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Mecklenburg County Tasks New Manager With Changing Culture

Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County commissioners have hired from within to replace long-time county manager Harry Jones. Assistant County Manager Dena Diorio landed the job last night, seven months after Jones’ firing initiated a national search for a new leader.

Diorio started as finance director in 2007, after eight years in Connecticut city government and eight in the mayor’s office in New York before that. She was promoted to assistant county manager, after Jones’ removal in May. Commissioner Dumont Clarke praised Diorio’s mix of experience.

“You’re a blend of both internal and external,” Clarke said. “You can hit the ground running but at the same time you will have that perspective of an external candidate as well.”

Diorio’s appointment contained a bit of surprise, because commissioners seemed poised to pick a manager from outside the county. They hired a search firm and indicated they had otherwise considered outside candidates.  

“At the front end of the process I had a bias against internal candidates,” Commissioner Karen Bentley said. “Because frankly I didn’t know that we had anyone internally who could come in and drive change, because changing a culture in an organization this size is a big task.”

Over the past year, commissioners have complained about a county bureaucracy that withholds information from the board. Before firing him, commissioners openly struggled with Jones for control of meetings. In part, that relationship led to his dismissal. Diorio promised a different approach.

“I think there needs to be more of an open dialogue. I think providing information more frequently and more regularly even if we don’t have all the answers,” Diorio said. “Sometimes it’s better just to say, ‘Here. We have a problem; we know this is going on. We don’t have all the answers, but here’s what going on.’”

Diorio also talked about restoring public trust—that’s in the wake of a series of high-profile county missteps, including a botched property revaluation, problems at the mental health services agency, and mismanagement at the department of social services. Diorio is the first woman to ever hold the top job. She’ll receive about $250,000 a year in salary and benefits, when she takes over on January 2nd. Current interim county manager Bobbie Shields has said he will retire.