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When Billie Jean King and some of the world’s top women’s tennis players competed in D.C. last month, they were greeted on court by an important city official, awkwardly dressed for the July heat in a blue blazer, khakis, and a tie. Yet Mayor Anthony A. Williams was in New Haven, Conn., that day.
The city’s ceremonial host: City Administrator John A. Koskinen, or “Kahs-KEYE-nin” in the event announcer’s ill-informed rendition.
From LL’s view in the William HG FitzGerald Tennis Center nosebleeds, Koskinen (pronounced KAHS-kuh-nin) looked as if he had just breezed through an audit of the city’s employee-credit-card program, and popped up to the 16th Street NW complex to throw out the first can of Penn 1’sand planned on heading back to the John A.Wilson Building to troubleshoot whatever municipal meltdown was slotted for later that weekend.
Of course, the No. 2 in D.C. government won’t be bouncing around the Wilson Building much longer: He’s set to depart the administration on Sept. 12.
Koskinen has stepped in for Williams many times in his nearly three years on the job, but usually for far more bureaucratic events: explaining the consolidation of the city’s data centers at the mayor’s weekly press briefings, for instance. When the city administrator approaches the microphone on Wednesday mornings, LL expects to hear a cadence of “systemic issues” and “infrastructure improvements” and “accountability measures.”
Koskinen’s command of the buzzwords as well as the fine print of Bureaucratese has earned him much praise from his administration peers.
Says Chief Technology Officer Suzanne Peck, who has worked closely with Koskinen on many projects: “He is the most perfect manager ever created!”
His critics, of course, blame Koskinen for not being bold enough in reforming D.C. government. That task will fall to the masochist who succeeds the celebrated city administrator: Williams loyalists have been searching for a successor as of late.
Which means a task force, of course.
Indeed, the mayor has convened a search committee whose members include former City Administrator Michael C. Rogers, Department of Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini, D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang, and former D.C. Councilmember John Ray, among others. As first reported in the Washington Times last week, the committee has come up with a shortlist of candidates.
Given the Williams administration’s approach to vetting in the past, LL eagerly read up on the out-of-towners:
•Robert C. Bobb: Bobb’s last boss was California’s Gov. Moonbeam, now known as Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown. Leaving Richmond, Va., to go west, Bobb crusaded to clean up city streets as well as city agencies. “Maybe some of the managers are deadwood,” Bobb told the Oakland Tribune, addressing the slow pace of change. “I’m sick of managers who sit back and complain about their employees and don’t have the courage to do something about it.” Oakland municipal unions accused Bobb of creating a “climate of fear.”
LL wants to sit in on Bobb’s first meeting with Board of Education President Peggy Cooper Cafritz.
Bobb linked arms with Brown for six years, holding crime summits and working toward neighborhood revitalization. The city administrator clashed with Gov. Moonbeam, though, over building a new baseball stadium for the A’s. Whereas Brown favored using prime downtown real estate for residential development, Bobb saw a nice big baseball diamond surrounded by parking lots.
With those development values, Bobb is a surefire soul mate for Williams.
Bobb may not be ambitious enough for D.C.’s two-term mayor, though. This year, Williams launched an initiative calling for 100,000 new residents. Bobb helped pilot a similar campaign in Oakland, setting a goal of 10,000 new residents.
Bobb does come with a gentrifier’s price tag: His salary in Oakland was $224,000 a year. Koskinen makes about $90,000 less.
LL’s handicap: 2-1.
•Teree Caldwell-Johnson: The former county manager for Polk County, Iowa, which includes Des Moines, Caldwell-Johnson was fired by the county’s board of supervisors last January after seven years of service. County officials explained the action as necessary budget-trimming but also expressed concerns about Caldwell-Johnson’s performance, specifically questioning her work schedule. She even refused a request by the Des Moines Register to make her appointment book available for review.
Caldwell-Johnson sued the board, alleging race- and gender-based discrimination. “The way in which this was handled was not, in my opinion, any way consistent with the way you handle terminations,” Caldwell told KCCI reporter Geoff Greenwood. “You look the person in the eye, you tell them straight up what the issues are, and you tell them, ‘It’s time for us to part ways.’”
Caldwell-Johnson might want to reconsider D.C.: Mayor Williams never looks anyone straight in the eye.
If Caldwell-Johnson lands in D.C., she may keep the local media on their toes. The Register got hold of surveillance video showing
Caldwell-Johnson removing documents from her office just days before her firing. The video looks like a sequence from Mission: Impossible: At 5:49 p.m. that day, according to the video, Caldwell-Johnson entered the county building. At 9:32 p.m., Caldwell-Johnson left the building by the southwest doors. At 9:34 p.m., a silver SUV backed up to the loading dock. And on and on….
LL’s handicap: 6-1.
•Two local candidates also made the shortlist: former Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Director Lloyd J. Jordan and current Deputy Mayor for Operations Herbert Tillery.
Koskinen admirers always mention the city administrator’s grueling schedule: Koskinen gets in around 7:30 a.m. and often stays late into the evening. Jordan, meanwhile, usually seemed to be on flex time at the DCRA. According to staffers, the former director had a knack for disappearing on Mondays and Fridays.
Jordan had other things to do, of course: He also served as national president of Omega Psi Phi, a national fraternity whose members include Bill Cosby, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Michael Jordan.
LL hears that Jordan has listed some high-powered references on his application.
LL’s handicap: 15-1.
Deputy Mayor Tillery’s managerial talents came into focus in the recent Office of Property Management fiasco. For those who haven’t read a newspaper in a while, Tillery’s subordinates in that office mishandled city real-estate transactions in a string of alleged wrongdoing that has attracted the interest of the FBI and the Office of the U.S. Attorney.
Through it all, Tillery has tried to portray the administration as proactive in getting to the bottom of the mess.
In fact, Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham has led the charge for accountability in the property-management case.
Tillery has not inspired confidence with his public pronouncements. When asked at the mayor’s weekly press conference last Wednesday whether any city employees had been dismissed in the recent blowup over abuse of city-issued credit cards, Tillery eagerly responded, “I’d say between two and five, at least as I recall.” After the press conference, when pressed about whether that meant two or three or four or five, Tillery backpedaled and explained that those employees had been dismissed before the current hoopla.
LL’s handicap: 4-1.
As of this week, the search committee has submitted three finalists to the mayor for consideration.
“It is certainly our goal to have a final candidate identified and announced prior to the departure of John Koskinen,” says Williams Chief of Staff Kelvin J. Robinson.
•Ward 2’s Jack Evans continues to offend D.C.’s southern neighbors. First, he labeled Virginians “narrow-minded,” “backward,” and “greedy” for their crude dismissal of a commuter tax. Now, according to a front-page story in the Northern Virginia Journal, the Pennsylvania-born Yankee has spurned Southern hospitality. “No fair! D.C. official snubs county tradition,” reads the newspaper headline.
What, no A1 scoop on the Springfield Mixing Bowl that day?
In a letter to Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Sean T. Connaughton, who sent the councilmember tickets to the Prince William County Fair so that the urban resident could experience the 4-H Club tent and demolition derby, Evans outlined his reasons for not attending. “Farm Fresh Fun sounds exciting, however I will have to pass this year,” explained Evans. “My triplets are past the baby contest age, my dairy cattle judging skills are a bit rusty and, although I respect all types of musical venues, I have never really acquired the taste for bluegrass.” CP
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