Mayor backs off on vow to hire chief of staff

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 13

Despite critics’ beliefs that it could stop what they call micromanaging, Mayor Carty Finkbeiner will not hire a chief of staff anytime soon.

The decision was made five months after he told supporters and reporters that he would fill the position, which has been vacant since July, 1996.

“That position is a luxury,” the mayor said this week.

Soon after his election to a second term in November, Mr. Finkbeiner promised to hire – and empower – a chief of staff, partially as a response to criticism from city employees and council members who said the mayor was too involved in the minutiae of city government’s day-to-day operations.

“I’m not going to hire anybody just to say I have a chief of staff,” he told The Blade then. “I’ll hire a talented individual who I think will do an excellent job of fulfilling that function.”

In the preliminary budget he submitted to the council in November, he included $87,000 to fund the position. But when city leaders had to make cuts to balance the budget, the chief of staff was one of the first positions eliminated.

Mr. Finkbeiner said he would rather leave an empty position unfilled than be forced to lay off a city employee.

“It is not one of our 10 or 12 top priorities,” he said. “We have several other positions we consider more pressing to fill now.”

The mayor said he might begin searching for a chief of staff by year’s end, after other hiring priorities have been fulfilled.

While the budget item for the chief of staff has been cut, Mr. Finkbeiner could adjust his office’s funding later this year to fill the position, officials said.

He said the search would be difficult because of the city’s relatively low pay levels and the lengthy time it could take to find a superior candidate.

But city leaders said they weren’t surprised that the job will remain empty for the time being, even though they said filling the post would improve the mayor’s decision-making.

“My sense is he doesn’t really want one,” said at-large Councilman Gene Zmuda, a frequent Finkbeiner critic. “You know this mayor well enough. If he really wanted something, he would order that it be done.”

Council President Peter Ujvagi said the mayor would make better decisions if he were able to delegate some of his authority.

“I would respectfully submit that he needs a very, very strong, powerful chief of staff,” Mr. Ujvagi said. “But, for better or worse, Carty Finkbeiner is his own chief of staff. Do I think he should hire one? Yes. Do I think he’s going to? No.”

John Alexander was the last person in the mayor’s office to hold the title of chief of staff. He resigned in July, 1996, and took a lower-paying job as assistant Lu cas County administrator. He said the city would benefit if the mayor had an “inner circle” to assist him in day-to-day operations.

“I think it would be valuable to have several people whose judgment and insight the mayor values,” he said. “I believe there needs to be people surrounding the chief executive officer who can take complex issues, lay out options, and make recommendations.”

Mr. Alexander agreed with other leaders who said the mayor had taken on much of the role of a chief of staff for himself.

“The mayor has his own unique approaches to issues that generally would fall to a chief of staff,” he said. “He is a very quick study of policy issues and of people, and I think he makes immediate judgments, and at times doesn’t seek counsel that may put a different perspective out for consideration.”

Mr. Ujvagi said the decision ultimately is the mayor’s.

“It’s counterproductive to hope he’ll get a chief of staff,” he said. “The mayor has obviously not felt it was necessary.”

“I think Carty is comfortable with his style,” Mr. Alexander said. “It’s working for him and his vision. From the moment Carty took office, he had a vision. He’s to a large degree fulfilled that vision, and I was glad to have been a part of it.”

Blade staff writer Jeffrey Cohan contributed to this report.