Mayor-elect John Powers seems slightly homeless at City Hall these days. Though he is deeply involved in organizing his new administration, he doesn't really have an office yet -- which is why this interview ends up taking place in the back corner of Channel 5's offices, accompanied by the soundtrack from the City Council meeting in session blaring over the intercom.
Once settled among the TV station's myriad of cables and towers of electronic equipment, Powers laughs and says: "I'm singing a new Christmas carol these days, did you know that? 'Tis the season to transition...' "
So it is, and when he is sworn in next Thursday, Powers is not only going to take on the position as the city's new mayor, but he'll also become the head of an almost entirely new organizational structure. And that political and organizational transition has provided quite a work schedule for Powers, since he announced his November victory at the Steam Plant on election night.
"The process of transitioning began the day after the election, and it's been about as I anticipated it," says Powers. "What's been new is the amount of contacts that have been coming back to me from all the different areas of the city administration that now fall under the mayor's position. There have been a lot of people who 'want to meet now' or 'want to provide input now,' and we've had to say no to more people than we had expected, simply to focus more effort on the job at hand."
As a result, Powers says he hasn't been able to make as many community appearances as he had hoped to, and he realizes many have tried reaching him in vain. That will change once he is in office, he says, since it's important to him to stay in close contact with people in the community.
"People are going to have to get used to seeing the mayor in different situations and venues. For instance, I will not be at all the City Council meetings, just like the governor isn't always in the Statehouse," he explains. "It's not like I'll be there quasi-presiding over the meetings. The meetings will be led by the City Council president, and I'll be at some of them, or have representatives at some of them. But citizens are going to have to get used to seeing the council as its own thing."
Powers plans to offer a weekly update, maybe on Public Television or another venue, where he can fill the community in on what he's working on and occasionally have a guest or two.
Through the transition period, he has been relying on the input from his own transition team -- not to be confused with City Hall's transition team.
"Tom Tilford is the chair of my team. He practiced law for a while before becoming a very successful businessman here in Spokane. He now serves on Gonzaga University's Board of Trustees," says Powers. "But the team really has two tracks: policy and planning, and then the implementation component."
In charge of policy and planning is Don Higgins from the West Central Community Center, and there are more than a dozen other people whom Powers relies on for input and advice.
"They really all are my advisers, and what we've been trying to do is make sure our bases are covered at least for the first 90 days as far as interacting with the stakeholders in this process," says Powers. "Laurel Siddoway is the special counsel to the mayor-elect on River Park Square, and she'll continue in that position and help me work with Yale Lewis [the independent attorney hired by the City Council to deal with lawsuits pertaining to River Park Square]. I also wanted a youth perspective, so I've relied a lot on Noel Bamberger from the Chase Youth Commission. I still think the forum they put on prior to the election was one of the best I went to." His list of advisers goes on and on, but notably, perhaps, is that former Spokane City Manager Terry Novak will be one of Powers' advisers when it comes to hiring new staff.
"Tom Tilford, Terry Novak and Bill Barber will be working with the implementation component, helping me with job searches, setting up criteria and tracking and screening the candidates," says Powers. "We should be able to extend an offer and have the chief administrative officer (CAO) in place by March." Powers describes the CAO as the frontline senior manager, through whom reports from the different city departments reach the mayor. This is a position specific to and created by the strong mayor initiative.
On Monday night, Powers asked the City Council to approve another position -- chief of staff -- for his new administration. Contrary to what some are saying, the money to pay for this position ($76,800 for the salary alone) is already covered by the transition budget.
"I'm not asking for more money; the money is already there. This has to go before the council because it's a new position that wasn't described in the budget already," says Powers. "Next budgetary year, the position will be part of the final budget review just like any other position at City Hall."
The chief of staff will run the office of the mayor and city administration and serve as Powers' right hand, making sure the staff is well organized and follows through.
The two other positions Powers took to the council for approval on Monday were communications director -- a position that was vacated last spring and hasn't been filled since and therefore slipped through the cracks of the new budget -- and a position as the mayor's secretary.
"City Manager Hank Miggins has agreed to stay on as CAO for an interim period," says Powers, saying he'll stay at least until the new CAO comes on board.
The council deferred its decision on all three positions to the first meeting of the new year, Jan. 2.
Another position that needs to be filled by the new mayor is that of city attorney, since current City Attorney Jim Sloane is retiring.
"Current Assistant City Attorney Mike Connelly has agreed to serve as acting city attorney beginning in January," says Powers. "But there will be a wide open search, which may include people within the existing office as well as from other places. We should have a new city attorney by March."
Powers is not ready to announce any final candidates for key positions of his staff yet, saying simply he doesn't want to get out ahead of himself and the story. All this being said, what many are dying to know is how Powers really gets along with Councilman Steve Eugster? The two have argued in public a few times.
"I've had some really good talks with Eugster about, for instance, his Christmas ordinance," says Powers. "He knows it's a tongue-in-cheek thing that he isn't even going to vote for. I look forward to working with him, actually all of the Council members. I have great hopes for how this is going to work out."
& & & lt;i & John Powers will be sworn in as Spokane's new mayor at a ceremony in the City Council chambers on Thursday, Dec. 28, at 5 pm. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
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