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Mayor’s ‘right hand’ leaving

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Joe Harpring | The Republic 
Mary Ferdon, Columbus, Ind. Director of Community Development.
Joe Harpring | The Republic Mary Ferdon, Columbus, Ind. Director of Community Development.

Mary Ferdon, Columbus’ community development director, is leaving her job in the administration of Mayor Kristen Brown at month’s end.

Described by the first-year mayor as “a right hand to me,” Ferdon would not say midday Thursday whether the departure was voluntary or whether she was being dismissed by the mayor. Later in the day, however, Brown emailed The Republic, indicating that no resignation letter existed.

Ferdon is the second city department head within the Brown administration to leave during its first year. Fire Chief Joel Thacker resigned in September after about four months on the job.

Ferdon issued a brief statement at midday in which she called Columbus “a one-of-a-kind city” to work for, and said she was thankful to have had the opportunity. But Ferdon declined to answer followup questions about why she was leaving a job for which she had been called “a perfect fit” when hired.

Ferdon’s appointment was announced March 1 after a two-month search by Brown for someone to lead an office charged with improving neighborhoods and promoting efforts of various community groups to strengthen Columbus. “I’m very fortunate to have found Mary,” the mayor said at the time. “I have seen her at work and know the strengths she brings.” The two women met during Brown’s campaign for mayor last year.

City Council President Jim Lienhoop said Thursday that Ferdon called to tell him she was leaving her job. Lienhoop said he asked Ferdon what prompted the move, and she declined to say. He added: “I’m disappointed. I enjoyed working with her.”

Ferdon spent less than nine months as head of community development, which had responsibility for housing, economic development, the arts and a wide array of other issues.

“Mary has been a right hand to me during this time, filling many roles on an interim basis. She helped me get several key initiatives off the ground and hire my team. She also helped the team members transition into their roles. Her efforts have been herculean and very helpful. I’m extremely grateful to Mary. I wish her the very best and so does everyone at City Hall,” Brown wrote in an email Thursday.

“Now is the time for a director of community development who will focus exclusively on community development. The first priority of the job is to partner with several other community organizations to solve our community’s housing problems,” Brown’s email continued.

Housing and long-term revitalization such as the State Street Corridor Revitalization analysis and plan that the city will start next year, as well as improved communication with the public around community events, are among goals Brown has set for the next community development director.

“I know her as incredibly competent and a valuable employee,” said Tracy H. Souza, president and CEO of Heritage Fund: The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

Before joining the Brown administration, Ferdon served four years as special projects coordinator for the Heritage Fund.

“I thought she was doing a great job, primarily on affordable housing,” said Souza, who worked with Ferdon on a citywide strategic planning committee. “They were moving forward to get a consultant to do a housing study to help us dig down and impact that area.”

The committee will “keep pushing forward, though we’ll probably lose a little steam without Mary,” Souza said, adding that others on the study group will have to pick up the slack.

Lienhoop said he was impressed by how quickly Ferdon learned the ropes at City Hall on complex issues.

“The director of community development represents the city in a number of areas and deals with companies on tax abatements,” Lienhoop said. “She did a really good job with that and set a tone of professionalism. She started from zero — with no knowledge of how that tax program works — and pretty much mastered it,” Lienhoop said.

Ferdon said she has no plans to take any other job right now.

Ferdon has a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in public administration. She was earning about $52,000 a year as director of community development. She worked as finance director in Howell, Mich., before moving with her husband to Columbus 20 years ago.

She also served on the Columbus Board of Zoning Appeals for 17 years, but left that assignment when she became community development director.

Meanwhile, the city is looking for Ferdon's replacement.

“Interested and qualified individuals can contact me at,” Brown wrote in her email.

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