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Thursday, January 31, 2013

As Bureau Takeover Looms, Hales' Staff Plans to Go It Alone

Posted by Denis C. Theriault on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 12:29 PM

Come Monday, like he's been promising for months, Mayor Charlie Hales will take on the mantle of a big-city executive mayor and personally oversee every single city bureau for the next three or so months. (And a hat tip to the Oregonian for dipping into the media's limited allotment of Charles in Charge jokes in also recognizing the approaching milestone this morning.)

That takeover—ordered in the name of crafting a less-parochial budget, a budget redolent of financial antiseptic instead of the usual amount of political grease—would be daunting for any mayor. But Hales is biting off an especially big challenge after trimming his staff to half the size fielded by former Mayor Sam Adams.

Which is raising a question in city hall: Will Hales' team, swamped by having to sign off on ordinances and contracts and minutiae at the same time as they look for at least $25 million in cuts, wind up needing help?

Hopefully not, says Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes. At least not yet.

Despite mutters that Hales' office has asked city bureaus to send over "loaner" employees to help manage the technical aspects of running nearly 30 city offices, Haynes says his boss wants to go it alone as long as he can.

"Once that workload starts," he says, "we are all cognizant of the fact that this is going to be a quantum shift in responsibilities around here. We're prepared if we need somebody. But we haven't asked anyone yet."

Admittedly, it's a slightly persnickety issue. But people in city hall are paying attention. Hales has mined both goodwill and controversy in cutting his office budget, saving the city about $1 million. Adding employees to his office—even if their salaries are paid from bureau budgets—could undercut the symbolic value of his personal austerity.

Of course, that shift would also be temporary. Also, while those "loaners" could otherwise be doing their regular jobs in their home bureaus, the opportunity cost of leaving those jobs undone, especially during the chaos of budget season, is probably negligible.

And the staff cuts? Those would remain permanent. As Haynes wryly pointed out.

If Hales' chief of staff, Gail Shibley, does issue the call, Haynes says, "We have some desks and spaces available from Mayor Sam Adams' old crew. If we need them, we have cubicles."

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