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May 16, 2006

Conversation with the Mayor Part II

Roy Meachum

After Thursday's City Hall meeting, the aldermen sought to cool down media speculation. One-by-one they emphatically denied their so-called "feud" with Mayor Jeff Holtzinger.

Board President Marcia Hall commented that strong communications existed between the board and the mayor, on organization and other city issues.

Through newspapers and emails, her fellow aldermen expressed the same comment. All agree they have been involved all the way in Mr. Holtzinger's plan to "streamline" City Hall.

All agree, further, more conversations and negotiations are called for.

The hottest issue on the table was the mayor's request to designate as "city manager" the head of one of three departments he's proposed. He admitted the mistake when the idea first hit the streets. This is a rose by a name that will not fly; he can see.

Reaching back for a title from past administrations could turn the trick. As with all palavering among elected officials, moles will become mountains before the mayor and board finally reach agreement.

But no one wants a return to the Jennifer years when turmoil inevitably replaced professional conduct, featuring vicious sarcasm from Her Honor. As a result, all three Republican aldermen from her administration are now out of public life.

Cautioned by his wife and doctor, former Board President Bill Hall retired, resisting persistent entreaties from Robert Ehrlich to join the party's ticket. As he walked along North Market last Friday afternoon, Mr. Hall said no again to the Republican governor's plea to run for the House of Delegates.

Former colleague Dave Lenhart's wife accelerated the family's return to his native Georgia; she and the kids resented the public slamming he suffered, especially from Ms. Dougherty.

The ex-mayor never believed his actions and words were the public good, as he perceived it. She always thought everything he did was politics, motivated by his desire to be elected. After Mr. Lenhart announced his move to Georgia, Ms. Dougherty's paranoia ran high. Now he's gone.

The third Republican on the board, Joe Baldi, said he ran for mayor to oust the incumbent. He stated publicly and frequently his only purpose in filing was to get Jennifer Dougherty out of office. His party figured Jeff Holtzinger could do it better.

Her petty, malicious diatribes were received no more kindly by her fellow Democrats; she became the first mayor in modern history, at least, who couldn't even survive the primary. If former Mayor Ron Young had stumbled, it's safe to say, in the general elections, Republicans and her own party members would have slaughtered her political hopes.

Fellow Democrat Marcia Hall waltzed back again, garnering the top vote in last fall's elections, earning the president's spot. The party's other alderman, Donna Kuzemchak-Ramsburg, squeaked by, grabbing the last chair available.

Ms. Hall's first four years had confirmed the lady's reluctance to upset anyone. Her mettle showed when needed, but she demonstrated on every occasion her aversion to potentially destructive exchanges. To this positive attitude may be attributed her showing at the polls.

It has been suggested Ms. Kuzemchak-Ramsburg came knife's-edge close to losing because her contentious and abrasive style most resembled Ms. Dougherty's. While she seemed to have softened, the alderman retains a take-command attitude that may offend voters further.

From their public comments, including email, I can't imagine the "new boys" on the board will present strangling obstacles to the reorganization. After only five months in office, David "Kip" Koontz, Alan Imhoff and Paul Smith certainly know they have much to learn.

Judging the cooperation level on the board, Jeff Holtzinger told me he figures the "streamlining" might be worked out quickly, within the next week or so. That's contrary to his estimate in the Sunday News-Post column.

"(The aldermen) want to get this thing over with," he told me Sunday.

In laying out the process, the mayor explained, the negotiations are predicated on finding where each position fits on the city's civil service level; the highest being a 5. Shifting of responsibilities, some begun in the last administration will figure in. Personalities will not.

The idea is a real organization, more immune from the whims of elected officials than now. Certainly more impervious to situations like the former mayor created when she hired a woman who reportedly rarely showed up; her designated position had her doing scheduling when she was there.

Marrying a position to a place on the organizational chart comes first and then the matter of pay. In Mr. Holtzinger's thinking, incumbents will be offered the revived jobs. No question. It is up to each to decide.

That seems to me to eminently fairer than a number of high-ranking employees squeezed out under Ms. Dougherty, including the city engineer; his name is Jeff Holtzinger.

He promises, by the way, to protect workers from past harassment of the sort forced on workers who happened to be in the hall when the former mayor was on the loose. Whatever was taking place, her usual greeting, in an ominous tone:

"Are we talking or are we working?"

Incidentally, two friends who know City Hall workers and have visited them recently, at their desks, scoff at the nation that morale is low.

"Most of them couldn't give a damn," a man said, implying not all workers are delighted with the officials threatened with reorganization.

In the event, as observed in Sunday's News-Post, Mr. Holtzinger grows more comfortable with his office. Not smug. He anticipates over the coming days there will come decisions and moves that may unsettle even his supporters. He's learned to steel himself to criticism.

Nevertheless, the mayor finds it hard to abide some of the untruths being peddled by his predecessor and her followers.

In Sunday's News-Post, for example, the ex-mayor alleged: "Since Jeff has said many times that he has no plans for re-election, and he will end his lease when his term is complete..."

Neither journalistic colleagues, nor any other friends, can recall anything said in the campaign that even suggested the mayor was in the race for a single term.

Jeff Holtzinger charitably suggests she may be simply mistaken:

"I joke around at times by saying I don't plan to become a career politician, that's as close as I've come. But this is way too early to make a decision. That's years away."

Sunday's column recounted some of my experiences with mayors, going back to Ron Young, but until now I can't remember any of them verbally assaulting their successors, let alone by peddling half-truths.

But then Jennifer Dougherty spent much of her first years in City Hall maligning her predecessor, James Grimes.

At least, she is consistent.

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