Experience & energy

New assistant city manager ‘hooked’ on local government’s ability

to improve people’s lives

COVINGTON, Ky. – Joy Pierson’s mother always told her and her 14 siblings that, while they were not rich in money, they were rich in love. 
“We weren’t raised to believe that you just go make money; we were raised to believe that you go do something you love with your life and give back,” Pierson said. “You take care of your family, give back to your community, and be active in your church or the nonprofits you care about.”
Pierson, Covington’s new assistant city manager and No. 11 in that jaw-dropping lineup of 15 children (and a twin at that), honored her mother’s wise counsel with a career serving the public. Now, she’s sharing her deep well of experience and passion for community with the City of Covington.
Pierson replaces Bruce Applegate, who left the City of Covington this summer to take a job closer to family. Her appointment was approved by the Board of Commissioners in August.
Why was Pierson chosen over the 138 other people who applied?
“Joy is a high-energy person who brings a tremendous amount of experience working for local government in Greater Cincinnati and elsewhere,” interim City Manager Ken Smith said. “She’s had a particular focus on federal funding which will be of particular benefit as Covington looks to utilize its American Rescue Plan allocation.”
Now, that “high energy” will be focused solely on Covington.
“This is the community I want to work in,” Pierson said. “With this job opportunity – to give back to one community – I can see what I’m doing to make a difference day-to-day. There’s so much going on, and so many opportunities to help the City grow.”
As for growth, one might say that Pierson has a touch for bumper crops.
As Hamilton County Community Development Division Manager, Pierson leveraged $140 million with $6.3 million to create or preserve 625 affordable housing units with 13 partners; created an economic development program that leveraged $23 million from $2.8 million; and managed HUD grant programs with 42 local governments and 20 partner agencies, increasing participation and grant awards by 30 percent.
‘Hooked’ on city management
Pierson’s interest in local government was first sparked by a class at her Cincinnati high school  (“I thought, ‘you get to be so involved in so many pieces of people’s lives’ ”) and it was helped along in college by a push from a mentor with Covington ties.
While studying communications and political science at the University of Dayton, she landed internships at the City of Dayton and the Seasongood Good Government Foundation, which placed her in the City of Cincinnati’s Budget and City Manager offices. There she met Greg Jarvis, who was Covington’s city manager from 1989 to 2005.
“I was looking into graduate school and Greg told me to look at the University of Kansas because they had the first and only school that teaches city managers,” Pierson said.
She heeded Jarvis’ counsel. Armed with a full scholarship and a monthly stipend for housing, Pierson fully immersed herself in the study of city management.
“I was hooked,” Pierson said.
She stayed the course and constructed a solid pedigree of efficient and effective government by creating and managing impactful programs.
Management in action
A grad school internship took Pierson to Lenexa, Kan., a “sleepy little suburb” where – at the height of the AIDS/HIV crisis – she put anti-discrimination policies and procedures in place with the city’s personnel policies.
After graduation, Pierson was hired full-time with the City of Dayton as a senior management analyst. Then came the opportunity to work with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), a clearinghouse for local governments, enabling them to share information between each other.
Pierson worked with ICMA’s Midwest affiliate chapters as well as international visitors. And, when the opportunity presented, she helped inform and inspire young minds.
“I helped start the initiative for citizenship education for kids, to teach local government to first graders,” Pierson said.
Pierson met her then-husband while at ICMA. When his work led to several relocations for the family – they had two daughters -- Pierson seized new opportunities to make her mark in local governments: In Westerville, Ohio, she prepared a $30 million citywide budget and managed OSHA compliance program for all departments. And as director of economic development in University City, Mo., she managed construction of a $2.4 million parking garage and retail tenant space.
Committed to communities
In 1999, Pierson returned to Cincinnati and worked with the city’s Housing Authority, where she managed the community relations hotline and worked with Section 8 housing. Later, she managed compliance with HUD grants and programs for the City of Cincinnati. In 2015, she joined Hamilton County.
“The Hamilton County job was my favorite,” Pierson said. “We started with 36 communities – ended up with 42 – outside of Cincinnati, helping them plan to be more strategic and innovative. Every day was different, and it was fun.”
Pierson knows a thing or two about fun, and she sets goals for that too. Ten years ago, she checked “publish a cookbook” off her bucket list. Her “Cincinnati’s Cookin’” cookbook features 135 recipes – mostly Pierson family favorites – and sold 850 copies.
“I love to cook,” Pierson said. “Every recipe in the book has a story. Every sibling or their spouse donated a recipe.”
(Pierson’s favorite is Lentil Cincinnati-Style Chili, but her brother’s Skyline® chili lasagna is a top contender. “It’s like a three-way meets a coney,” Pierson said.)
Now Pierson’s ready to cook up some good things for Covington, with her blend of high energy, experience, and -- as Smith points out – positive attitude.
“I have known Joy professionally for several years,” Smith said. “She’s a delightful person and – pardon the pun – a joy to work with. I have no doubt that she will be a great fit.”
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