- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

DETROIT (AP) - Jerrell Harris has long been fascinated with Detroit and the opportunities he sees for its transformation.

The urban planner spent a decade in public and private sector roles before landing a job as a senior project manager for a renter assistance program in Washington, D.C. But the struggles and financial collapse in Detroit, he says, compelled him to do something more, according to The Detroit News ( https://bit.ly/1ibTumR ).

“I needed to challenge myself and go somewhere where I could be most useful,” said Harris, an Albany, Georgia, native. “I knew there was a lot of work to be done and I wanted to be a part of that work.”

Harris, 36, got his start in 2013, rebuilding the landscape around the 100-block campus of Focus: Hope through its HOPE Village Initiative. Now, he’s aiming to have a broader impact.

Under a new initiative spearheaded by the Kresge Foundation, Harris is among three professionals embedded in Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration to weigh in on public safety, technology and jobs.

The Kresge Mayor’s Fellows are a new component of a broader, two-year fellowship program designed to recruit and retain talent in Detroit. It is supported by foundations.

Harris is the new director of restructuring and transformation in the mayor’s office. He’s tasked with examining fleet management, information technology, transportation and targets outlined in the city’s debt-cutting plan of adjustment.

“I want to make sure we continue to be an inclusive city, that we are world-class and that if you live here, there’s a sense of pride that Detroit is the best place to be,” he said.

The mayor’s other fellows, Diana Flora and Jeanet Kulcsar, will tackle separate areas with the goal of identifying challenges across city departments and new opportunities to improve the quality of life for city residents.

Separately, 23 additional Detroit Revitalization Fellows were appointed in August as the project, supported by foundations and Wayne State University, enters its third round. The fellows are assigned to Detroit service agencies and nonprofits, city departments and arts and cultural institutions, including the Belle Isle Conservancy and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. Some fellows live in the city, although residency is not a requirement of the program.

Past revitalization fellows had placements with mayoral administrations in Detroit, but officials say the three selected to work with Duggan’s office this term are past program graduates who’ve already made a mark.

Flora, a 28-year-old Bay City native, is stationed in the Detroit Police Department. Previously, she was a project manager for Data Driven Detroit, overseeing the largest blight survey in the city’s history.

Kulcsar, 38, of Canton engaged small businesses as a program manager for Invest Detroit, a city-based community development and financing firm. Harris, a former manager for Focus: HOPE, worked to create outdoor gathering spaces within the nonprofit’s west side campus, organizing movie nights, cookouts and artwork displays. Both are based at City Hall.

“This is a great opportunity for us to bring in some talented people who have already done some great work in Detroit,” said Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff. “It’s a way to continue to grow talent, but also to share to cost of it with Kresge and Wayne State. The partnership we’re building is really important.”

The Revitalization Fellows program is facilitated through Wayne State University’s Office of Economic Development. Each two-year cycle is funded with $3.5 million to $4 million from local and national foundations. Fellows earn $50,000 to $80,000 per year, plus benefits.

The Kresge Foundation has invested about $5 million in the program since its inception, and is exclusively providing $750,000 to fund the Mayor’s Fellows initiative, said Kresge Foundation president Rip Rapson.

The total budget for Mayor’s Fellows is about $900,000, with the city contributing about $150,000.

“It’s not an inexpensive program, but we’ve found is that it’s worth its weight in gold in terms of the quality of people attracted to the program, impact on organizations and the overall approach to talent and capacity that I think is growing at the city,” Rapson said.

The majority of fellows are staying in Detroit after completing their terms, added Graig Donnelly, director of the fellows program for WSU.

Donnelly says 80 percent of the fellows in the first group remain in the city. In the second group, 85 percent of the fellows were retained, about half stuck with the organizations where they’d been placed, he said.

Rapson said the fellows program, which began in 2011, is modeled after a rebuilding effort that emerged from post-Katrina New Orleans. For Detroit, the fellows, he said, have been key in helping Detroit find new ways of working.

For Flora’s part, as director of strategy development within the police department, she’ll study ways to improve processes within the department and service delivery.

Flora, who lives near Midtown, plans to delve into the department’s functions and data collection, and examine how practices in other cities could be applied in Detroit.

“I am coming from a data and technical background and I’m hoping to apply those skills,” said Flora, who works under a senior adviser of Police Chief James Craig. “I see where I can add value.”

She held a fellowship role under the Bing administration, focusing on policy initiatives outlined in the city’s consent agreement with the state; among them, plans for the modernization of the streetlighting grid, a review of the fire department’s rules and administrative practices and an analysis on the city’s immigrant population.

Kulcsar joins Detroit’s Jobs and Economy Team as director of resident opportunity initiatives.

She entered the first revitalization fellowship in 2011. In her placement with Invest Detroit, she educated small businesses on funding opportunities.

She later served as an assistant director for the state Department of Treasury, managing transactions through the Michigan Finance Authority and dealing with financially distressed school districts under state oversight.

Kulcsar grew up in St. Clair and spent a decade in the economic development field in the public and private sectors. She returned to Detroit from California, where she worked in public finance and as a consultant.

Her new role, she says, will allow her to engage residents on city service needs and workforce development. Kulcsar says job training is critical as well as understanding what services are being used - and where they may be lacking.

“For me, that’s something I want to achieve,” she said. “I want to make sure that we are biting off something that we can really accomplish in two years.”

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Information from: The Detroit News, https://detnews.com/

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