City’s new HR director an ‘old soul’

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‘Classical’ interests help shape Lewis’s approach
 to improving people’s lives at work
COVINGTON, Ky. – In her personal engagements, Covington’s new Human Resources director’s refined interests beg the question: Did Cindy Lewis emerge from a time portal in 19th century England?
A skilled equestrian, Lewis frequently rides her horse through the verdant landscape of Cincinnati’s Camargo Hunt country. A fan of classical music, she plays piano, studies violin, and serves on the board of Concert:Nova, a local chamber music organization. She writes children’s books (she’ll publish next year). She has an undergraduate degree in theater. And she (somehow) managed to find time to take up beekeeping.
The passion behind those interests have shaped Lewis’ approach to her job: As a writer, Lewis loves stories and believes they’re at the marrow of human resources work -- employees sharing their concerns, hopes, hardships, and dreams. 
“I think I’m fascinated by people – I love connecting with them – and I love their stories,” she said. “As a Human Resources professional, you become intimately involved in people’s lives and you have the opportunity to improve the quality of their life at work. We spend so much time at work – eight to 10 hours a day – and you want that experience to be as positive as it can be.”
Covington City Manager Ken Smith said it was both Lewis’s enthusiasm and the scope of her work experience that got her selected from 64 applicants to replace JoAnn Simpson, who retired after 20 years with the City.
“Cindy’s willingness to innovate and her incredible enthusiasm made her the obvious choice for Covington’s new Human Resources Director,” Smith said. “The selection committee was instantly impressed, and in her first weeks on the job she’s proving them right.”
Smith said Lewis hit the ground running, having to deal with a host of issues upon her arrival, among them a number of COVID-19 cases at City Hall that called for reducing office capacity through a work-from-home plan.
Big footsteps
Simpson (who good-naturedly and stubbornly declined to “cooperate” with any article wrapping up her career, despite much begging) retired in September after a long and successful tenure in the position as Human Resources director.
Smith said it was difficult to lose an employee with Simpson’s deep well of experience, institutional knowledge, and demeanor.
“I could always count on JoAnn to provide a calm, reasonable response no matter what was happening,” Smith said. “I will definitely miss working with her, but I’m happy that she can travel the world more now that she’s retired.”
Impressive professional ‘pedigree’
Now, Lewis brings what she describes as a “strengths-based and situational leadership style with a focus on service” to the position.
“I like being of service to the public, the public good, and the public trust,” she said. “Being service-minded, I look forward to working with the unions and the people.”
Cincinnati-born and raised, Lewis said she’s impressed with her new work home.
“Covington’s a gorgeous city,” Lewis said. “I love this city. Its architecture is incredible. And, as you can tell, I’m kind of an old soul. It just speaks to the artistic side of me. There’s a wonderful culture here.”
Lewis’s career experiences are deep.
As vice president of human resources for Community Health Alliance in Fairfield, Ohio, Lewis built an entire human resources department from the ground up for two newly merged organizations that grew from 60 to 250 employees in four years.
As assistant director of labor and employee relations for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Lewis was responsible for roughly 3,500 staff and managed the university’s administrative programs, including the Family Medical Leave Act, workers’ compensation, and American with Disabilities accommodations. She also acted as a university liaison for union negotiations, grievances, mediation, and arbitration hearings.
A stint with Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro while working toward her master’s degree in Educational Leadership from Miami gave her a taste for government work.
As Covington’s Human Resources Director, Lewis will carry out an array of duties, including:
  • Establishing staffing standards.
  • Helping to develop goals, objectives, policies, and procedures for human resources management and improvements.
  • Advising and consulting with department heads, human resources associations, individuals and others on HR issues, policies, and procedures.
  • Advising managers and staff on performance issues, skill development, succession planning, and general morale.
  • Intervening in sensitive personnel matters or pervasive issues.
  • Serving as a resource on trends in arbitration and collective bargaining.
When a career finds you
A career in human resources was not Lewis’s original life path. She started as a theater major, with a focus on directing.
“I liked taking a theatrical piece, reimagining it, and preparing it for an audience in a way that told a story they could connect to,” Lewis said.
But she was working on her masters at Miami when a professor sensed she had a keen interest in a labor and employee relations class he taught. The professor, who also happened to be the university’s labor and employee relations director, suggested she apply for a newly opened position of personnel technician in the department.
“I thought, ‘I worked through undergrad, so I’ll work through graduate school,” Lewis recalled.
She got the position and ended up liking it, so when the same professor suggested she try HR, she also heeded that counsel and wound up hooked.
For Lewis, it may be one of her children’s books that presents her wisest and most insightful message, one that can surely be applied in professional settings.
The Coon Hound of Carrington Hunt is the true story of a little hound that was abandoned alongside the road in Cincinnati. A huntsman at Camargo who saw the dog tossed out of a car
 put the little dog with the club’s fox hounds, where it he learned to hunt. But, Lewis said, the little dog preferred hunting on his own over joining a group of fox hounds. So the club found the right fit for him – and now he’s one of the finest, happiest hunting dogs.
“It’s like real life,” Lewis said. “Sometimes you land not quite where you’re supposed to be, but where you land leads you to something else, and sometimes it’s the best thing. It’s a journey.”
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