'I'm trying to strengthen employee morale, to have people feel good about working for the city.' : At Pasadena City Hall These Days, It's a Feel-Good Mood


It's "Lunch with the City Manager" and "Coffee with the Mayor" these days at City Hall.

Ten months into the administration of City Manager Philip Hawkey and Mayor Jess Hughston, Pasadena's city bureaucracy is a touchy-feely and public relations-oriented place where employees feel more relaxed than under their predecessors, some observers say.

The new mood comes from countless hours by the two courting the city's business, neighborhood, ethnic and social groups, as well as city employees and journalists.

Hughston regularly serves coffee and Danish in his office to community activists and wheels around the city on official "occasional" mayor's bicycle rides. Hawkey lunches monthly with 15 city employees, picked at random, to chat about city business.

"I'm trying to strengthen employee morale, to have people feel good about working for the city, " said Hawkey, who last June replaced retiring City Manager Donald McIntyre.

Hughston, the District 5 city director who began a two-year mayoral rotation in May, has similar people-oriented ideas.

"I was vice mayor for two years and I kept asking myself, 'What am I going to do as mayor?' " he said. "I wanted to reach out to the community and I wanted them to be able to reach me as well."

While both get high marks for humanizing City Hall, some city officials and community activists have grown impatient with the glad-handing.

"Smoke and mirrors," said Gerda Steele, the former executive director of the city's Commission on the Status of Women who now works as a management consultant. "Where's the substance? What can you see, touch and feel in terms of what they've done?"

"Both have articulated a clear sense of direction, but the question is, when are we going to start seeing some results?" asked City Director Rick Cole. "I'm just now getting impatient."

For the previous two years, Pasadena City Hall was dominated by the brusque, businesslike and efficient team of McIntyre and Mayor William Thomson.

City manager for 17 years, McIntyre oversaw Pasadena's redevelopment and knew intimately what was going on in the city. Thus, he didn't see the need to attend community meetings or do much public relations work, a number of those who worked under him say.

Thomson, who juggled his mayoral duties and a busy Los Angeles law practice, strived for efficiency, not only from himself but also from those around him. "He really pushed people for two years; it was nonstop," said one City Hall staff member. Thomson was out of town last week and couldn't be reached.

But with Hughston and Hawkey, the pressure seems to have eased.

Hughston, 67, a retired high school teacher who favors saddle shoes, cherry-red pants and embroidered roses signifying the Tournament of Roses parade on his shirt lapels, is a folksy mayor with a tendency to make fun of his status.

"Remain seated," he says to city employees as he strolls through an office. "The board will now recess and have its din-din," he proclaims with a straight face during Pasadena Board of Directors meetings.

Hughston's field representative, Jay Blackshaw, said she had to persuade the flamboyant mayor to switch from a madras jacket to a Navy blue blazer for his inauguration ceremony. But she said she can't shake the roses from his lapels.

"I'm more informal than my predecessor," Hughston said. "It's not a concentrated effort to be different, it's just the way I am."

Hughston's way is also to take time out for city employees. He surprised members of the city clerk's office staff by treating them to lunch in appreciation for their work. He also stops and questions employees when they appear upset or depressed, Blackshaw said.

For such a mayor, Hawkey is a perfect complement, Blackshaw said: "Phil tends to have a personality like Jess, interested in people."

Hawkey, 44, with dark, movie-actor good looks, will often stop in mid-conversation to greet passing city employees. He makes sure the directors know when citizens praise city employees. And Hawkey will take a turn at the duplicating machine instead of always passing on the work to clerks, city workers say.

Although McIntyre often had staff members cooling their heels for hours at city directors' meetings waiting to give reports, Hawkey often takes over that job himself.

"There's a more humane environment at City Hall," Cole said. "Don would look at a city employee and a little balloon would go on marked 'FTE,' full-time equivalent. When Hawkey sees an employee, the balloon says, 'human being.' "

Observers say the differences are largely of form rather than substance: McIntyre was known to be personally warm, but businesslike while on the job.

McIntyre himself said different managers bring different skills and styles to a job. "There's no right managerial style, but a certain style may be appropriate at a certain time," he said. "Maybe it was a time for change."

City employees say Hawkey listens to them, but they also worried that during the six months when he was spending much of his time meeting Pasadena residents, he couldn't spare enough time for city business. The community meetings were undertaken, in part, to ease the controversy created when the Board of Directors chose Hawkey, who is white, over two black city manager candidates.

Hawkey admits that some department heads complained they couldn't see him to get decisions made during his first six months on the job. But it is a problem that Hawkey said will be resolved over time, as the staff becomes used to his administration.

But the amount of time Hawkey and Hughston spend on community outreach concerns some city directors, who feel the two should by now be well on their way to accomplishing city goals. Said Director Chris Holden: "I'm feeling a certain level of anxiety. I want to see things happen."

With the city director elections nearly over except for a District 1 runoff, Cole said Hughston and Hawkey must begin the work of filling numerous staff vacancies, making good the city's promises to rehabilitate Northwest Pasadena and increasing its commitment to human services.

"Hopefully all this glad-handing and emphasis on outreach will be cashed in for tangible achievements," Cole said.

Both Hawkey and Hughston promise action on the city's problems. But Hughston warned: "We can only make a dent."

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