Monday, July 31, 2006

Mayor's Office Purge - Analysis

Every now and then we here at The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat like to take a break from our litany of poop jokes to do thorough and thoughtful analysis of local and national politics and policies. The recent shake up at the City of Pittsburgh Mayor's Office give us just such an opportunity and the weekend gave us an opportunity to think it over in a bacchanalian orgy of Political Systems Analysis.

Some of the key passages from the Post-Gazette analysis, which struck us like an elderly driver strikes a farmer's market, were as follows:

Mr. O'Connor's predecessor, Tom Murphy, believed that teams need creative tension. He made appointments with conflict in mind.

Whether or not Mr. O'Connor meant to orchestrate friction, that's what he got.

Ms. Leber, in charge of all department heads, didn't think they should have to send copies of communications with City Council to Mr. Regan. Mr. Regan, in charge of relations with council and other governments, thought nothing of bringing council members' beefs directly to department heads in his blunt style, without alerting Ms. Leber.

"I knew there was some tension in the office," said acting City Controller Tony Pokora, an independent official, after the firings. "I didn't realize it was that severe."


In the days that followed, Mr. Regan was among just three aides with daily or near-daily access to the mayor. His late wife was Mrs. O'Connor's cousin.

Another frequent visitor was senior secretary Marlene Cassidy, who has been with the mayor for so long she is practically family. She lives with Mr. Regan.

Less frequently admitted was mayoral spokesman Dick Skrinjar, a public relations pro charged with putting the best face on a grave situation.

This passage made us immediately rush upstairs and yank an old, dusty college text book off our shelf: Organizing The Presidency, by Stephen Hess. In this book, Hess argues for two competing historical managerial styles for the Federal Executive, one a collegial model and one a corporatist. From the book:
The Roosevelt and Eisenhower White Houses have come together to represent the extremes of presidential organization. Roosevelt's organization has been described as a circle with the president in the middle surrounded by a collection of generalists of no fixed assignment competing for his favor. At its best, this organization allows the president to rub two aids together and light a fire of creativity; at worst, such a system results in petty quarreling, forcing the president to get rid of one or both combatants. Eisenhower's model has been viewed as pyramidal. In this steeply hierarchical system, each aide, usually a specialist, is given a carefully prescribed duty. At worst, decisions fall between the boxes on the organization chart or have been rendered insipid by the time they reach the president; at best, information arrives on time and has the support of all parties. The more fluid Rooseveltian organization is likely to produce more policy innovation; the more structured organization of Eisenhower is likely to give more guidance to the permanent government.
The Wheel-and-Spoke model's inherent weakness is its overreliance on multiple actors, leading to confusion as to direction and stymying policy. The Pyramidal model can lose vital information if it does not percolate up to higher levels or if a decision maker acts as a choke point in the flow.

Historically, Democrats have favored the Wheel-and-Spoke model while Republicans have favored the Pyramidal model. The best example of the Wheel-and-Spoke version working is Kennedy's handling of the Cuban missile Crisis, while the worst is Kennedy's handling of the Bay of Pigs. The Eisenhower administration shows the best of the Pyramidal model, while the current Bush administration could probably be used as an example of the worst.

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.

What does this mean for the future of the O'Connor Administration? Clearly with the Mayor's illness it becomes necessary to "reduce the fuss," i.e., simplify the administration's decision making process during this crisis. Arguably, at this point, it becomes necessary to show a clear chain of command, should there be any attempt at mutiny, which, if you believe the newspapers, there was.

It also means, however, that the resiliency and innovation of the administration (if it existed in the first place) will be severely diminished. Multiple decision makers may lead to conflict, but they also provide for multiple points of view; multiple points of view lead to a more thorough understanding of policy implications.

Still, the 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.

But that's just my take on it.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

...And Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out

Anyone else notice that the websites for the Mayor's Office, City Finance Department and City Law Department were updated rather quickly, eliminating B.J. Leber, Paul Leger, Susan Malie as contacts?*

The little virtual man who scrapes the virtual name off of the virtual office doors must have been on speed dial.

*'Cept they missed Susie in the narrative on the Law Department site...

More On City Purges

File this post under blatant rumor mongering if you want, but today's firings brought a couple of recent and soon-to-be-recent local bureaucratic departures into sharper focus. I don't want to cause undue panic or alarm, but I kinda feel like I'm in an Oliver Stone film, only with more paperwork and uglier, uglier people. What we're looking at is a conspiracy that goes up to the highest levels, including the Mayor, his Executive Director for Intergovernmental Relations, City Council, the Act 47 Board, the heads of the Five Families, the Russians, the CIA, the Masons, the Priory of Sion, the Catholic Church, Dick Cheney, and Ming the Merciless.

OK, maybe not.

Anyway, a while back, the Executive Director of the Housing Authority, Keith Kinard, left to go to Jersey to become ED there. No big story there; he got a better job and more money.

Less reported, however, is that recently the Chief Financial Officer (and Interim Executive Director) and a few other high level managers & Directors also submitted their resignations, seemingly for independent reasons, and all within a fairly compact timeframe. Word is that there were also other people lower down on the pole that decided to "seek other opportunities"... with possibly more to come.

The common thread in all of this? Dennis Regan. Yes, this Dennis Regan, chairman of the Housing Authority Board and new head of staff for Bob O'Connor.

Coincidence? Writing on the wall? Paranoia? Did the Chairman "encourage" certain Directors to find other lines of work? Is this a conspiracy involving the NSA and the Reverse Vampires? Or maybe it's an attempt to further consolidate power into the hands of a narrow constituency? Dunno.

Rampant rumor mongering and tin foil millinery? Most definitely.

Thursday Morning Massacre at City Hall

Mayor Bob O'Connor's office today announced the firing of three top administrators.

Chief among them was chief of staff B.J. Leber, who will be replaced on an interim basis by Dennis Regan, the mayor's director of intergovernmental affairs.

Also fired was city Solicitor Susan Malie, who will be replaced by law department veteran George Specter, and Finance Director Paul Leger, who will be replaced for now by Budget Director Scott Kunka.

The mayor "has been saddened and disappointed by the actions of some of his staff members in his absence. He had no choice but to terminate them," said the mayor's spokesman, Dick Skrinjar.

Mr. O'Connor informed the three of their terminations in a conference call at 9:15 this morning. He called from UPMC Shadyside Hospital, where he is being treated for brain cancer.

They were told to gather their personal belongings and police then escorted them from the City-County Building.

Even more interesting considering that the PG ran this article this morning. 
If I had to guess, I would say that this is an attempt by the inner, inner circle of the O'Connor administration to consolidate their power while the Mayor is recovering.  Leber, Malie, and Leger were not necessarily personally beholden to Bob; this could be an attempt at purging members of the administration that were perceived as less than loyal. 
Security, by the way, has not yet come for me...

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Department of Redundancy Elimination Department

I'm all for efficiency. I live and breathe efficiency. I task, multitask, ubertask, and tasktask. I spend hours trying to figure out quicker ways to automate tasks that eat up my time.

My boss calls it laziness.

So, in the interest of "efficiency" there's this elimination and this one. Let's start with the first:

City Councilman Jim Motznik plans to introduce a resolution today to ask voters to decide whether to reduce council from nine members to seven.

The change would occur after the 2010 U.S. Census, he wrote in a statement released yesterday, meaning council would keep its current size through 2011. Members would continue to be elected by district.

The proposal comes on the heels of a petition drive started last month to cut council to five members. City firefighters and the Republican Committee hope to turn in the signatures of at least 8,494 registered city voters by Aug. 8, ensuring a place on the November ballot.

Mr. Motznik's proposal raises the possibility that there could be two ballot questions dealing with the size of council.
And now the second one:
City of Pittsburgh Policy Director Yarone Zober has been nominated to the post of director of general services. Pittsburgh City Council members said today that they received the nomination yesterday.

The General Services Department is being eliminated, its functions divided between the Public Works Department and Finance Department. Mr. Zober's role would be to complete that process and "get rid of his job" as general services director, said mayoral spokesman Dick Skrinjar.

Council must confirm department heads. They are eligible to serve as deputy mayors should the mayor travel or become temporarily disabled.
Now, I'm opposed to the first one for a simple reason: it will screw up my system. I currently track large numbers of widgets across the city, by neighborhood, wards, streets, and, most importantly to Council, Council Districts.

If the City goes around and starts fidgiting with the lines, I have to start mucking around in my databases with lines of code and redrafting reports. It's going to be a real pain in my butt... 'cause I hate messing around in code.

Besides, I don't think that Mr. Motznick is serious... else he'd quit, right?

Although the concept of elimination of ones own job is interesting. I have some hints for Mr. Zober should he really wish to eliminate his:
  1. Show up late to work. Really late. Like, a month late;
  2. Nail the boss's daughter, or, alternatively, nail the boss's son. A word to Mr. Zober: the boss's son is a priest.
  3. Start stealing office supplies. Fortunately for Mr. Zober, he's become head of office supplies. I would reccomend he steal the entire office.
  4. Show up drunk.
Actually, the last one doesn't work. I've tried. People just think you're on Council.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Summertime and the Council is Adjourned

OK, so the lyrics don't scan like Ira Gershwin's, but the sentiment is the same. Tomorrow, if I recall correctly, is the last full council meeting before the August recess. (There is a standing committee meeting on Wednesday, but really who goes to that, really?)

Couple thoughts:

(1) I imagine the council bell ringing, and council persons streaming out singing "No more meetings, no more books! No more Motznik dirty looks!"

(2) This is the time of year where nothing is already getting done in the City; 75% of staff is on vacation anyway and basically everyone would rather be anywhere else but inside the City County Building.

Unless, of course, it's 99 degrees out.

(3) Why does Council really need a month long vacation? OK, I understand US Congress and the State General Assembly and Senate, as both have constituents to go home to and smooze before November, but are we really to believe that Jeffrey Koch has to travel by horse coach, across dangerous, unpaved roads all the way back to the 2nd Council District? Well, I'll accept the dangerous, unpaved roads bit, but not the horse coach.

(4) Maybe we should have them log in with fingerprint ID. What's good for the goose and all...

Anyway, I'm going to be spending the next 4 weeks camping out in Bill Peduto's office; I've learned to make a passable lean-to out of old Guyasuta fellowship reports.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

Those of you that care (both of you) may have noticed that postings have been scant the last few weeks. I was, in fact, elsewhere in the middle-of-bloody-nowhere with scant access to either computer devise or means of internet access.

On the plus side, I did manage to get out of the house for awhile, into the fresh air and my flesh briefly changed from pasty-white, to golden tan, only to go straight on to vermillion. As Woody Allen once said, "I don't 'tan'; I 'stroke.'"

Anyway, upon my return to the real world, however, I did hear about the Mayor's unfortunate, and unexpected diagnosis. The timing of this event lead me to one conclusion: my presense in the Region prevented the Mayor from getting cancer.

Shocking, I know but consider the facts:
(1) July 6 - Mayor O'Connor is hospitalized.
(2) July 1 - The Angry Drunk Bureaucrat leaves the region for the first time since Mayor O'Connor's inauguration.

Also, further consider that this has been the first time in this administration that the Mayor has gotten cancer AND this is the first time that I have left the Region!

To illustrate further, please examine this graph:

Image Hosted by

The correlation is clear and it means only one thing: I can never leave the region again.*

I am, of course, humbled in the awesomeness of my responsibility, but, for the sake of the City, I shall do my part.

I wish Mr. O'Connor a speedy recovery.

* Which would pretty much make me like every other Pittsburgher, I suppose.

World Domination - A Technical Question

It is my not-so-secret plot to raise an army of minions for the expressed purpose of taking over the Borough of Mount Oliver.  But before, I unleash my army of jackbooted thugs on an unprepared metropolis, I have one question: am I required to carry worker's compensation coverage on "minions" in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, or is there some wiggle room here?
Advice would be greatly appreciated; I'm already well overbudget on the Lunar-Based Death Ray System (LuBaDeRS) and I need to cut costs somewhere.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Two Minutes Hate

As part of their daily Two Minutes Hate, I would like everyone to include the Philadelphia International Airport.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Brief Aside

I have recently come to the opinion that, despite the enourmous benefit to the American exporter, the US Dollar really ought to be stronger.