One day after visiting New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Lexington Mayor-elect Jim Gray last week answered Herald-Leader reporter Beverly Fortune's questions about issues facing the city and his ideas for the next four years.
Question: The city is facing a potential $25 million budget deficit. What steps do you anticipate having to take to bridge that gap?
Answer: Tough times require tough steps.
When a business has revenues that drop, it has to reduce its costs. We need to consider zero-based budgeting, begin dialing back to basics.
What do we need?
What can we do without?
The important thing there is zero-based budgeting. That is, instead of starting with a number this year and dialing down or dialing up, you start at zero and say what do we need? What can we live without?
We need to start with that frame and work from there.
Q: Do you see areas where there are things the city can do without?
A: That's our challenge right now, through the transition, to examine these questions, get feedback from employees. Employees are often our best source for cost reduction.
Q: What if the cost reductions involve layoffs, furloughs, freezing wages? How do you think employees will react, especially since city employees supported you in your campaign for mayor?
A: When people are given the facts, they react responsibly.
Employees want to be respected. They know these are tough times.
My job is to get people to work together. Working together today means addressing our costs, reducing them and reducing waste.
Often the best ideas for cost reduction come from employees.
Q: One of the issues you campaigned on was transparency in government. How do you see that translating into day-to-day government?
A: Transparency is more than about putting numbers on the Internet, contracts and transactions on the Internet. It's about a spirit of openness and accessibility.
I will encourage what in business is called dashboard management, where we post our results, our numbers, our performance so the numbers are clear and visible.
This is what I was talking about (that I saw) in Mayor Bloomberg's office, the screens that are present in the office, big TV screens where they're posting the numbers all the time. They're visible.
It makes people aware of it, just like a scoreboard in a ball game.
Q: You made a big point during the campaign of saying you were going to move the mayor's office down to the first floor of the Government Center so you would be more accessible, or at least more visible. Have you found a first-floor location yet?
A: I'm working on it. Right now, I'm focused on these budget problems and especially the health care costs that were just discovered recently.
Q: What kind of of timetable would you like to follow to get your office downstairs?
A: Chairs and desks can move easily and quickly. I'm not worried about that.
Q: Talk a little bit about your relationship with Mayor Jim Newberry. You came in on friendly terms, saying you wanted to work together. What upset the apple cart? What made that relationship go sour?
A: It's time today to move on and think about the future, how to work together to move our city forward.
This is a city with great potential and promise, and extraordinary people with talent.
Investing in our brand and leveraging it, selling and marketing Lexington as a great place to live, work, raise a family and start a business is what I will be doing a lot of.
Q: Getting the support of the vice mayor and council would be advantageous in doing that. Have you and Vice Mayor-elect Linda Gorton talked about how you plan to work together?
A: Yes, we have.
One of the benefits of being on the council is developing relationships and understanding the challenge of being a council member.
I respect Linda enormously. We plan to get together regularly, often casually, to talk things over, to avoid getting too rushed.
People do business with people they like. I like Linda. We won't agree on everything, but we'll work hard to keep up good spirits and a good relationship.
We both believe it's important to take the job seriously, but not yourself.
Q: Speaking of jobs, that was one of your campaign planks — to create jobs — and to get three corporate headquarters to move to Lexington.
Have you had time to map out strategy to make those things happen?
A: The trip to New York yesterday (Wednesday) is a good example of using almost 40 years of business experience in two or three hours — to thank one company (Tiffany's) for investing in Lexington and to network with others.
Business is all about relationships, putting them to work.
Selling Lexington is easy. It's a special place, a great place to live, work, raise a family and start a business.
I can tell that story easily because that is exactly what our family has done right here in Lexington.
Q: How do you hope Lexington is different in four years, at the end of your term?
A: More confidence.
A city is a reflection of its people. When people feel better about their city, they will feel better about themselves.
This city was here long before I was and will be here long after.
But while I'm here, I want to create new economic job opportunities, while preserving what makes our city so special and unique.
Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.