Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A NEW CONSOLIDATION UNDER ALVIN BROWN; DIRECT ACCESS Mayor Has Brought More Areas under His Control BUSINESSLIKE the Trend Mirrors Changes in the Corporate World

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

A NEW CONSOLIDATION UNDER ALVIN BROWN; DIRECT ACCESS Mayor Has Brought More Areas under His Control BUSINESSLIKE the Trend Mirrors Changes in the Corporate World

Article excerpt

Byline: Timothy J. Gibbons

It's one of Mayor Alvin Brown's favorite phrases, trotted out at announcements of policy changes and of new hires: The buck stops with the mayor.

Now, the buck's path there is getting shorter.

Nine months into his administration, Brown is finishing up implementing changes that consolidate a range of areas under his direct control.

The most recent is one he has talked about since taking office; namely, having the city's economic development office report directly to him.

Legislation now creeping through council will shape the organization, but the head of the office is already listed as reporting directly to the mayor. That brings to six the number of direct reports: four jobs Brown created or elevated, plus two kept from the previous administration.

(A third job, inspector general, that reported to former Mayor John Peyton was eliminated by the City Council.)

Brown has also said that other offices, including the head of the agency in charge of downtown development and the one marketing the city for sporting events will report directly to him, although they're officially lower down on the official organization chart.

Brown's changes mirror those that have taken place in the corporate world, perhaps not surprisingly for a mayor who came to the job after working as a business school adjunct professor.

According to research by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Julie Wulf, chief executive officers have seen their number of direct reports double from five to 10 in the past 20 years. Larger numbers are particularly common early in a leader's tenure, with the number dropping as they settle into the job.

The wider span of control gives a CEO access to more information, which Brown has said is part of his objective - not just in having more direct reports but in meeting regularly with department heads and employees lower on the organizational chart.

Not all of his power-consolidating plans have come to fruition, most notably a long-simmering battle for leadership of the Jacksonville Children's Commission, over which Brown believes he should have more control.

That organization is now governed by a board appointed by the mayor, but Brown wants the authority to hire and fire the group's executive director.

The struggle over the Children's Commission remains volatile, with longtime Executive Director Linda Lanier having urged the board to stay strong as it tries to hold on to some sort of independence.

It's not a personal problem with the mayor, she took pains to explain at her last meeting with the group. "I gave money to Alvin Brown's campaign," she said. "Everyone I cared about helped get the guy elected."

But having an organization like the Children's Commission fall sway to the winds of politics could be detrimental to those it serves, she said.

"We never know who the next mayor could be," she said. "It could be a really bad person."

Direct mayoral control would open up the organization to do more, Brown said: He envisions one focused on both children and families, one that would use other city functions, like parks and after-school programs. Those programs are now in different silos, he said, and need his direct control to work better together.

"The question is what else can we do?" Brown said. "How can we connect all the dots together?"

'FIND THE ONES THAT WORK'

Other parts of Brown's consolidation of responsibility are more straightforward. Although the City Council is delving into details of the new economic development office - and seems to have some issues with the mayor appointing all members of the downtown development agency - it has signed off on having the office report directly to Brown. …

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