The city of Charlotte, N.C.’s technology leader of more than a decade, who helped drive modernization and culture change as its first-ever chief information officer, will be returning to the private sector at the end of the month.
Mills highlighted the CIO’s role in creating IT strategies, eliminating redundancies through operational changes and leading technology preparation for the 2012 Democratic National Convention, held in Charlotte. The city, he noted, will also host the 2020 Republican National Convention, an undertaking with somewhat-related logistic requirements.
“That will be interesting. Whoever comes in will have that big rock to push,” Mills said, adding that the city will first identify an interim CIO from within City Hall, likely prior to mounting a national search for his permanent replacement.
“While we will miss Jeff and his leadership, we’re fortunate to have him stay in Charlotte and continue to be a strong partner and advocate for the city,” Charlotte Chief Marketing Officer Brent Kelly said in a Sept. 11 email announcing the CIO’s departure to Mayor Vi Lyles and members of the Charlotte City Council.
Stovall earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his master’s degree in business administration from the Darden School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia, according to LinkedIn. He worked for companies including Sprint Nextel and DuPont, in locations such as Kansas, New York and Virginia, before leaving a 15-year private-sector career to join government.
In Charlotte, the Virginia native tackled foundational projects like a five-year update of the public safety communications network — exploring a municipal network before the city decided to partner with private telecommunications — as well as setting up a technology master planning process. He also facilitated the deployment of smart city infrastructure like solar-powered trash bins and sensor-equipped public benches that gathered environmental data. The struggle for funding between traditional and smart infrastructure can be a genuine hurdle, he said last year at the Smart Cities Week conference.
“Those types of infrastructure compete for the very same dollars within our budget. So, when we start talking about ‘smart infrastructure,’ we have to think about both of those emphases,” Stovall said at the conference.
Once installed, the CIO quickly made a positive impression and in December 2009 was named one of the 50 Most Influential African Americans in Technology by San Francisco-based publisher eAccess Corp. In March of this year, shortly before marking his 10th anniversary as CIO, Stovall was recognized as one of GT’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers of 2018. He has also served as director of Charlotte’s Innovation and Technology Department since January 2014.
Central to his job description as CIO was taking a close look at Charlotte’s cybersecurity posture. Stovall spearheaded the installation of a dedicated solution to block distributed denial of service attacks, an artificial intelligence-based way of outwitting malware and two-factor authentication for city VPN users. In an interview last year, as Mecklenburg County grappled with a significant ransomware cyberattack, Stovall said the city’s cybersecurity infrastructure was just as important as its physical infrastructure.
“There’s always a presence of attackers, there’s always scanning going on and there’s always the possibility that someone is looking to target you. I think that’s an ever-present threat for any city in the modern age,” Stovall said then.
In an interview with GT, first-term Charlotte City Council member-at-large Larken Egleston said he had had “limited” direct interaction with the CIO but praised his work in cybersecurity, pointing to the cyberattack against Mecklenburg, the county Charlotte resides in.
“That obviously kind of threw them into a tailspin and it’s something that put everybody on notice. His ability to prevent that to date has been critical,” Egleston said, underscoring that, while voters elected younger, more tech-savvy representatives like himself during a recent election cycle, “I think that Jeff was moving the ball on a lot of that before.”
Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.