Boston Mayor Outlines His Vision for the City

Menino aims to streamline city services, reduce number of competing voices at top level, centralize economic development efforts

SIX months after taking office, Mayor Thomas Menino is outlining his vision and plans for Boston.

While the new Menino administration is getting off to a slow start, the mayor has begun articulating a fresh direction for the city. Last week, in two key speeches, he outlined several ideas for the coming year.

The mayor promised, among other things, to streamline city government and encourage business development, put 75 new community police officers on Boston streets, and help public high school students with B averages obtain funding at city universities.

Mayor Menino also announced major government restructuring plans. One of his key initiatives is the hiring of a chief economic development officer, Mariso Lago, who will oversee all city development and housing agencies, including the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Ms. Lago, who served as the general counsel for the New York City Economic Development Corporation, will also oversee a council of economic advisors, a new advisory board to the mayor.

``[Menino] is certainly committed to speeding the process up, getting people straight answers because the frustration factor is quite significant,'' says Lawrence DiCara, a former Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate.

Menino also unveiled a new administrative structure that he says will be more centralized. Citing an ``appalling lack of communication and coordinated effort'' in the past, Menino introduced a cabinet form of government.

While a cabinet government has been used in Massachusetts state government, Menino's city government plan is different from that of former Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. Mayor Flynn's administration was made up of ``at least 40 different department heads all having basic equal access,'' says Menino spokesman Howard Leibowitz.

``What you had, at times, was three or four different voices, each giving you their particular agency's take on development,'' says Mr. Leibowitz.

The new mayor will thus oversee nine cabinet officers. Cabinet officers will be responsible for the delivery of services within specific city regions.

The new plan will likely mean the elimination of some positions, although it is not clear how many. While Menino's transition team says as many as 100 middle manager positions can be eliminated, the mayor said he is not likely to do that.

In addition, administration officials hope the new plan will mean savings, although that is also unclear.

``Sometimes you don't have to save a lot of money but the efficiency in how you get things done is just as important as how much money you save,'' Menino says.

Nevertheless, the city currently faces a $30 million revenue gap, and any cost savings will go toward bridging that gap, Leibowitz says.

Additional restructuring, streamlining, and personnel changes will continue as the city prepares its 1995 budget, to be presented in April, Leibowitz adds.

Encouraging business development and reforming city development agencies are clearly priorities for this new administration.

Between 1988 and 1992, Boston lost a total of 75,000 jobs. The city needs to encourage as much business and job growth as possible, Menino says.

Thus, reforming city development agencies is essential, he says. It typically takes two years for new ventures to get necessary city approvals, says Menino, who promises to cut that time in half.

``For years, city government has acted as an opponent of business rather than an ally. City government has acted as a gatekeeper to slow business down rather than a responsible partner to find ways to help businesses grow. No more,'' he said.

City councilors have some concerns but many are optimistic about the new mayor.

City Councilor Charles Yancey wonders if 75 new community police officers will be enough since the city will lose 80 police officers through attrition.

``I wish the new mayor well and will do everything I can to help him achieve some of his new agenda,'' Councilor Yancey says. ``But he has to understand that he can't do it by himself, can't do it without the City Council. And he's got to do it with people.''

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