Twenty months after becoming second-in-command for the city of Rochester, Leonard Redon is increasingly proficient at navigating governmental work.
Hired as deputy mayor in July 2011, Redon has needed some time to get used to public service.
“The thing that’s really challenging here is what we’re expected to do with very few resources,” says Redon in his City Hall office.
As an example he mentions information technology infrastructure. “Most of the systems we use here in the city are truly legacy systems that, for a variety of reasons, we really need to replace,” says the former Eastman Kodak Co. and Paychex Inc. executive. “But our resources to do that are very, very lean. As a result, that’s one of the most challenging areas that I’m trying to deal with.”
Redon also is required to document his comings and goings at the beginning and end of each workday, despite his role as the city’s head of operations and acting mayor in the absence of Thomas Richards.
“One of the first things I realized when I came here was they still use time cards,” Redon says. “I still have to sign a time card. I hadn’t signed a time card in over 20 years. But it’s still very much how we do things here in the city.”
And Redon is now familiar with the bureaucracy attached to government.
“It’s just how hard it is to get things done, how long it takes to get things done here,” he says. “You’ll be sitting in a meeting, talking about a project, and everybody agrees we’re going to do the project, and then six months later you’re asking people, ‘When are we starting?’ It just takes a long time.
“Working in the corporate world, I’m not used to that. I’m used to be able to move things much faster. … So that’s a challenge.”
After most initiatives wind their way through the system, they must be passed along to City Council for its approval.
“The biggest change here is dealing with council,” Redon says. “Almost everything we do ultimately has to be approved by council. It’s how you go about learning to work with council.
“They have, in some ways, a different agenda than perhaps we have in the administration. They also don’t always have the time to put in to really understand some of these things we’re trying to implement. So how do you explain fairly complex solutions such that they can support it well enough to vote on it?”
A recent example is an agreement with the city’s union workers on health care coverage.
“We probably worked on that for nine months, and then you get a 45-minute work session with council to try to get them to understand all the nuances of that,” says Redon, who has a background in health care. “It takes a while to figure out how to do that.
“And you have to understand the council members well enough such that you know how to communicate with them in a way that they can absorb the information.”
Then, when a task finally is completed, Redon and other city leaders prepare for the inevitable backlash.
“You have to recognize in this world that no deed goes unpunished, good or bad,” he says. “There’s always someone who’s probably not happy with what you’ve done.
“You may have satisfied 90 percent of a need out there, but that 10 percent, in whatever way they can, makes you pay. You just have to deal with that. It’s the reality of the game.”
Those are not necessarily negatives, says the 61-year-old native of Cleveland. But they are different from what he was accustomed to during a 28-year executive career at Kodak followed by 10 years at Paychex.
He retired from Paychex at the end of January 2011 as vice president of western operations. He was approached by Richards some 10 weeks later about becoming deputy mayor.
“When I retired, I knew I wasn’t going to not do something,” Redon says. “I put together a bucket list, and No. 2 on the bucket list was to be a part of something significant. That kept going around and around in my mind when I was considering whether or not I really did want to do this.
“Ultimately, I said it’s the right thing. It’s an opportunity to give back to the community, learn some new things, find out about a new environment and work with someone I think very highly of, Tom. I think he’s built a pretty good team here.”
David Fiedler, president and CEO of ESL Federal Credit Union, has known Redon for nearly 40 years—dating back to when both worked at Kodak—and is a close friend.
“His wealth of executive management experience at both Kodak and Paychex, combined with his well-developed ability to evaluate complex issues from multiple perspectives, made him an ideal choice to become deputy mayor,” Fiedler says.
“Len is one of the more recent savvy and experienced executives, all of whom would have many alternative ways to use their skills, who have chosen to apply their talents to the challenges and opportunities the city of Rochester faces at this critical inflection point in its history.”
Joining the city team
Redon and Richards are among several in the city administration with experience as private-sector executives.
Richards was recruited by former mayor Robert Duffy to be the city’s corporation counsel in 2006 after seven years as general counsel at Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. and four years as chairman and CEO of RGS Energy Group. He was an attorney for 20 years with Nixon Peabody LLP before that.
Redon first met Richards when they served on the board of the Industrial Management Council.
“I was working at Paychex when he came to the city, and I was, like, wow, what a big change that he would do that,” Redon recalls.
Richards was appointed deputy mayor by Duffy in October 2010 and became mayor in January 2011 after Duffy’s resignation to become lieutenant governor.
“When I finally retired from Paychex, Tom was looking for another business type to be a part of this,” Redon says. “My experience has primarily been in operations. That’s what I did at Paychex. That’s what I did at Kodak. He needed what he would call a chief operating officer.”
Duffy initiated the private-sector concept in city government. In addition to Richards, he convinced retired banker Carlos Carballada to come aboard in an economic development capacity.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is bring some of the techniques and approaches that you would use in a business world to city management,” Redon says. “The city is not a business, but there are techniques that you can use that actually are very valuable.”
Monthly reports from each city department are now a staple of operations.
“We can look at their budget performance and then look at how they’re doing against their key measureables, their key result areas,” Redon says. “We now have a set of reports we go over every month, Tom with his direct reports and me with my direct reports.”
The city’s senior management team meets each Tuesday.
“We have what we call an all-city review, where we look across the city in terms of how we’re doing financially and what are some of the issues we might be facing,” Redon says. “We also have two of the departments do a more in-depth report. That has started to change some of the way we look at how we go about doing what we’re doing.”
In a news conference after hiring Redon, Richards said he planned to ease Redon into the position by not involving him in meetings and paperwork.
Redon’s initial responsibilities included the Bureau of Human Resource Management, the Department of Recreation and Youth Services and the Rochester Public Library. He has since taken on the Department of Information Technology and the Department of Environmental Services.
“I think he just wanted me to learn the city well enough before I took that on,” Redon said of environmental services. “That’s water, that’s refuse, that’s plowing, that’s parks, maintenance, buildings, etc.”
Redon also oversees the city’s space planning and its Bureau of Parking.
“When I came in, the city had just embarked on installing a new finance system,” he says. “One of the first things I had to do was crawl into that project. And we were having some problems. It took us a while, but we got that on track.
“There are still elements of that, though, that we’re still working on. From my perspective—I know our IT director wouldn’t agree with this—we’re a year behind where we thought we would be.”
Redon says he was comfortable with his new job within three months, and most of his responsibilities are operational.
“There are some policy things there, but for the most part that’s not stuff that the mayor should have to be involved with day to day,” he says. “Having someone like me in this role lets him focus on the more important policy issues.”
Redon manages capital planning, working closely with the city’s budget office.
“Capital planning here is different than capital planning in the corporate world because generally in the corporate world your capital planning is year to year,” he says. “Here it’s really stretching over a five-year span, so you have to think about it differently.
“You might be investing $500,000 here, but five years later you might be investing $5 million. Once you put that plan out, council looks at that and says, ‘OK, this is what I expect your future spending to look like.’ So as you change that, you have to go back to council and make sure they understand it.”
Redon has had to adapt to fund accounting, in which money is separated into different streams to identify its source and intended use.
“Just moving money from fund to fund requires council approval, so you spend a lot of time lining up where the funds are coming from,” he says. “You really do have to understand that reasonably well to effectively operate here.
“I’ve been on the boards of a number of organizations that had fund accounting, but never to the extent you have here and never with the level of approvals that’s required to move $1 million from here to here. In the corporate world, it’s all fungible to a certain extent, but not here.”
Redon is involved in the redevelopment of the Midtown Plaza site and the Sibley Centre on the east end of downtown and in growth strategies for the Eastman Business Park, which he once managed as a Kodak executive.
“I’m optimistic,” he says of the business park, “because they do have some really good resources there that, if you can position them properly, really do create a very attractive environment for someone to come in in certain types of manufacturing.
“We’ve got a lot going on out there right now that isn’t Kodak. Our challenge is to make sure that we’re able to settle down the utilities and some of the environmental issues such that a company will say, ‘OK, that’s a good place for me to go.’”
The city is working with the state to get the support needed, he says.
Redon has been renting an apartment at Corn Hill Landing since coming to City Hall. He and his wife, Denise, recently sold their home in Perinton and are looking for a city home.
Their son, Jason, 35, lives in San Diego. Their daughter, Jennifer, 28, lives in Fairport.
Redon was born and raised in the Cleveland area, and his parents also had urban roots. His father grew up in St. Louis, his mother in New Orleans. His dad worked for the U.S. Postal Service, and his mom was a nurse.
His father also was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, an organization of African-American fighter pilots in World War II, but was injured during training and never deployed. He met his future wife while recuperating.
Redon spent his early years as a city resident, worshipping the Cleveland Browns and legendary running back Jim Brown during the 1960s as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed by Congress, bringing a legal end to segregation and giving Redon’s parents hope for their children’s future.
“They were African Americans who realized that new doors were opening up and wanted to make sure their kids (were) ready to walk through those doors,” Redon says. “That was really their focus.”
The Redons left the city for the Cleveland suburbs when their son was in seventh grade.
“My parents moved us to what would be the equivalent of Brighton,” Redon says. “That had an enormous impact on my life because they ripped me out of the African-American community and thrust me into a very different world.
“Now, that has served me very well in a lot of ways. And the reason they moved when they moved was for the schools. That predicated the fact that I was going to go to college, one way or another.”
He became interested in science because a friend of his parents was employed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
“He got me interested in astronomy,” Redon says. “I had this telescope, and he would come over and we’d find planets and stuff like that.”
Redon received a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in 1973.
Redon’s civic activities have centered on health care and education. He is chairman of the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency board of directors until next month and chairman of the agency’s 2020 Performance Commission, designed to help support a patient-centered health care system.
“A lot of the issues that the HSA is working on relate to what’s going on in the city because of the poverty, the African-American community and its issues, the Hispanic community and its issues,” Redon says. “The HSA has been focused on those.
“My work there, I think, relates very well to what I do in the city. In some ways, the fact that I’ve stayed involved with those in this role, I think, has helped those organizations.”
FLHSA executive director Fran Weisberg has worked closely with Redon for the last six years.
“He is an inspiring leader, he’s very wise and he’s incredibly helpful,” Weisberg says. “He will take a very complex issue, like the 2020 Commission, and understand it.
“He will break it down to its component parts, clarify things and move things forward, and get all of the stakeholders around the table to find common ground and do great for the community.”
Redon also is a member and past chairman of the Monroe Community College Foundation board.
Since becoming deputy mayor, he has added city programs such as the Pillars of Hope initiative to his list of involvements. The initiative recruits African-American and Latino professionals who adopt a city school and provide support to its students.
He has done similar work with youngsters at the Hillside Family of Agencies.
Redon places a priority on interaction with city residents of all ages.
“The perception that people have around people in my type of position is really interesting, particularly in the African-American community but on a general basis across the city,” he says. “‘You’re ‘the deputy mayor, and you’re going to talk to me?’
“I’m human like you. I like to try to break those barriers down. That’s always been a part of my own personal success in whatever I’ve done. I’ve always been able to have that open door and have a style that encouraged people to actually talk to you.”
Redon claims three hobbies: music, boating and golf.
“Having crewed for Len for a few years, I can attest to the fact that Len is quite an accomplished sailor, not to mention playing a pretty mean guitar,” Fiedler says.
“However, I would also add, based on a number of rounds of golf I’ve played with Len over the years, that I think just a little less focus on honing his business, management, sailing and artistic skills might have been good for his game.”
Redon admits life as a public servant has hurt his golf game and restricts the time available for sailing.
“That’s one of the challenges of the job,” he says. “I don’t get as much time to use my boat or get on the golf course. The one that’s been good, though, is my music.
“I was traveling a lot in my other positions. Now I’m around. I’ve actually hooked in with some guys here in the city and have done a couple of gigs with them.”
The blues ensemble is called the BureauCats. It performed at Ease on Down Thurston last May and at a city-sponsored Christmas event.
“I did a lot of singing for that, more singing than playing,” Redon says. “I’ve been working on some singing lessons.”
He has done some composing and recording as well.
“I’ve been working on a couple of tunes I’m going to have some of these guys play,” Redon says. “I’ve never done it before where I’ve had somebody else play. That’s added to the whole thing because I have to get mixes out to them so they can practice.”
He plans to take a break from the music after he and Denise find their new home, then go back to it.
His job as deputy mayor occupies much more of his time than he originally thought, Redon says. As he nears his second anniversary in July, his job’s future is dependent upon Richards being re-elected in November.
“I’m honored to be offered the job and glad I took it,” he says. “I thought this would be a 50-hour a week job, but it’s 70, 80, 90 hours a week. But I’m really glad I’ve done it. I’ve learned some new skills. I’ve had the opportunity to have some new experiences. I’ve met some really good people.
“There are some great people working here in the city. Our challenge is to give them the resources to be as effective as they possibly can be.”
As for whether he wants to serve a full four-year term if Richards is re-elected, Redon responds uncertainly.
“I don’t know the answer to that yet,” he says. “First of all, it relates more to Tom and how he does, and I’ll do what is appropriate for me to do to support him in the election.
“Assuming he wins, I’ll sit back and, first, ask if he wants me to stay. And then, second, do I want to stay. We’ll see. My wife and I have talked a little about that recently. There’s a lot about this that I enjoy, and there are a few things I don’t, like most things in life.”
Title: Deputy mayor, city of Rochester
Education: B.S. in chemical engineering, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Massachusetts, 1973
Family: Wife Denise; son Jason, 35; daughter Jennifer, 28
Hobbies: Music, sailing, golf
Quote: "I grew up a Browns fan. That’s my problem."
3/15/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.