Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mayor Dean's big, fat staff

We are going to be bombarded in lead-up to the the next local election by messages buoyed by funding from special interests who lust after a smaller, more pliable Metro Council to lobby. While there are segments of our community that are willing to seriously consider their bid to rewrite the Metro Charter in order to constrict popular representation at the Courthouse, I'm more worried about revenues Mayor Karl Dean dumps into a ballooning executive branch. This is a bloated staff:

Mind you, if the bid to reduce the size of the council is successful, district voters will only have 8 more people representing them than the Mayor has on a staff he pays to advance his pet projects. We're so busy pondering the question of whether a city Nashville's size needs one of the largest councils in the country that we're not bothering to ask harder questions about the financial drain of the Mayor's large staff. Here are three off the top of my head:

  • Why does the Mayor need 2 (and in many cases 3) people to run his PR campaign? Janel Lacy had worked for Karl Dean for several years before former journalist Bonna Johnson was hired in 2011 as Press Secretary. Add to those two Courtney Wheeler, hired to direct the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, who seems to coordinate the Mayor's PR in the digital social media. The times I have seen Ms. Wheeler attend community meetings, she spent a lot of time talking to the news media rather than to neighbors. That's three people coordinating the Mayor's talking points. Why does he require that many? Why are public revenues spent on 3 people to broadcast messages?
  • Why do we need an "Office of Innovation" when the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and Mayor's Office of Economic and Community Development have been charged before with the duties of the innovation office? This looks like a duplication of services, unless my past concerns about MOON have come to pass, and Courtney Wheeler is spending more time on pitching the Mayor's agenda and less time on coordinating service delivery to the neighborhoods. The other troubling aspect concerns the disruptive connotations of innovation, which Jill Lepore described this week in The New Yorker: the innovative culture advocates an "idea of progress jammed into a criticism-proof jack-in-the-box". Mayor Karl Dean is not tolerant of criticism and he rewards loyalty. For his administration to plug into disruptive innovation is both predictable and alarming. For all the good this office might do, how is it disruptive to those of us not in power?
  • Speaking of loyalty: what in the world is a "Director of Financial Empowerment" and why does Erik Cole qualify for the position? Never mind. I just remembered why.

Our Mayor is an executive who every spring questions whether Metro departments could operate on less money than what they had received the year before. Watching the way his own staff grows, I have to wonder whether he brings the hard questions to bear on his own department.

If he won't, then we should; especially as we are being lobbied to vote to cut our representation on the Metro Council.


  1. Excellent questions.

  2. It would be interesting to see how much money that we spend on the mayor's staff's salary and benefits. When all other departments are having to cut their budget, Dean simply adds more staff. Essentially he is running his governor's campaign at the expense of the taxpayers. There are too many who not only kiss his ring, but more like his backside. If Ed Cole wasn't Erik's dad, I think Erik and his wife would not be working for Metro.

    I hope Nashville has more sense than to elect someone like Dean during the next go around. Our city is going to be so broke by then, the next mayor will have difficulty just paying the bills.

  3. I would like to see a similar report on Metro Schools. It seems they have mutiple communications staff too. Class sizes will be the largest in years because of a tight budget, yet Bransford Avenue seems extremely top heavy. They spend a lot of tax money and are not accountable to the taxpayers. They can ask for money for things, yet are not required to spend it on those things once the Council gives them the money. How is that accountable?

  4. How much money did Metro Schools spend to send principals and school board members (and spouses) to China this year to view an exchange program. School board members who have never set foot in some of their own schools traveling to China on the taxpayer's dime. Chinese schools, culture, and their students are not at all like Nashville schools. Why spend this money? Why not travel to Clarksville Montgomery County Schools and observe a system with some of the highest test scores for minorities and lower socioeconomic students in the nation. We need to cut out the frills and focus on our students. Maybe pay our teachers a little more too.