Arlington County Manager Ron Carlee was honored at a gala reception in the lobby of the Courthouse Plaza county office building on Friday, October 30, his last day in office after an almost 30-year career with the county, the last eight as County Manager.
Several hundred county employees, political and community leaders turned out to fete Ron’s distinguished career, ending as one of the two or three best county managers in the country. He is leaving to become Executive in Residence and Director of Strategic Domestic Initiatives at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).
Ron came here originally from Birmingham, Alabama, where he started as assistant to the Mayor. He got his PhD in Public Administration from George Mason University and has been teaching public administration at George Washington University and will continue his work there after he moves to the ICMA.
Ron also lectures at a course I teach at George Mason on administration in the political process, and is consistently one of the most popular lecturers in my course. Many times students have come up to me and said, “Wow. I always thought I wanted a career in the federal government, but Mr. Carlee makes local government sound so interesting and challenging. I think that is what I want to do.”
Another of the major themes in his lectures is the crucial importance in behaving ethically at all times as a government official, another theme most impressive to my students, many of whom have a rather cynical attitude toward government.
During his long tenure in the county, Ron worked in almost every part of the county government. Among many other positions, he served as Director of Parks and Recreation and was the long-time director of the Department of Human Services. The September 11, 2001 terrorists attack on the Pentagon came soon after his appointment as County Manager. He received national recognition for his superb coordination of Arlington’s first response effort in that unprecedented disaster.
Ron’s management skills are one of the principal reasons that Arlington remains one of the best communities to live and work in the United States.
The farewell reception was a mixture of serious accolades and genuine good humor. Former County Board Chairman John Milliken set the pace by suggesting that Ron was the “Mikey” of the county staff. When a serious problem arose that required a serious response, the staff would look around and say “I’m not going to try it – you try it.” When that didn’t work they all cried “Let’s let Ron try it!” (Remember the famous Mikey cereal ads many years ago?)
Milliken (I think) also told us that the “people speak to God, but God speaks to Ron Carlee!”)
Arlington is not going to lose Ron – at least not physically. He plans to remain in Arlington when he moves in to his ICMA job in D.C. I bet he will be called upon from time to time for advice and counsel. After all, isn’t that the Arlington Way?
But we will miss his superb leadership of one of the best managed counties in the nation.