By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.
The Truth Contributor
We do live in a society where there is a severe racial wealth gap. And the people who often are least advantaged in that scheme are black women. – Keith Ellison
Katy Crosby, chief of staff for Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, will take her “black girl magic” to become the town manager of Apex, North Carolina, on June 11. The move will significantly expand her power and influence while nearly doubling her salary.
Despite their incredible contributions, black women have faced formidable barriers in opportunities to advance their economic standing. Black women are paid 35 percent less than white men and 15 percent below white women despite often having more education.
With a reputation for raucous in-house bureaucratic fighting and propensity to stick like glue to the status quo, making substantive change is practically impossible in Toledo. However, in her prestigious new role, Crosby will work outside the political realm to oversee all town departments, lead financial management processes, develop budgets and policies, and evaluate programs.
The town of Apex is a fast-growing suburb of 60,000 near Raleigh and the prominent high-tech Research Triangle Park.
Kudos to the talented Crosby for “bossing up,” looking out for herself, and taking her talents from Toledo to Apex, a city that has appeared on several Best Place to Live lists.
Crosby, who becomes the first woman and African American to serve in the new role, spoke with me about her Toledo experience and her next-level career move. The following is our discussion.
Perryman: So, you’re leaving us. What’s the story behind the move?
Crosby: There is nothing negative or anything like that. I’m thrilled working in the mayor’s office; it was a great team to work with. The town of Apex operates under a council-manager form of government, and one of my career goals is to become a city manager. It’s just a new opportunity that came my way.
Perryman: How would you describe your contributions or accomplishments during your three-year stint in Toledo?
Crosby: A lot of my work was cleaning up the internal processes, internal controls, and working to improve the workplace culture. I led the Toledo Racial Equity & Inclusion Council formation, doing work towards creating an equitable economic and social ecosystem. I helped provide leadership direction and resources toward the investments that we will be making in neighborhoods. I worked with Women of Toledo and mentored several young professionals on career objectives. From the feedback that I’m getting from folks as they send me congratulatory messages, I think my strength has been changing the culture of how the City of Toledo does business. That includes both how it interacts with our community and how we interact internally. I have strengthened and provided a sense of order to the organization.
Perryman: What would you have liked to accomplish here that you didn’t fully achieve?
Crosby: We have many balls up in the air, and it would be nice to see those things come to fruition. There is nothing that I feel like I failed to do. I feel proud of initiatives like financial transparency/implementing open government; getting the disparity study started; coming up with a 3-year plan for human resources; improving our Accounts Payable policies; and developing a performance feedback system and key performance indicators reporting process.
There are a lot of things that I worked on to help strengthen our accountability around how we provide services to the community and the expectations internally. What I’ve done is set the stage for us to build on a lot of those things so that we can strengthen the organization and provide better services. So, I’m proud of that.
Perryman: No regrets at all?
Crosby: I don’t have any regrets. The mayor has supported everything that I wanted to do. He has done a really good job of relying on his team to figure things out and do what we think is best for the organization.
I appreciate him allowing me to take on the equity initiatives and address some of the disparities that exist, and remain open to suggestions, constructive criticism, and guidance. It is important to feel empowered to be open, honest, and speak my mind, especially after everything that happened with George Floyd. I had my own personal feelings that I was dealing with about that, and being free to go to him and talk to him about what I was feeling and receiving his support through the ordeal, I don’t have any regrets.
Perryman: What advice would you give to your successor as chief of staff?
Crosby: There is so much going on from an economic development perspective and within the organization. One of the things that were important to me is that there’s a lot of healing that needs to happen internally with the city. I think we’re on that path but there’s a lot of work to be still done.
The advice that I would offer is to come in, listen, and learn what’s already taking place and help to continue to move those things forward. Be mindful of the folks who provide services to our residents every single day and make sure that they’re taken care of because if they’re taken care of then our residents will be cared for.
Perryman: Let’s discuss some of the challenges in this job.
Crosby: One of the biggest challenges I faced in this job is navigating the relationship with council. There is always an opportunity to improve that relationship. We have to get to a place where council and the administration is a team working towards a common goal, and where there is mutual respect for those roles and responsibilities because Toledo has so much to offer.
Perryman: Please go back and elaborate on the healing that we need and your relationship with council. You also alluded to that challenge when I interviewed you shortly after you arrived in Toledo three years ago.
Crosby: I come from a community where there was mutual respect between councilmembers, and there was respect for the professionalism that the administrator brought to the job every single day. I recognize that Toledo is in a different form of government (Mayor-council). Still, in the experiences that I’ve had in the short time that I’ve had working in Toledo, one of the things that I hear repeatedly is this us versus them tone between the elected body and the administration. Toledo has to continue to work on that in order to move the organization forward.
I feel that there is sometimes, a lack of appreciation for the work that our senior leadership team does on a daily basis and the barriers we’re up against.
Perryman: There has been no discussion of police reform in Toledo like in many other cities, so what’s up with that?
Crosby: You asked me earlier if I had any regrets. I don’t know that I would say this is a regret, but the reform process is probably something that I would’ve done differently.
Perryman: Please elaborate.
Crosby: What I’ve seen other communities do and even in my past experience working on community-police relations, we tried to do this, but I think we should’ve had a facilitator that did not have any stake in the game come in and help us navigate some of these conversations so that we could come up with some meaningful reform recommendations.
There were some things that the mayor did early on that we learned, that we used as practices from other communities. Still, I would’ve hoped that what you see from Houston and Dayton and some other communities where they produce a document that provided some recommendations and metrics to actually measure performance. I wish we could’ve come up with a document like that, in the end, to share with the communities so that there was some accountability in place that they could look at regularly.
We tried to navigate the best that we could in terms of being respectful of the folks that we asked to volunteer in those roles and allowing them to do that work, and give them the space to do that work. We’re currently waiting for them to provide recommendations on a path forward while we’re also trying to figure out what we can do without giving the impression that we’re by-passing or overstepping the task force.
It would’ve been helpful to have a facilitator with past professional expertise in that work to help move the conversation forward, make sure all voices were at the table, and maybe expand the table to ensure those directly impacted weighed in.
Perryman: Finally, several high-level employees came to work for the City of Toledo and left shortly after being hired. Is the fact that we are not able to retain employees of color a structural issue?
Crosby: I think it’s a couple of things. Everybody is looking for good people and good people who have experience navigating the social issues we’re dealing with right now. So, if you want to retain folks, you have to make sure that what you’re offering is financially competitive, and that’s probably one of the biggest challenges that we have internally. When we were recruiting talent and opening up our searches beyond Toledo, our salary ranges are one of the biggest challenges we ran into compared to other cities our size.
African American talent is being sought after and recruited all over just because people are like, wait a minute, we do need to make sure that we diversify our teams. So, amenities that are offered in terms of being able to network and other social amenities are also important so that people feel like it’s a welcoming community. I think that’s really important to help people decide whether or not this is a place they want to live and raise a family. That’s probably the most significant thing for us internally.
I would also add that my first few months on the job kicked off with a series of swastikas within the organization and around the community. While I’m no stranger to racist behavior, that was a lot to deal with being new to a community.
I would also say former employees left at a time where there was a lot of social unrest and every organization was looking for diverse people and so that’s really what pulled them away. We were going through some structural changes internally in terms of building up our team and we’ve finally done that and added staff and more resources to the Diversity and Inclusion department. So, the next person would be set up nicely to be successful.
Perryman: Several people have told me that they’re sad that you’re leaving. How do you respond?
Crosby: My heart is full because internally, I have gotten so many messages from employees that I didn’t even realize saw what I did every day. I feel like that means that my heart was in the work, and they know that I was trying to do the best that I could to make Toledo better.
I have met some truly great people in the city, and I appreciate everything. Everybody was very welcoming and allowed me to engage and be part of this community. I’m forever grateful for that and it warms my heart that people saw me as a valuable resource to the community. It means a lot to me.
Perryman: Are there any final words you have to the residents of Toledo?
Crosby: I would just say this is bittersweet. I really enjoyed working with this team. I can’t overstate that, and I really appreciate Mayor Kapszukiewicz taking a chance on me and allowing me to use my voice and be open and honest about things.
I would just hope that if he gets the opportunity to get reelected people take the time to get to know him and get to know his heart, and understand that he is really about doing the right thing. The mayor is open to constructive criticism and recommendations and this is a massive opportunity for Toledo. We’re in an excellent position to grow and be great compared with our peers.
Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, Ph.D. at firstname.lastname@example.org