When Milton R. Dohoney, Jr. came to Cincinnati in 2006 as the city manager, population was in decline and the city was facing massive budget gaps.
His mandate was to grow both the city and its budget — without raising taxes.
Along with the other three finalists for Fort Worth city manager, Dohoney interviews with city council members Tuesday.
“In Cincinnati, we essentially transformed the city in a very short period of time,” said Dohoney, 58. “No one wants to talk about the notion of tax increase. It is unpopular politically and hard to sell. So what we did was develop a strategy to accelerate growth in the midst of a recession.”
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The city attracted new companies to headquarter in Cincinnati, such as Omnicare and Pure Romance, and invested in the urban core by developing the land between Cincinnati Reds and Bengals’ stadiums and beginning a major streetcar project.
The city also cut budgets to grow the city reserves by $35 million between 2008 and 2011, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, which analyzed how America’s major cities weathered the recession.
Dohoney, who had a base salary of $255,000, was forced out of the job when a new mayor was elected, and announced his resignation in November 2013. Dohoney had been instrumental in two major city deals that the new mayor campaigned against — a streetcar project and leasing the city’s parking system. He received a year’s severance for leaving.
Mayor John Cranley did not respond to interview requests, but is quoted in a Nov. 13 Cincinnati Business Courier article as saying: “Mr. Dohoney is a professional and did a good job. I wish him nothing but the best. I want him to succeed in the future."
Dohoney was one of five finalists named in the Dallas city manager search in December, but was not selected.
Former Cincinnati Mayor Mike Mallory, who ended his term in 2013 because of term limits, said he hired Dohoney because of his experience in economic development.
“There is a city component to most of the development that occurred in the last eight years and Milton has been the one putting those deals together,” Mallory said. “He has been particularly good about attracting and retaining jobs to Cincinnati.”
“The bottom line is he does not let obstacles stand in his way.”
Cincinnati added 24,000 jobs after Dohoney started.
Part of attracting new development was an effort to change the city’s brand and use technology to make the city more efficient and user-friendly, Dohoney said. The city implemented mobile apps to reach code compliance, overhauled the central call center and purchased hand-held computers to make inspections and permitting more efficient.
Mallory said “people should not be at all concerned that a new mayor would come into office and want his own people, that is very typical.”
The streetcar project is in the first phase of a 3.6-mile loop to connect key employments centers and the city’s urban core and “represents a significant financial investment in the city’s future,” Dohoney said.
His management of that project will help him improve Fort Worth’s public transportation and multimodal transportation strategy, he said, adding that he is ready to face Fort Worth’s other challenges, such as accelerated growth, the need for infrastructure development and fiscal responsibility.
Cincinnati has been losing population unlike Fort Worth, which has seen rapid growth, but Dohoney said both situations are about managing population changes and both scenarios present obstacles.
“In Fort Worth, where you have population growth like that, the challenges that poses for local government is that the city is growing faster than the infrastructure can keep up,” Dohoney said.
Though the population of Cincinnati is just under 300,000, the metropolitan area is the 25th-largest in the United States, with a population over 2 million.
Mallory said, “He is extremely impressive. He earned the nickname as being unflappable because he has this very calm demeanor and it doesn’t really matter what is gong on in the city, he never loses control and never loses sight of what is important.”