Thursday, June 14, 2001

City development head resigns

Kovach held job for 7 months

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Evonne Kovach came to the city of Cincinnati seven months ago as the new economic development director with big plans to turn around the declining city.

        She resigned Wednesday.

        “I'm ready to move on to something else,” Ms. Kovach said. “I guess I'm used to a more independent environment. It's a little too bureaucratic for me.”

        Ms. Kovach assumed the $101,000-a-year position Nov. 15, one week before her department's publicized pursuit of upscale retailer Nordstrom collapsed.

        Her tenure was further challenged by lack of staff, a slowing economy and April riots that damaged dozens of businesses citywide. Her last day is June 22.

        City Manager John Shirey said he'll leave the job of picking a replacement for Ms. Kovach to his successor. Mr. Shirey appointed Toni Selvey-Maddox as acting director, a position she held nearly one year before Ms. Kovach arrived.

        City Council members, business leaders and community activists favor waiting until after this fall's election to name a replacement. Mr. Shirey's resignation, issued this year amid the swirl of post-riot City Hall, is effective Dec. 1 — the day a new City Council and a directly elected mayor with greater powers take office.

        “Her resignation should be considered an opportunity by the mayor to put a fresh team in place — top to bottom in City Hall,” said Arn Bortz, a major downtown developer and former Cincinnati mayor.

        If Mayor Charlie Luken is re-elected this fall, he'll appoint a candidate for city manager. The candidate, who must be approved by council, will name a replacement for Ms. Kovach.

        Ms. Kovach plans to spend a few months working abroad, possibly in Serbia or Romania, before pursuing job prospects in Cincinnati. She declined to elaborate on her sudden departure or unhappiness with her position.

        “I'm of the mind that life's too short to waste any of it,” she said.

        Mr. Shirey was “disappointed” that his hand-picked successor to longtime director Andi Udris resigned after just seven months.

        “That's not enough time to really get your feet planted,” Mr. Shirey said. “No question it's a tough position.”

        Ms. Kovach earned national attention as Lockland's village administrator and economic development director. She led the tiny municipality along Interstate 75 in redeveloping brownfields — abandoned, idled or underused industrial sites.

        But the jump to Cincinnati's high-profile position proved difficult.

        She inherited an economic development staff with one third of its positions vacant. The department is recruiting new development officers, she said.

        City Councilman Paul Booth will lobby for a replacement who brings stability to the 24-person department.

        “We need someone who comes in with some sort of vision,” Mr. Booth said.

        The successor will inherit the job of bolstering a city that lost more people than any other Ohio city over the last decade. Northern Kentucky and suburbs north of Cincinnati have enjoyed spectacular economic growth over the last decade as the central city has struggled to keep its job and tax base.

        The new director will inherit a parking lot at Fifth and Race — the current use for the failed Nordstrom project. Downtown business interests are divided over whether it's a suitable lot for a $325 million expansion of the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.


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