Tom Eblen: Gray, Gorton a good fit as collaborative team

Herald-Leader columnistNovember 7, 2010 

A successful team requires talented people in roles that play to their strengths. Lexington voters seem to have achieved that last week by electing Jim Gray as mayor and Linda Gorton as vice mayor.

Gray and Gorton have complementary strengths and good communication skills. They both enjoy working with people and solving problems, and they have a good relationship with each other. They met for coffee soon after the election, and they plan to make it a habit.

That is important, because Lexington has suffered from poor communications and collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of city government over the past four years.

Changing that dynamic will make it easier to tackle tough issues. It also will help Lexington take full advantage of its newfound confidence and energy coming out of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Gray comes to the mayor's office with a perspective that outgoing Mayor Jim Newberry didn't have. After losing his first race for mayor in 2002, Gray was elected vice mayor in 2006 and has served four years on the Urban County Council.

"That was an unexpected benefit of me losing that mayor's race," Gray said. "I've now got that experience."

The legislative role didn't always play to Gray's strengths. Being mayor could be a better fit. Gray has an executive background; he is on leave as chief executive of Gray Construction Co., an innovative and successful family-owned company.

Gorton, a registered nurse, has become a superb legislator in her dozen years as both a district and at-large council member. She has often been willing to take on tough jobs and master the minutia of issues and process. She has an exceptional ability to bring people together and help them reach consensus.

When I met separately with Gray and Gorton last week, each said they don't expect to agree on everything, but they are confident they will work well together.

"We can have good conversations," Gorton said. "I think Jim Gray and I come from the same mold of being inclusive, wanting to hear other people's ideas. And we're both very much into laying things out in the open and talking about them."

Recent changes in council procedures will give Gorton more influence than Gray had. The vice mayor, rather than the mayor, will chair council work sessions. And there will be fewer work sessions, because more work will be done in committees.

Those committees, which the vice mayor appoints, will be organized to more closely relate to the city's administrative structure. "I think that will make our legislative process much more efficient and much clearer," Gorton said.

The election also added three new council members — Steve Kay, Chris Ford and former Councilman Bill Farmer Jr. All three bring a deep knowledge of Lexington and strong people skills to the job.

Gray said he will work hard to gain council members' trust and respect. "My dad used to say that people do business with people they like," he said. "It's true in business, in politics and in life. My job is to reach out and listen."

Much work must be done before Gray, Gorton and the three new council members take office in January. Gray's first order of business is appointing key administration officials.

Gray knows he is better at ideas and vision than details, so he plans to restore the job of Chief Administrative Officer. He expects to make that appointment this week.

Before making other appointments, Gray wants to assess those already in place — many of whom are quite talented, he said. Gray, who was endorsed by all of the city's employee organizations, said improving communications and employee morale is a priority. Shaking things up isn't necessarily the best way to improve performance.

"I know better than to be a bull in a china shop," he said.

Gray's longer-term goals include more public-private partnerships, which were used so effectively during the Games. He also wants to engage the philanthropic community more, and encourage all segments of the community to get involved in civic life.

"I want to have everyone working together, because we want (Lexington) to come out of this recession stronger," Gray said. "We want to increase the level of confidence about what this city can achieve with the resources we have."

Reach Tom Eblen at teblen@herald-leader.com or (859) 231-1415 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1415. Read and comment on his blog, The Bluegrass & Beyond, at Kentucky.com.

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