Mending fences

Balance key in Muksian's return to Cranston

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Robin Muksian's career has focused on balance.

She has been all over since her first stint in government working under Mayor Stephen Laffey starting in January of 2003. She has since served as director of administration for three different leaders, South Kingstown Town Manager Stephen Alfred, Mayor Allan Fung and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, as well as earning the title of provost at New England Tech.

However, things have a way of leveling off. Now she’s back working for Mayor Fung as DOA, and balance is a key initiative of hers from the start.

“I think really for me, a big balancing act is economic development and neighborhood needs,” Muksian said during a July 31 interview with the Herald. “For me that will be a priority as we see development going on in Garden City, working with those businesses and making sure they really bring in the type of development that we want and looking at the impact on neighborhoods.”

She added that since Cranston doesn’t have its own version of Bald Hill Road, a vast expanse of economic development miles from most homes, the city has to get creative. Garden City, for example, sits just in front of The Hollows.

“Cranston is a suburban type community where growth is challenging,” Muksian said. “We have a Garden City, where you’re surrounded by neighborhoods on three or four sides. [It’s about] making sure that growth is appropriate and comfortable.”

Muksian, who grew up five blocks away from her City Hall office, also shared her affinity for labor relations. Her focus is doing what’s best for the taxpayers, while maintaining an amicable relationship with unions and labor boards.

“I think ensuring we maintain positive morale and work with the labor unions to have fair contracts that I think financially are reasonable for the city and that we maintain management rights [and] we use those management rights in a way that encourage morale and hard work,” Muksian said. “I think that that’s a delicate balance and I really enjoy working on that.”

After leaving the more politically charged climate in Cranston for South Kingstown in 2007, Muksian came into her own as a government worker serving with Alfred. She said that Alfred, who has held his post for more than four decades, taught her to “check [her] politics at the door.”

“[He’s] just so focused on the good of that town, and learning to navigate the politics of councils in such a way that is was always for moving forward and accomplishing things,” she said. “When I heard he was retiring I just shook my head and I thought what a huge loss to the state of Rhode Island.

“When I went to [work for] Steve Alfred and learned you can do municipal government without politics being the driving force behind it, that was really the foundation, I really tried to model myself after that.”

Alfred returned the compliment on Monday, saying Muksian is “a true professional, with an engaging personality and the ability to find equitable solutions to contentious issues.”

Learning how to interact with councils proved to be helpful down the line. She directed a Republican administration that worked with a Democrat-controlled City Council, 9-0.

“That’s where I tapped into what I learned in South Kingstown,” she added. “Sometimes I fought vehemently on the council floor here and was known probably as a little bit of a pitbull. Other times it was amicable and I’d say to a council member outside the chamber, look I can’t support this or I can support this.”

After returning to government work in Providence following her second stint at New England Tech, she met with each member of the 15-person City Council. Providence, unlike Cranston, has no citywide representatives, so certain proposals became a challenge.

“It’s very hard sometimes when you’re trying to deal with a citywide initiative because their jobs are all very fractured,” she said. “Rightfully so, they’re representing a very small constituency. Here, you have 30 percent that are in an umbrella role. I don’t think there’s a councilperson I didn't have an amicable relationship with.”

After resigning from her DOA post in Providence (she said she is not allowed to discuss the terms of her departure because of a non-disclosure agreement), serendipity came calling. Her old position was open, and she seized the chance.

Mayor Fung also expressed his excitement to have Muksian back on board in Cranston in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. He said she is already off to a quick start.

“We’re fortunate to welcome back Robin Muksian to the Director of Administration role here in Cranston,” Fung said. “She will excel in the day-to-day operations of the city and has been able to hit the ground running thanks to her institutional knowledge and previous experience here. Muskian is an accomplished leader and administrator and knows how to collaborate to get results.”

This time, the Council is in Republican control, 5-4, which makes her job a bit easier.

“In theory, yes,” she said when asked if the Mayor’s party having the majority makes it simpler to find a balance with the Council. “Some of the democrats that are there are Democrats I've worked with since ’09 and we've established a rapport or respect. I'm meeting some of the new ones, but my door is open to all of them. I don't treat accessibility any different. Those democrat councilmen are representing their people, too.”

Work-life balance is crucial, as well.

Her day starts at 4:30 a.m., but in a different type of office. She moved up to her farm in Harrisville four years ago to tend more closely to her horses. She’s been riding since she was a kid and that love never faded.

Whatever it is, she prefers that there’s no idle time on her hands.

“I used to commute to where my horses were boarded and at 45 I said, you know what, it’s time for me to do this myself,” Muksian said. “I used the feed the horses every day at the show barn before I came into work. I loved being on the farm, fixing fences, taking the horses out. I enjoy responsibility and always being busy.”

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