Deb Mohlenhoff, Ithaca College alumna and long-time Ithaca resident, began her term on Jan. 1.

February 12, 2024

Ithaca’s First City Manager Reflects on New Form of Government

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Ithaca is now one month into a new system of governance after a vote last November introduced the City Manager position. The inaugural City Manager, Deb Mohlenhoff, began her term on Jan. 1.

The City Manager role was created after 76 percent of voters approved the switch from a strong-mayor to a council-manager form of government. As City Manager, Mohlenhoff oversees all the City’s departments, facilities, operations, programs and services. Previously, the Mayor was in charge of managing both the City of Ithaca and the Common Council.

“[This new system] draws a firewall between elected officials and the staff that runs all of the day-to-day operations of the City,” Mohlenhoff said. “It provides for cleaner, easier decision-making and resource-allocating.”

Mohlenhoff acts as a buffer between the City departments and the Common Council to help implement various infrastructure projects and City events.

“I am here to do the will of the Common Council,” Mohlenhoff said.

Mohlenhoff has a long history with community involvement. During her time working at Ithaca College, Mohlenhoff ran various volunteer trips to New Orleans.

Reflecting on what first got her interested in politics, Mohlenhoff recalled what one resident once told her on a trip rebuilding houses in New Orleans. 

“If you really want to change the world, you need to get a seat at the table where the decision-makers are,” Mohlenhoff recounted the advice.

As a long-time Ithaca resident and an Ithaca College alumna, Mohlenhoff wanted to give back to her community. 

“I’ve lived here for almost 30 years. I absolutely love the City. I love everything about it. I want to see it survive. I want to see it thrive,” Mohlenhoff said. “The behind-the-scenes stuff was where I felt that my skills aligned. I thought I could make a difference.”

Mohlenhoff also hopes to promote transparency in all government processes.

“The tax-payers deserve to know that their local tax dollars are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible,” Mohlenhoff said. “Being in this role, I will have a direct impact on that.”

As part of her plan for her first 100 days in office, Mohlenhoff aims to fill many of the leadership roles that were left vacant after a slew of retirements that included the City’s human resources director, City controller and City attorney.

Mohlenhoff also plans to improve the management of the City budget. Having previously worked in public office, Mohlenhoff said she understands where these critical gaps in leadership and funding are.

As for her long-term goals, Mohlenhoff wants to prove to Ithaca residents the value of her appointment.

“I want to demonstrate to the public that they made the right choice in voting for this form of government,” Mohlenhoff said.