At its budget meeting this morning, the city council grilled budget director Beth Goldberg and Office of Economic Development director Steve Johnson about a proposed merger of the city's Office of Economic Development and the larger Office of Housing---a merger that would save the city an estimated $338,000 in its first year in large part by eliminating three city positions, including OH director Rick Hooper, his administrative assistant, and the housing office's media relations officer. Around $200,000 of those savings would be invested in direct housing assistance for low-income renters.
Council members have been skeptical about the proposal, honing in specifically on whether it represents a de-emphasis on housing for low-income residents, and whether the savings are worth that de-emphasis. "This seems like a rather small savings in exchange for a rather large change in our structure," budget chair Jean Godden said.[pullquote]Hooper did not immediately return a call for comment about what he would have said at the presentation if he'd been given a chance to speak.[/pullquote]
This morning, OED director Steve Johnson did almost all the talking---waxing rhapsodic about getting rid of the "compartmentalization" of low-income housing services and job assistance---while Hooper sat silently at the council presentation table.
Finally, council member Sally Clark interjected:
Coming into this meeting, it's been clear that a number of us had some concerns that the Office of Housing would be lessened in some way by the consolidation. OH has played no role in this particular presentation to council members, and I find that kind of fascinating from a communications standpoint, and I just wanted to highlight that.
Tim Burgess, another council member who's been skeptical about the proposed merger, piled on, asking Hooper rhetorically whether there was anyone in the housing department with more experience than him. (Hooper has been with OH for three decades). "The level of historical knowledge is pretty significant," Hooper said hesitantly. "Maybe one or two" people have more than 20 or 25 years' experience, he added.
The mayor's budget proposal has Hooper staying on as an advisor for six months before losing his job.
Hooper did not immediately return a call for comment about what he would have said at the presentation if he'd been given a chance to speak.