Friday, April 04, 2008

Downsized Bexley

Last week I noted how I was taken by surprise by some personnel changes at City Hall here in Bexley. In a story that should have been about bureaucracy, all the names involved belonged to politicians. That throws up some flags. The cuts took place not immediately following the administration changeover, but shortly after one of the political figures joined the administration. Finally, the phrase "serves at the pleasure of the mayor" got thrown around a bunch. Except for patronage gigs, that's a phrase that usually gets thrown around before a termination, not after. Which is why you can't think of a non-partisan federal or state appointee for whom their termination was justified in such a way. High-Level administrators typically resign, retire, or are fired for cause. In this type of situation, involving a consolidation of functioning, the emphasis would typically be exclusively on the position being eliminated. There would be no statement hinting that the person's service no longer was pleasing to the mayor. In fact, the typical way of handling such a situation is to shed some crocodile tears about the passion and expertise that the city is sacrificing to achieve more solid financial footing. "Serves at the pleasure of..." is only used to convince the outward bound employee that it is in his/her best interest to play along with the charade.

So when this phrase was used in the paper last week, it certainly made it seem as if there was a certain amount of hostility, if not arrogance - "We don't need a reason." More flags went up.

Well, last night, the top headline in "This Week Bexley," the one visible even if you didn't fish the paper out of the wet plastic bag on your porch, was: "Deposed Director Questions Cuts." With the standing explanation that technology services handled by Bexley were simply unaffordable, the headline could have been "Downsized Director...," but it wasn't. I asked myself "Does Bonnie Butcher know something she's not saying?"

I had read the article online when it came out yesterday, and I tried to get in touch with some people who might be able to give me some better insight. I got some mixed responses, at least one of which was very helpful. As far as I can see things, Bill Minckler, from what he says in the article, accepts at face value the idea that his position as Director of Technology was eliminated in an attempt to save the city money (little has been said about the other downsized director... as his name is much less public and he has declined comment thus far, I'll extend that trend). According to the interview (I haven't tried to reach him myself), his main contention is that the city is making a mistake in eliminating his position because it won't actually result in savings. If he can accept that premise at face value, so can I. Especially because it appears that the office of technology has been viewed by some as a potential source of cost-cutting since before the announcement of the former mayor's retirement.

So what gives with the all of the red flags?

I have a guess. Taking good-paying jobs away from people with no warning and in the absence of any compelling reason that they don't deserve to work for the city has got to be a really tough thing for anyone with a shred of empathy to do. And the folks who did it aren't very good at it. Bill Minckler posited that "There's a short-term euphoria when you get rid of an expense," but nobody I was in touch with seemed very euphoric.

Here's hoping that the two former directors quickly find even better opportunities, that the city puts the saved resources to good use, and that our city officials never get too comfortable with these kinds of decisions.

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