the city budget more effectively. The city budget for the next fiscal year is a proposed $64 million.
“Taking it from where I’ve developed [the software] here and trying to apply it to the city might be useful [for] the way I approach issues and concerns and trying to solve problems,” he said. “This is a good opportunity for me to really be able to help the city.”
Sutherland said when he begins the position in December, he will also focus on working with city departments to develop performance-measurement graphs to gauge the effectiveness of individual departments.
“If we’re putting money behind a service, we’re responsible to the public, and we should be showing them how we’re doing,” he said.