A peek into the City's crystal ball 

Here's the question: Are Jim Mullen's days as city manager numbered?

Despite my extensive network of moles, informers, old pals and scheming bureaucrats who want to put the knife into their boss, I don't have any inside information to that effect. But based on observing the events of the last few weeks, I suspect that the cable on Mullen's elevator may be dangerously frayed.

Item: Councilwoman Joanne Colt writes an op-ed, prominently displayed in both newspapers, accepting Council's error in failing to campaign for issues referred to the voters in the recent election.

Item: Councilman Bill Guman complains of being excluded from a secret Council meeting.

Item: The secret Council meeting apparently focuses on Police Chief Lorne Kramer's possible departure.

Item: Given Kramer's most recent performance evaluation, it's clear that Mullen doesn't think much of him. Conversely, much of the city, and, I suspect, a majority of Council, believe that the chief walks on water.

Item: The city administration attempts to muzzle the press by implementing a ludicrously restrictive public-information policy. P.R. boss Eugenia Echols loyally claims that it was all her idea, but no one's fooled.

Item: The city's laboriously-crafted package of revenue enhancement measures fails miserably at the polls, leaving this year's budget in tatters.

Item: Of the nine Council members who hired Mullen four years ago, only three remain: the mayor, Leon Young and Bill Guman. That means that six of them have no vested interest in retaining him, and a seventh, Bill Guman, had a very public spat with him some months ago.

Item: Council members are now in the process of preparing yearly performance evaluations of their appointees: the city clerk, the auditor, the utilities director, the city attorney, and the city manager. Given this year's multiple debacles, it's hard to imagine that there won't be a few strongly negative assessments of the manager's performance. If a majority of Council evaluates Mullen negatively, what will he do? Resign in a huff, dare Council to fire him, or accept the evaluation as "constructive criticism"?

There's a problem. Mullen's contract calls for a year's severance pay (about a hundred grand) if he's dismissed. Ever sensitive to public parsimony, Council would probably be reluctant to dole out the bucks.

Imagine what the G would say!

Moreover (and I speak from experience!), the process of hiring a new manager is painful, difficult and frustrating. The best candidates drop out unexpectedly; Council members fragment a dozen different ways in their assessments; city workers retreat into self-protective bureaucratic shells; and all management initiatives, good and bad, are put on hold.

For all of Mullen's term, the mayor has been his staunchest supporter. If he left, it'd certainly be interpreted as a defeat for Mary Lou and her style of governance. As long as that style worked (e.g., in passing the SCIP bond issue), the mayor was in charge. But now that we're back to business as usual (vote no on everything), Council may become a little restless.

And a final wild card: If George W. is elected president, he'll have a lot of jobs to fill. Would Mary Lou consider a job in Washington? That paid real money, and had real power?

Ted, Lionel, Joanne, Bill, Richard: Start your campaigns!!!

Former City Councilman John Hazlehurst is overqualified to run the city, despite rumors to the contrary


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