VOL. 133 | NO. 34 | Thursday, February 15, 2018
Earning Public Trust
By Michael Waddell
During long careers with both the U.S. Navy and Shelby County government, Harvey Kennedy is most proud of being able to maintain integrity, honesty and objectiveness, with a focus in the latter half of his career on getting the best return for the taxpayers of Shelby County.
His exemplary role throughout his career has earned Kennedy selection as the 2018 non-elected official winner of the Bobby Dunavant Public Servant Awards.
Shelby County Chief Administrative Officer Harvey Kennedy was selected as a recipient of the 2018 Dunavant Public Servant Awards. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)
Along with the Honorable Judge Tim Dwyer, Kennedy will be honored at the 15th annual Dunavant Awards luncheon on Feb. 28 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis on Central Avenue. The awards are named for the late Shelby County Probate Court Clerk Bobby Dunavant, who is widely cited as a model for his more than 40 years of public service.
“It’s quite an honor to be selected, and I’m very appreciative of it,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy spent more than 25 years in the Navy and traveled around much of the world. His last assignment was as commander of the Defense Distribution Depot in Memphis, and he retired in 1993 with the rank of captain in the Supply Corps. During his military career he was decorated many times, earning the Defense Superior Service Award, Meritorious Service Medal three times, Navy Commendation and Navy Achievement medals, and numerous unit awards.
He received a master’s degree in financial management from the Naval Postgraduate School.
When Kennedy embarked on his second career, he began as the finance manager at the Shelby County Corrections Center, where Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell (a former recipient of the Dunavant Awards) also began his government career. Kennedy later assumed the role of administrator of Finance & Administration for five years until his appointment as chief administrative officer for then-Shelby County Sheriff Luttrell, a role that lasted eight years.
“I was going to do a short time with the county and supplement my military retirement, and here I am 24 years later still doing it,” he joked.
When Luttrell became mayor in 2010, Kennedy went with him as CAO to oversee the day-to-day operations of the eight divisions of Shelby County government. His public service role as CAO includes everything from handling complex business negotiations, to interfacing with all of the county’s elected officials, to meeting with dissatisfied citizens.
“As things arise, and they always do, I try to take care of them and keep problems away from the mayor as best I can,” Kennedy said.
As the right hand of the mayor, Kennedy is known for quality financial management, the ability to reduce budgets and obtain quality performance from his staff. After the county’s debt hit a high mark of $1.8 billion in 2008, his team inherited a debt of more than $1.6 billion in 2010.
“We have rigorously adhered to a debt reduction plan, trying not to obligate too much for capital funding, paying off the debt, and refunding actions when we can,” Kennedy said. “We’ve managed to get it down to under $1 billion, and that frees up a lot of money that goes to debt service payments so that we can provide money to the schools and other things.”
Characteristics that defined the late Bobby Dunavant as a person and a public servant included being honest, unpretentious, accessible, energetic, involved, generous, empathetic and highly attentive to detail.
“I’ve worked with Mr. Kennedy for a number of years,” said Bobby Dunavant’s son, Mike Dunavant, manager of financial services in the Shelby County Finance Department and a member of the Dunavant Awards selection committee. “He’s a very honest and very hard-working guy. Much like my dad, he doesn’t seek the spotlight. He’s good to his employees and is a strong mentor and leader.”
As a mentor, Kennedy takes a keen interest in making sure junior members of the staff grow personally and professionally.
“If anybody was born to serve the public, it is Harvey Kennedy,” said David Leake, attorney with The Winchester Law Firm PLLC and founder of the Dunavant Public Servant Awards. “His humility, integrity and sense of purpose have worked to the benefit of every organization he has served.”
Later this year, Kennedy plans to retire and spend more time with his family, as well as do some volunteer work at Shelby Farms Park. He and his wife, Sandra, have two grown daughters and one granddaughter.
The Dunavant Awards are given annually to one local elected official and one non-elected public official. This year’s winners were selected by a committee of members of the Dunavant family and the Rotary Club of Memphis East, with nominations coming from the public.
This year’s awards luncheon is co-sponsored by the Rotary Club of Memphis East and The Daily News, and it is expected to draw 400 to 500 attendees. Carolyn Hardy, president and CEO of Chism Hardy Investments and chairwoman of the Greater Memphis Chamber’s Chairman’s Circle, will be the keynote speaker.
A table for 10 can be reserved for $400 and individual tickets are available for $50.