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De facto deputy

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2012-03-01


Do we really need a deputy mayor?

Seems we already have one in fact, if not by title: Pat Roller.

Mayor Tom Henry has had two deputy mayors, the position considered “one heart-beat” away from leading the city should the Mayor depart suddenly. But, in many ways the position is just a glorified title for chief of staff of department heads.

Greg Purcell, from Michigan, was the first, and Beth Malloy, an Illini, was the second. Both assumed the day-to-day roles of running the city and executing new initiatives while the Mayor attended to his forte, the ceremonial and the social sides of his office.

Pat Roller, on the other hand, has long lived in Fort Wayne, laboring in the trenches at Lincoln National before becoming Mayor Graham Richard’s controller, and has been Tom Henry’s controller all five years of his administration.

Insiders say she has grown in power to the point where she runs the city in all but title.
Others claim that Mrs. Roller is so totally in command of the city’s finances that no one wins an argument with her over policy and that fewer bother to try.

Stifle is a word used to describe her management approach.

Recently, her central position in this administration was on full display as she adeptly handled the nine big voices on City Council. She spoke for the Mayor on the celebrated matter of the “unexpected” $900,000 elevator repair. She started the session with so many apologies as to remove a key question in the examination, and blunt the force of councilmanic anger. She took full blame for the “confusion,” if there was any, when she said she knew about the calamity well before the election, but felt she needed more information before going public and seeking funds to pay for the pre-purchase inspection “oversight.” She added that she kept the highly explosive information from the Mayor in the month leading up to the election without political motive and took the heat from him when he finally found out.

Hard to believe, but also hard to attack after such a remarkable admission of “facts” and mea culpae. Of the nine members on council only Russ Jehl and Tom Smith voiced indignation and lingering skepticism in a forceful way. What could have been a tense, revealing and embarrassing assault by a Republican council on the Democratic mayor was blunted and parried. In fact, she parried each and every question that council tossed at her. Certainly, the Mayor, watching from the mayoral skybox at the Green Frog, must have been hi-fiving her performance with every sip of his Blatz.

Mrs. Roller was also the Goliath who faced down nine Davids last year during the budget hearings. She handled Council like so many unruly students with her array of charts and graphs, with run-on and on and on sentences and convoluted responses that seldom answered the questions posed. At times she drown council with a tsunami of numbers and at other times she had the sedative powers of the Brahms Lullaby. Seldom did she lose her cool or raise her sharply trimmed eye-brows.

So, Pat Roller has risen to be number two in the administration. “Doing more with less,” the administration mantra of last year’s budget process, may well mean doing without a deputy mayor, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Perhaps this is what Tom Henry wants. He is seen as a friendly uncle of a mayor, not a visionary as was Graham Richard, or a “bring-us-together leader” a la Paul Helmke. He is not the whirlwind of enthusiasm, creativity and marketing acumen that marked the Moses years. Mayor Henry is a finisher. He has completed the big dreams Mayor Richard conjured. Mayor Henry is not a risk-taker or part of the creative class. He is less likely than any of his predecessors since Bob Armstrong to boldly go where no one has gone before. He deserves a prolonged round of applause for the relentless determination that completed the deals on the Courtyard and the Harrison. But when you watch the Tin Caps this year think of Mayor Henry is a long-reliever, not a starter. Insiders, former and current, say he just wants to make the city work, and is adverse to big new ideas.

That is right up Controller Roller’s ally. Given a dwindling tax base, deteriorating infrastructure, a tightening budget and more problems lurking over the horizon, Mayor Tom is hunkering down to get blood out of revenue turnip. The deputy mayor position is out the window, at least for the moment. That means between $100,000 to $200,000 savings to the City — in other terms, the cost of repairing a hundred feet or so of sewer line.

For the moment the Mayor is content to rely upon Mrs. Controller Roller for savvy internal advice and Patriot shield of defense against council’s incoming SCUDs.

Any great, progressive and successful organization depends upon strong leadership. Pat Roller shows that level of leadership which allows the Mayor to do the things he does best – kiss babies, cut ribbons, and take the pulse of the community. She is tough so he can be avuncular, our own Mr. Rogers.

The key, however, as one former city-hand said, is to avoid stifling input and creativity. There are more than a few who suggest that those on the third level of leadership in the building, those below our thin-skinned mayor, below Mrs. Roller and Kumar Menon at City Utilities, fear her to the point of paralysis.

So, the more important question is whether the ascendant Mrs. Roller will build an inclusive consensus or silence discussion with her pile of numbers and the perception she runs the guillotine.

In order to be a great, progressive and successful organization the leadership has to stimulate broad contributions from staff and the community. They would be well to consider Hegal’s theory that thesis combined with antithesis yields a much improved synthesis.

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