Tracy McKee

Tracy McKee is Charleston's first-ever Chief Innovation Officer. Provided.

Charleston might be old but it can still learn new tricks. 

The city has brought on its first-ever chief innovation officer to prove it.

Mayor John Tecklenburg hired Tracy McKee for the new job in late November to modernize and streamline city government processes, particularly through data gathering and technology. 

McKee was the city's director of geographic information systems for 18 years until January 2017, when she left for a job as the city of Baltimore's chief data officer. 

She returned to Charleston for the senior-level position that doubles as a special adviser to the mayor. She'll replace former special adviser Josh Martin, who left earlier this year. 

"I decided it was a great opportunity for me to come back home," she said. 

McKee brings unique insight gleaned from her experience in Baltimore. That city pioneered the concept of tracking the performance of government agencies through data gathering — such as average time spent responding to citizens' service calls — as a way to spot inefficiencies or oversights.

The program, CitiStat, was so successful in improving everything from water quality to the city's murder rates that many other communities around the United States developed their own versions of the performance improvement system.

She worked closely with the CitiStat group and wants to help Charleston replicate some of its tactics. 

It's good timing, too. Novak Consulting Group has recently completed some of its performance assessments of city departments, and McKee will be tasked with carrying out its recommendations. Her experience with CitiStat will likely help her do that, she said.

"We determine, 'What does success look like in this case?' Then, we work backwards, like, 'Okay if this is what success looks like, what are the proxies we can use to track our progress?'" she said. "We develop the metrics, then meet regularly to talk about how departments are doing."

McKee will also help develop a flooding alert system to notify residents when and where flooding is expected. 

The effort improve the city’s accountability, fiscal responsibility and efficiency was one of Tecklenburg’s top campaign vows. 

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Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.