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Quiet Revolution? 

by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & M & lt;/span & ayor Dennis Hession recently made a game, if wooden, attempt to make contact with the Cliff-Cannon Neighborhood Council folks. He took the rostrum, i.e. the table at the front of the Roosevelt Elementary School gym, to respond to a canned question regarding his mayoral accomplishments and aspirations. He pondered his answer for a moment or two, and then, in his typically measured speaking style, announced simply that he had pulled off a "quiet revolution" down at City Hall.





"Quiet revolution" -- hmmmmm... That's heavy. With great anticipation, I moved to the edge of my chair. I wanted more. I waited. And waited. And waited.





Nope, that was it. While I sat there, I was left wondering just what he was talking about; meanwhile, the mayor moved briefly through a short list of his favorites and sat down.





Could it be that Hession has secretly embraced some very arcane eastern religion where lines such as "quiet revolution" are accepted as gems of wisdom. I recalled the one about the master telling the young acolyte, who had come so far to gain wisdom: "My son, life's a fountain."





Life's a fountain? That's it? Well, maybe it's also a "quiet revolution."





Then I had a flash. Could it be that all the rumors making their way through the corridors of City Hall were true? Has our sartorial mayor actually turned the city over to Chief Operating Officer John Pilcher? Wow! Now that would be a serious revolution. A quiet coup. Is that it?





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & W & lt;/span & e may be hearing more soon, as we do know that the mayor's so-called Executive Committee is about ready to present its "strategic plan." About this closed-door initiative (does our "run silent, run deep" mayor work any other way?), a few details: During the past several months, Mayor Hession has lost or fired -- or is about to lose -- more than half a dozen key department heads. As of today, his executive committee is made up of our newly designated chief operating officer, the city's chief budget guy, our police and fire chiefs, a longtime staffer who works in the shadows of the bureaucracy and a number of "actings." (Meaning, acting department head until a new one is named to replace the departed one.)





Not to oversimplify, but if you multiply the city's losses by the years served, my guess is that the city has lost upwards of 300 years of bureaucratic memory. Just like that. Presto! Gone. And at the exact time that it might be a good idea to have at least someone at the table who could weigh in with something like, "you know, we tried that 20 years ago and it didn't work then," or, "frankly, I am quite certain that what you propose is borderline illegal."





For obvious reasons "actings" often can weigh-in, but seldom will.





To make matters more problematic, Hession chose to use as the point of departure for his strategic plan his much criticized MATRIX study, which amounts to little more than an off-the-shelf, time-motion study, disembodied from context, institutional dynamics and administrative reality. Department heads were required to respond to each MATRIX recommendation in their respective area by checking off boxes: "implementing," "about to implement," "will implement." But as one of the recently departed department heads told me, nowhere on the answer sheet were they invited to answer: "This is a really dumb idea. Forget it."





Apparently -- and remember, since our leader is a "run silent, run deep" kind of guy, we are left to guess -- Hession has decided to go all in with the MATRIX study. It's an election year, and he needs to show some accomplishments other than the number of building permits issued. My guess is that when his political snorkel finally breaks the water, we will find that his quiet revolution amounts to little more than the resultant strategic plan, prepared as it has been by inexperienced chiefs who are dependent on a demoralized crew.





To make matters worse, Hession continues to ignore the only legitimate template for strategic planning we have -- the Spokane Comprehensive Plan. I wonder if Pilcher, who is relatively new to Spokane and entirely new to government, had any clue to the Comp Plan when he took the job. It hasn't seemed like he or others in City Hall remember it -- or care to remember it.





Jim West hired Pilcher to bring a business perspective to the economic development functions of government, and that can be a good thing. But now that he's in charge of the whole city and every service function, who's giving Pilcher the perspective he needs to create good, competent government? With no previous public experience, it's been a quick trip to the top for Pilcher; if Spokane was still operating as a council-manager form, he would have had real trouble making it past the first round of interviews to become the city's top unelected official. To make matters more troubling, our new COO doesn't even live in the city of Spokane.





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & he bottom line? Under Pilcher's direction, Mayor Hession's largely neophyte and detached executive committee is, in effect, making up this new strategic plan as they go along. Lacking, as I predict it will, any reference to the existing Comprehensive Plan, this new plan will be vulnerable to criticism for having no real legitimacy.





Interesting use of the word "revolution." From what? To what? With whom? For what? Our mayor hasn't said.





Yet with Al French proving to be a refreshingly combative and well informed challenger, and Mary Verner's impressive organization energizing her grassroots base, such questions should at least form the outlines of a debate as we choose our next strong mayor this fall.
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