City panel dismisses reorganization reversal
The controversial 1998 reorganization of city departments by former Mayor Jeremy Harris will stay in place at least for now after the City Charter Commission voted against four proposals that would have reversed part of it.
The commission decided against putting on the general election ballot proposals that would have split the departments of Planning and Permitting, Budget and Fiscal Services, and Design and Construction.
Critics have said Harris' merger of several city departments didn't work and should be undone.
"The current reorganization created more inefficiencies than the efficiencies that it was supposed to have created. And I think if we go back to the old way, we'll have better government, we'll be more productive," Councilman Gary Okino told the commission yesterday.
But members of Mayor Mufi Hannemann's administration testified against undoing Harris' reorganization, citing other issues that could help the city work more efficiently.
"In the year that I've been in the department, we've noticed some definite improvements," said Planning and Permitting Director Henry Eng, whose department has come under criticism for the slow processing of building permits. "A lot of the concerns that were expressed behind the splitting were that they were the direct result of in our view inadequate staffing, funding, increased volume of activity and loss of senior staff."
Plus, Managing Director Jeff Coelho said, the mayor already has broad reorganization authority under the City Charter that is subject to City Council approval.
"We recognize that efficiencies and savings projected in 1998 have not always been achieved, and so we are looking at ways to improve city government operations and management," Coelho said in written testimony. "We believe we can use this existing power to modify the organization of city departments and will not hesitate to do so."
Coelho said that reconfiguring the departments a few years after the 1998 effort would be costly and time-consuming.
The majority of the commissioners agreed.
"Having had to live through reorganizing those departments was an undertaking that I would not wish on any person," said Commissioner Jan Sullivan, who was Harris' planning and permitting director.
"I think the voters clearly mandated the change and the approval of the reorganization in 1998," said Commissioner Darolyn Lendio, who was corporation counsel under Harris. "I think we should give it some more time to see whether or not this mayor in the next round determines whether or not there should be further reorganization."