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Riverside Innovation Leader Promoted Amid City Hall Reorganization

The city of Riverside, Calif., has reorganized its C-suite, creating two deputy city manager positions and promoting Chief Innovation Officer Lea Deesing to one of two assistant city manager posts.

Hoping to save money while furthering its IT goals, the city of Riverside, Calif., has created two new executive positions and filled one of those slots with a leader from its IT department.

The changes, announced via news release on June 8 by City Manager Al Zelinka, include promoting Chief Innovation Officer Lea Deesing to fill one of two assistant city manager positions. Deesing, who had been the innovation chief for more than five years, will continue to oversee the Innovation and Technology Department, but will now also oversee the city’s police, fire and finance department and its library and museum.

Rafael Guzman, Riverside's director of community and economic development, was promoted to the second assistant city manager position. The former director spearheaded the creation, last year, of the "One Stop Shop" that streamlined development by uniting on one floor at City Hall all departments that are part of that process, and offering a “concierge-style” system to speed up customer response.

As an assistant city manager, Guzman will have oversight of Community and Economic Development; Public Works; Parks, Recreation and Community Services; Human Resources; General Services; and the Community Police Review Commission, the city said.

The reordering at Riverside, which won fifth place in its population category in the Center for Digital Government's* 2017 Digital Cities Survey, is aimed at enabling staffers to better serve the city, it said in the news release. The goal, officials added, is also to “accomplish more work” with more emphasis on priorities Mayor Rusty Bailey and the Riverside City Council identified through Riverside 2.1, the recent strategic planning process.

The city also received a Best of California 2017 award from CDG recognizing the Innovation and Technology Department’s Kaizen Career Road Map Program.

Deesing, whose first day as assistant city manager was June 11, told Government Technology that former Deputy CIO Chris Tilden is serving as interim CIO and Chief Information Security Officer George Khalil is serving as interim deputy CIO while continuing his work as CISO. Riverside will mount a job search to fill its CIO and deputy CIO positions.

The city of Riverside has also created two new deputy city manager roles that will be filled by Carlie Myers, principal management analyst in the city manager’s office, and Moises Lopez, the city’s intergovernmental relations officer. The Riverside City Council will be asked, the city said, “to approve the reestablishment of the Deputy City Manager classification” on June 19.

Deesing and Guzman will each earn $241,620, the city said. But overall, the changes will generate a $150,000 savings by doing away with the third assistant city manager position and “repurposing” the job of intergovernmental affairs officer.

The now-former CIO pointed out she had worked closely with Zelinka, a former assistant city manager himself before his promotion in late May, and said it “says a lot” about the city manager, the mayor and city council that they “really do see the city on the brink of some really great digital transformation.”

“I think I’ll be able to drive innovation and efficiency through the city of Riverside in a way that maybe hasn’t been done in the past. And I think having that knowledge at that level is going to help really view the potential on what we can do on doing more with less,” said Deesing, who is also executive director of SmartRiverside, a nonprofit that works to bridge the digital divide through education and technology.

In a statement, Zelinka praised the staff as “devoted to finding better ways to deliver critical services to our residents and business community” and said he’s “excited to create a team that is committed to public service,” while promoting teamwork and innovation across the organization.

To that end, Deesing said the city is already “really interested” in deploying robotic process automation and artificial intelligence, using Internet of Things technology and sensors to accomplish goals such as automating fleet maintenance and doing more to better understand and aggregate data it collects, to connect with residents via public-facing dashboards.

Robotic process automation, the new assistant city manager said, could “help us leverage areas such as purchasing and accounts payable,” in the innovation and technology department, but also citywide.

“We’re thinking about doing a little pilot to see if we can automate some of those repetitive tasks that we do on a regular basis, that a computer can do for us and then just alert us when there’s some issue that doesn’t meet the normal process,” Deesing said.

The city is making progress on a smart LED streetlight project, Deesing added via email. During a pilot program, workers updated 153 high pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights and 56 HPS intersection safety lights to smart LED. Riverside Public Utilities, the city’s public utility company, is in the approval stages for a larger project to deploy in the fourth quarter of 2018.

Riverside is also exploring ways to better leverage its more than 800 security cameras “with better use of technology” and is also eager to mine and share data with its eponymous county, to help residents who are homeless.

“We’ve actually got some initiatives underway where we’re doing better sharing with the county on homelessness, homeless counts and homeless data that we’re collecting,” Deesing said.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, which also is the parent company of Government Technology and Governing magazines.

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was 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.