Could the mayor's uncanny habit of making enemies wreck the charter-reform effort?

A number of City Hall observers blame the tension between the offices of the mayor and comptroller squarely on Slay's staff, including Rainford, a former television journalist with a penchant for sound bites and bluntness that some find abrasive. Slay's staff, the critics say, is obsessed with taking credit, shifting blame and controlling their image in the media.

"They're absolute, complete control freaks," says one longtime City Hall politician. Slay's staff, he says, worry more about those in Green's office than about the comptroller herself.

Jay Bevenour
Mayor Francis Slay says his job would be easier "if I did not have to go to another board to make a decision"
Gretchen Saller Poag
Mayor Francis Slay says his job would be easier "if I did not have to go to another board to make a decision"

"It's not so much a fear of Darlene, it's a fear of Darlene's staff," he adds. "The staff is a source of information and a source of power that's part of city government that the mayor's office can't control. They come into conflict with anyone who has a sphere of influence they can't control."

One example of the mayor's grab for control was his idea last year to move the city's Information Technology Services away from Board of E&A's control and have it report to the mayor's office. The move was promoted as a way to upgrade the city's computer network, but part of the initial proposal also shifted all public information officers in city offices into the new, mayor-controlled department. Initially, Slay planned to present his proposal to the Board of E&A, but when it was clear that Shrewsbury and Green didn't support it, Slay went to the board of aldermen.

The board of aldermen eventually approved a watered-down version of the bill, but due largely to Green's opposition, the Board of E&A appoints the reorganized department's director. The position is a civil service job and not under the mayor's control. The public information officers stayed where they were.

There was more friction when Green proposed a leveraged lease of America's Center, the city's convention center. On November 23, Jerry Berger reported that Green had a plan to "pay an outside consultant millions of dollars" to handle the transaction. Berger stated that Green wanted to hire a "battalion of consultants to devise a lend-lease scheme" that would net the consultants "up to $10 million." Rainford was quoted as saying the fees were "way too high and unfair to taxpayers." There was a dispute over fees, but PaineWebber's highest bid included a $2.5 million fee. Eventually it was reduced to $1.75 million in a deal that could net the city up to $15 million.

Slay's staff got another boost in Berger's column on February 23 in an item headlined "Fur to fly." Berger reported that Rainford's "next penny-pitching cutback at City Hall, says flack Ed Rhode, is to examine logs of cars from the city's motor pool. Rainford's curiosity in the matter was piqued the other day, when he spotted a senior city employee, swathed in a fur coat, sweeping out the public building's front steps and being driven off in a city car." Elaine Spearman, Green's chief of staff, wears fur coats -- so many readers and most city employees were able to conclude that she was the "senior city employee" Berger referenced.

A month later, as the city's budget problems surfaced, Berger again offered a platform for the mayor. On March 19, the gossip columnist reported that all employees in the mayor's office would be furloughed for two weeks and some would have 6 percent pay cuts. Slay's office was going to slash 14 percent of its budget. "We are requiring all city departments under the mayor's control to try to do at least as much work, but with fewer employees, as last year," Rainford was quoted in the Berger column. "We can only request the patronage offices and Comptroller Darlene Green to do the same."

Shortly after that report, fliers circulated throughout City Hall claiming that Slay had shifted several employees to different city departments to make it look as though he had cut his staff's budget. A Post-Dispatch article by City Hall reporter Doug Moore on June 22 recounted the controversy and four days later a correction was published that stated the "graphic and story incorrectly characterized some of the budget cuts" in the mayor's office. On the same day that the correction was published, Slay sent a letter to city employees saying charges in the article were "not true."

Green says the mayor's office had "no real intention of cutting" its staff budget, that most of the staff cuts he claims were the result of "maneuvering, moving, baiting-and-switching" of employees. "It was basically smoke and mirrors," Green says.

Earlier in June, Slay's office went out of its way to criticize Green for a press release her office sent out about the sale of a city-owned property at 1300 Convention Plaza to McGowan Brothers. The press release was self-serving -- nothing unusual for most public officials.

Five days later, Rainford was quoted in a Post-Dispatch article saying Green's announcement was premature because the sale had not yet been approved by aldermen. "For her to say, 'It's sold, hip, hip hooray and I got $1 million' and she hasn't even advised [the board] is probably an error on her part," Rainford was quoted as saying. A day after the publication of that article, Slay voted at a Board of E&A meeting to approve the sale. In July, the aldermanic Ways and Means Committee unanimously approved the sale, and, a week later, the full board passed the bill authorizing the sale. Green's deal with the McGowans had met with no opposition at City Hall -- making some observers wonder why the mayor's chief of staff was quick to publicly criticize her.

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