Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Be the Boss, But Not So Bossy

This morning's Tennessean has what looks like a balanced treatment (rare in the local media) of Mayor Karl Dean, including some not-so-endearing information about his leadership style. Reportedly, the Mayor's lack of communication and coordination have alienated some board members and commission volunteer leaders.

I tend to believe that Metro's strong-executive charter relieves the Mayor from having to be a hard-charger. Mayoral privilege is already written into the government, so why not bring people on board and give them investments in your decision-making rather than act like you have to prove something to someone? Michael Cass underscores the contrast of Dean to what leaders beyond the Metro Council cat herd say about Bill Purcell's ability to bring various constituencies on board in his initiatives rather than dictating what was next. The Dean Administration does seem insular and inscrutable when it does not need to be.

And of the Mayor's claim to innovation? Necessity seems to have dogged the Mayor's Office more so than innovation arose from it. The Election Commission break-in. Recessionary budget constraints. A Justice Department lawsuit over zoning. Status quo and silence on development and growth in planning. The virtual evaporation of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods. I do not see a lot of innovation (and in some cases, like the recession, innovation is a luxury we cannot afford anyway). I believe that Karl Dean has been challenged just to keep his campaign promises, like that concerning youth crime.

The Mayor's Office may be ending its first year with no less of a thud than it began it with the occasion of his "Connecting Communities" neighborhoods meeting, during which the Mayor simply warmed over his campaign promises about youth crime and education rather than "innovating" ideas for dealing with other neighborhood concerns. In fact, his response to questions about infrastructure vs. development was practically tried and miserably conventional: keep judging planning requests on a case-by-case basis.

The impression now that he has not generally tried to bring Nashvillians into his policy initiatives as early adopters comes as no surprise to me. I sensed that in December 2007. It also confirms things I was hearing during the Mayoral campaign about their being an insider mentality to Dean's circle bordering on mafia-esque. I do not know what it will take to crack open the shell, but until the Mayor does it alienation will only grow.

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