Invasion of the Pod People
Over the last month, a crew of Nickels staffers has switched desks, floors, and offices in a major reorganization at city hall that has gone unnoticed in the mainstream press. My colleague Erica C. Barnett wrote a small item about the changes two weeks ago, explaining that the mayor's Department of Finance will commingle with the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to create five new "work teams" (or pods, as they were informally called) that will be overseen by a new director's office ["In Other News," June 15]. This new director's office will be second in the chain of command in Team Nickels's flow chart, just below the executive.
Staff changes and power flow charts may seem like inside baseball, but the change is actually significant and worrisome.
At first glance, it seems like a cool idea. Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis told me the new structure—his brainchild—is an attempt to forestall "second term-itis." Specifically, his new system is designed to avoid developing initiatives on separate tracks—financial, policy, and political. "With an interdisciplinary approach all along," Ceis says, by the time program initiatives hit his desk, "there won't be so many unresolved issues" getting in the way of implementing programs. Sounds smart.
But it's not. In the old formula—keeping finance separate from policy and politics—there was an independent reality check: The mayor's finance director, Dwight Dively, provided a refreshing dose of straight talk in an administration that has a tendency to spin the facts in pursuit of its policy goals.
Now, by officially blurring the line between policy and finance, Team Nickels has formalized its M.O. of forcing the facts to fit its agenda. This is bad timing for an administration that's currently pushing a financially dubious $4 billion-plus waterfront tunnel project. But, in a display of the alliance between the administration's political leader Ceis and its policy leader, OPM Director Mary Jean Ryan, Dively's role does appear to have been subsumed by the policy shop.
Ryan and Dively will be heading up the new director's office together, which raises questions about who is actually in charge. That confusion creates a power vacuum that will ultimately be filled by whomever the design of the reorganization favors. And as Ceis designed it, the reorganization favors Ryan's policy shop.
Of the five new divisions under Ryan and Dively, four will be led by people from the policy side. And with the exception of the fifth division (which deals with public safety), the power and numbers within the divisions themselves favor policy. In the Community Development division, for example, policy folks outnumber finance folks 6–2. In Human Services, it's 4–1. In Infrastructure, it's 5–4 (again, with an OPM guy in charge). And while it's an even 2–2 in Environment and Neighborhood, the director comes from OPM. Overall, there will be nearly twice as many policy people as finance people in the reorganization. In the old setup, the ratio of finance people to OPM people was exactly the reverse—with more than twice as many finance folks.
Cies's freak-out over "second term-itis," has clearly given way to policy overreach-itis.