Urbana's new city admin: 'I'd like there to be a greater understanding'

Urbana's new city admin: 'I'd like there to be a greater understanding'

URBANA — Carol Mitten knows what keeps people from interacting with city government, and she isn't shying away from it.

There's confusing legalese, required procedures, dense reports and budgets with triple-digit page counts — all things that could be difficult for the layman to comprehend.

"I want (citizens) to understand why we do what we do ... so they can give fully informed feedback with context," Mitten said. "Transparency can be just providing information, but I'd like there to be a greater understanding."

As the new city administrator of Urbana, Mitten will tackle that work when she officially starts in early June. Mayor Diane Marlin announced Mitten's appointment on Wednesday after conducting a nationwide search that received over 60 applicants.

Marlin said the administrator handles the day-to-day operations of city staff and coordinates communication and planning across departments.

The position has been vacant since 2007, when former Mayor Laurel Prussing decided against having one.

Mitten is coming back to the Midwest after growing up in Cleveland and receiving a bachelor's and master's from Ohio State University. She's leaving her post as deputy county manager in Arlington County, Va. — which involves economic development and public works — after living in the District of Columbia area for 33 years.

She said the decision to move is one she doesn't take lightly.

"I've been working as a consultant, which is fulfilling but not what drives me or gives me purpose," Mitten said. This job "allows me to make sure I make a difference in communities."

Mitten's new duties will include working with stakeholders ranging from the University of Illinois to local businesses and community groups.

"We have to be mindful of not just working with the UI as an educational institution," she said. "A lot of people visit Urbana annually whether they're families of (UI) students or potential students — that's an opportunity every time to showcase Urbana. We could do more with hotels to showcase Urbana's features."

But before it can be showcased, Mitten said Urbana needs to cement an identity with unique aspects that draw visitors, businesspeople and residents.

There are some challenges to Mitten's ideas, including financial struggles from the state budget impasse and Carle Foundation Hospital court case. The city is going through budget cuts and separation incentives with employees.

"It's a real opportunity to take a hard look at what you're doing and say, 'Are we doing this as efficiently as possible and getting the outcomes we want?'" she said. "We can do shared services with other cities; it's a big opportunity to explore those kinds of partnerships."

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