City taps Lee Sheehy as first CPED director

The city has selected its first director for the yet-to-be created office of Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED), which is expected to absorb major development and planning functions.

Lee Sheehy, currently the Metropolitan Council's regional administrator and chief operating officer, will take over as CPED's interim director on Jan. 13 and will assume oversight of both the city's Planning Department and the Minneapolis Community Development Agency (MCDA).

Acting MCDA Director Chuck Lutz and Planning Director Chuck Ballentine will remain in key roles within their departments, officials said.

Mayor R.T. Rybak, who once shared with Sheehy a communications-technology post at Public Radio International, praised Sheehy's energy and intelligence, noting that he is a 30-year Minneapolis resident. Sheehy, a Harvard and University of Minnesota law school graduate, lives in the Nicollet Island-East Bank area near downtown.

“He's a very quick study,” Rybak said. “We needed someone who could hit the ground running, and Lee can do that.”

Rybak said he doesn't expect Sheehy to wage his own economic development reform campaign. Instead he will carry out measures passed by the City Council in September, when it passed its “Focus Minneapolis” initiative.

Sheehy said his new job is a logical progression from his Met Council work. Sheehy has responsibility over planning, transit and sewer operations while overseeing the council's $550 million operating budget and 3,800 employees.

“I think there is a recognition both for Minneapolis and the region that there is an interdependency here,” he said.

CPED has several hurdles to overcome, including legislative permission to change the MCDA structure.

Sheehy said one of his most immediate tasks would be working with the various departments that will be rolled into the new CPED structure.

The September resolution calls for formation of four new city agencies under the CPED umbrella -- a Neighborhood and Community Planning agency and departments of Development Services, Housing Development and Business Development.

Those agencies would absorb various functions of the MCDA and Planning Department, along with Public Works transportation planning.

Labor issues involved in moving employees from department to department will be among the thorniest problems. Such moves are not even possible under current city rules, but the City Council is currently working to grant the CPED director that authority.

Sheehy said he is up to the task.

“I think I can bring people together, both internally and externally,” he said. “The thing that I think I've come to understand is that [organization] charts and structures are important, but wherever you are, it's people doing the work.”

Sheehy, 51, who once worked as Skip Humphrey's chief deputy attorney general, is married to Jennifer Fling, former communications director under ex-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. They have no children.