Christy McDonald | Behind the Interview:
I met Beth Niblock almost two years ago, when I was asked by Accenture to moderate its international women’s day celebration at the Gem Theatre. The program was an hour Q & A, just the two of us on stage in front of about 200 people.
I had read about Beth during coverage of Detroit’s bankruptcy. She’s known in municipal IT circles as one of the best, which is why Mayor Duggan went down to Kentucky to recruit her (and basically wouldn’t leave until she accepted the job).
I figured our conversation would be a fascinating look at how you come to a city in Chapter 9, with a payroll system from the ‘70s and desktop computers that don’t work, and create a whole new system.
How do you revamp it with limited funds and limited staff?
She was thoughtful, whip-smart and funny. And included some serious gems about being fired from her first job and the value of working until you get it right.
Since then, I kept thinking, I’ve got to check back in with Beth on what she’s up to at city hall and introduce her to a wider audience. So, we sat down in her office on the 12th floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center downtown about two weeks ago. This month, she’ll have 5 years on the job as Detroit’s CIO.
We talked about what you’ll see in the interview: what systems they had to change, how the city is trying to be transparent with data, and working to make sure it is correct. Beth is particularly passionate about making sure more Detroiters are connected and bridging that digital divide. She’s also working like mad to make her staff as diverse as possible. Her key to hiring? Find people who she says are intellectually curious. Curiosity isn’t something you can teach.