Mayor Hales and the communication learning curve

Mayor Hales and the communication learning curve
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales (KATU photo)

“After five months is our communications shop perfect?” asked Dana Haynes, the spokesman for Mayor Charlie Hales, in a conversation with KATU. “The answer is no. Are we getting better? Are we working at improving each day? The answers are yes.”

Haynes is talking one day after Hales appeared on OPB’s Think Out Loud, where he said “I’ve been very measured in my criticism of my predecessor” before proceeding to deliver a very unmeasured assessment:

“If I were to dismiss every city employee who worked on a shaky financial proposition or idea during the Adams administration and send them packing, we'd need to charter a couple of buses.”

Mayor Hales was answering a question about Jack Graham, the city’s top administrator who last year tried to divert $200,000 from one fund to another in a move that would have shielded his department from budget cuts.

Moments before the mayor had said “it's not appropriate that we disclose everybody's performance review or any of these other personnel matters.”

Haynes tells KATU that while the mayor’s comments made it seem that the previous administration was filled with people involved in questionable practices, people who shouldn’t be in city government, he was trying to make a different, “more important point.”

“It’s about fiscal discipline. There was a lot in the previous administration – the arts tax, using money from urban service districts for schools, the sustainability center – that you won’t see happening any more. We have a different philosophy, a different outlook on the ways things should be done.”

As for another comment from the mayor that seemed to imply Graham had been directed to divert the funds, Haynes said that his boss was merely stating that “what happened last year was last year. Things started fresh this year and he is judging people by the job they are doing.

“We’re not interested in going into the past and doing a bunch of fault finding. We looking to the future and making sure we are doing what is fiscally responsible.”

As he works to elaborate on what the mayor said and clarify what he meant, Haynes concedes that to some degree the mayor can be his own worst enemy, that there is a certain degree of tone deafness they are working to overcome as an administration.

“Are we a little tone deaf?” he asked. “Yes. Are we less tone deaf than previous administrations? I would like to think so. Could we be more transparent? Yes. Are we more transparent than previous administrations? Again, I think so.”

Haynes said that they recognize they need to work on things like getting their message out in a clearer fashion.

“We could be doing more press conferences, more opportunities where we just open things up to questions,” he said. “It’s a work in progress.”

He says they are working on putting together something that they hope will elaborate on what the mayor was saying.

“We want to show people the differences between where we were and where we are going. If people are ready to talk about the things that need to be done, we are ready to suit up and fight that fight.”