Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayor's Reorganization Plan for City Now MIA; One City Councilman on the Efforts: 'Overpromise and Under-Deliver'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Mayor's Reorganization Plan for City Now MIA; One City Councilman on the Efforts: 'Overpromise and Under-Deliver'

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson

A year ago Thursday, Jacksonville's City Council approved legislation that Mayor Alvin Brown's office billed as the first step in a complicated two-phase reorganization of city government.

Mention of the second phase has all but vanished since then.

"We should get away from the idea of looking at reorganization as phases," Cleveland Ferguson III, the city's deputy chief administrative officer, said last month. "... That's just a part of our continuous improvement of city government."

Reorganization was pitched as a key to getting the city through rough financial times by finding new efficiencies.

Reshaped city departments were expected to be able to cut their spending by 10 to 15 percent.

The council approved most of Brown's plan to change how departments were organized, but a more fine-grained plan for realizing savings, dubbed Phase 2, was never presented.

And while parts of city government have changed - some with council action - the change to City Hall has been more incremental and incomplete than Brown's plan first suggested.

The distance from that early vision has carried political costs in Brown's relationship with the council.

"Overpromise and under-deliver would probably be a perfect description" of the reorganization efforts, said Councilman Matt Schellenberg, who said Brown still owes details to make a restructuring plan complete.

"He promised us a second layer [of reorganization]. He promised it in the first quarter of this year, I think. As of today, I haven't heard anything."

If details materialized now, it would be a surprise to some.

"At this point, I'm not expecting to see any major changes at all," said council President Bill Bishop. He said he asked the Mayor's Office repeatedly about its reorganizing plans during the first half of 2012, then left the topic alone because the council's attention needed to focus on the 2013 budget.

"That's still a disappointment to me. ... This whole reorganization was supposed to be a crowning achievement and, as of yet, it just really hasn't played out," Bishop said. "...I think the Mayor's Office was a little nave in what they thought they would be able to accomplish."

By summer, reorganization did take a back seat to the city's pension worries, as administrators realized they needed to raise tens of millions of dollars more than expected to meet retirement commitments for this budget year, said Ronnie Belton, the city's chief financial officer.

"We got whacked," Belton said. "... We went from $95 million [in expected police and fire pension costs] to $122 million."

That made the math behind reorganization's predicted cost-cutting harder to follow. Where a row of departments had earlier suggested steps to save $20 million in Phase 2, the city needed more savings than that by Oct. …

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