Fayette County

Lexington mayor's office moved from 12th floor to 1st

Mayor-elect Jim Gray campaigned on a theme of a more open, accessible government, even saying that he'd move the mayor's office from the top of city hall to the ground floor.

On Wednesday, workers were busy making that promise happen, as they moved the mayor's office from the 12th floor to a first-floor ballroom.

Carpet tiles were laid, desks set up and plugs located for floor lamps. Technicians stood ready to lay computer and telephone lines.

The move will be complete and fully operational on Monday, for Gray's first day in office.

Outside of the wiring, "Nothing has been spent on this move," said Jamie Emmons, Gray's chief of staff. City employees have done the work. The desks are used ones on loan from Lexmark; the carpet was donated by Ken Isaacs Interiors. "We don't want to spend money," he added.

The move to the first floor is both symbolic and real, Emmons said.

"He campaigned on wanting government to be more transparent. It was one of the 77 actionable items in our Fresh Start plan," Emmons said. "The move is symbolic of that."

But it's real in that Gray and his dozen staff members are indeed moving to the ballroom. On a set of blueprints, Emmons pointed to the mayor's desk, which will be in the middle of the room.

Council member Kevin Stinnett said there are in fact costs to moving the mayor's office, including the cost of phone lines, lighting and electric lines. Any expenditure of money needs to come before council for approval, he said.

"I understand why he is moving," Stinnett said. "But the council needs to understand what the real costs are."

About the donated desks and carpeting, Stinnett said all donations have to be approved by council. "Do they know that?" he asked.

Gray said the move was about "efficiency and communications."

"Yes, it is symbolic," Gray said. "It does represent open government and transparency. But there is nothing cosmetic about it. This is about good management."

The open space where the boss and workers mingle together is a model used at Toyota and, since 1987, at Gray Construction, where the mayor-elect was the longtime CEO before taking a leave of absence.

Emmons described the new setting as "a stark contrast to what the setup is on the 12th floor," where outgoing Mayor Jim Newberry has an office. Newberry's staff members have individual offices with locks on the doors.

Gray and his staff looked at the entire first floor of the Government Center — formerly the old Lafayette Hotel — before deciding a move to the ballroom would be the least costly and the least troublesome place for offices, at least for right now.

Of the ballroom, Emmons said, "This may not be permanent. Possibly, we may find another spot on the first floor, but we felt it was important to get down here for the first day."

Emmons said Gray will still have a space for private meetings.

As to whether the ballroom setting may not make Gray look very mayoral — with the city's top official working in an open space surrounded by other staff — Gray said that was part of the idea.

"This is work," Gray said. "The mayor works. The mayor talks with people. This arrangement makes communication easy and efficient."

Gray visited New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently and saw the leader of the largest city in the United States in a similar setting, a bullpen surrounded by his staff. Later, Gray said he was impressed with the arrangement, which is similar to his office at Gray Construction, where there are no walls and workers are in full view of their colleagues.

Richard Moloney, the city's incoming chief administrative officer, and his support staff will move into the offices on the 12th floor. But much of that floor will be vacant, Emmons said.

While Gray wants people to be visible, some have raised the question of security for him, his staff and others who work in the building. Currently, there is a first-floor guard station that is manned around the clock.

"We are looking at adjusting the way security is provided on the first floor," Emmons said. The city purchased two metal detectors a couple of years ago that were never used. They are now in storage, but may be pulled out and put to use.

Council member Stinnett expressed concern about where organizations that use the ballroom will hold their events.

"We have police and fire graduations there, blood drives, employee events," he said. "There are lots of things that room is utilized for that we need to make sure there is space for."

But Emmons said the elegant space is used infrequently for major events.

The last event was on Dec. 16, when employees signed up for health insurance benefits. One event is scheduled there in January, none in February.

Small events can possibly be held in the mayor's conference space of the ballroom, Emmons said. "For larger events, we'll see if the lobby can be an option," he said.

Incoming Vice Mayor Linda Gorton said she respected Gray's desire to be accessible to the public. "That is a good thing," she said.

Working in an open room with other people around would not be Gorton's personal choice. "I don't work well where there is a lot of noise and a lot of people talking," she said. "Everybody has a different learning style."

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