Thursday, February 07, 2008

This Post Was Not Cleared by the Mayor's Office

So this is what Early Returns had to say a few days ago:

Assuming the mayor comes back to the office Monday, he may find it harder to connect with a council that is incensed at a new administration policy regarding communication with city departments.

Council members have traditionally contacted department directors, assistant directors and division commanders or supervisors directly in their efforts to get neighborhood needs met. They view their power to drag managers into the field to look at graffiti, crumbling retaining walls, tumbledown houses or spalling bridges as a key tool of their offices.

Early this week, council members started getting e-mails telling them of a new policy. Requests by council members or their staff to meet with managers have to go through the mayor or Chief of Staff Yarone Zober. Superdirectors Art Victor and Mike Huss need to be involved if public works or public safety staff are involved.

Members are trying to buck the order, by contacting city underlings directly in spite of the edict. But the good soldiers in the ranks are afraid of reprisals if they attend any unauthorized meetings with council members, and so are refusing to talk without Mayor's Office approval.

(ER notes that this seems a lot like the media relations policy instituted when Mayor Bob O'Connor took office in 2006 and his spokesman Dick Skrinjar told managers not to talk to reporters without his approval. That policy remains in force under current spokeswoman Alecia Sirk, though it isn't always rigorously enforced.

Under Mayor Tom Murphy, reporters could call department heads directly and get answers to factual questions, on the record, without anyone's approval.)

There's talk of a council revolt, which could take the form of refusal to act on bills the administration wants, or even the subpoenaing of managers. We at ER don't think it's going to come to that, but it certainly has soured relations between the administration and the new council.
There's relatively very little that we can add to the description, except to say that it's true, in our experience. (Although it's refreshing to not have to screen the hundreds of calls from Rich Lord, Jeremy Boren, and Jon Delano all day.) Not sure, however, how this impacts the related entities (including URA, PWSA, HACP, PPA, etc.), but I'm guessing that they are similarly affected by this policy.

This authoritarian information control, however, does seem to be part of a general pattern coming out of 414 Grant Street. First there was the above referenced media blackout, then there was the blocking of the blogs, now there's this. That's even setting aside the old Internet access block by the previous administration. Perhaps it's a coincidence, but...

Well, let me go back a second.

In July of 2006, I wrote a post about the effects of the purging of B.J. Leber et al. from the O'Connor administration. It read, in part
If you are quick witted, you'll probably see where we're going with this: the O'Connor administration has made a significant shift away from a collegial model to a more authoritarian corporate model...

[T]he most disturbing development of this change is this: the Pyramidal model allows actors to make policy with little oversight within their particular sphere, as they can block the flow of bad information to the Executive. The result is sufficient latitude to reward particular interests or pursue particular policies that, one may argue, could be criminal. Multiple levels of oversight and conflict help to minimize this problem.

So, effectively the concentration of power in the hands of a small clique of "Pols" in the Mayor's Office, following the purge of the "Wonks" will probably lead to a more explicit series of policies that reward O'Connor favorites/patrons/friends and a lessening of policies that seek to innovate the City of Pittsburgh. Alternatively, the Mayor's Office will be able to ruthlessly pursue its agenda without fear of being stymied from within.
Let's carry the analogy forward: Ravenstahl is consolidating information around his office, allowing the administration to make policy and decisions with little oversight from Council and the Public.

Well... why?

If you are suspicious, you would think that the Mayor's office is trying to hide something. If you thought something like that, you obviously have the political subtlety of a cross-dressing brick through a window.

In my hastily assembled opinion, the Mayor's office is not trying to hide something; it's try to hide everything.

You see, it has been remarked to me frequently that certain employees of the City feel that directives out of the Mayor's Office has been erratic, confusing, and bad. To put it another way, as someone on the elevator asked me the other day "Do they know what the hell they're doing on the 5th Floor?" I get the feeling that the Mayor's Office is trying to hide the fact that they don't, in fact, know what the hell they're doing.

By restricting access to both members of the media and Council, the Mayor's office can effectively control the perception that it does, in fact, know what the hell it is doing, even though it may not actually know what the hell it is doing.

Pay no attention to the Emperor with no clothing behind the curtain.

So, if anyone wants to *ahem* anonymously circumvent the filters, I'm perfectly willing to let my fellow Bureaucrats use this site to vent their frustrations and/or dish dirt.

I mean, that's what I'm doing.


Anonymous said...

...and you do it excepitionally well..

Anonymous said...

you forgt to mention that somehow Pat Ford, executive director of the URA, now must approve anything in the Department of Planning. The Council is wondering why Ford, who's not a city employee has oversight over a city department. The morale in Planning is very low.