Sullivan begins preparations for move into mayor's office

FISCAL CHALLENGES: Crafting new city budget is priority, and mayor-elect says it will be lean.

May 6, 2009 

Eight weeks stand between Mayor-elect Dan Sullivan and the job of running Anchorage's multifaceted and financially challenged municipal government and the thousands of employees who work for it.

Sullivan has one advantage, he said in an interview a day after a 57 percent majority made him mayor.

Nine years as a member of the Anchorage Assembly taught him a lot about how the city works, but learning how local government operates from the inside will be different, he said.

"The administration and the Assembly are two vastly different organizations, and I've got a lot of learning to do about what happens on the other side of the aisle," Sullivan said.

The incoming mayor will have his hands full. The job of beginning to structure a two-year city budget will start almost immediately, and it will take place at a time in which the city's revenues are still shaky and Anchorage's economic outlook is foreboding.

"We're going to have to put together very lean, mean conservative budgeting, and then if you're pleasantly surprised that you have more revenues (than expected), then you can maybe add in some services or amenities," Sullivan said.

"What we saw with the last budget was that they just really didn't read the tea leaves very well and over-budgeted. We want to avoid that mistake."

Sullivan expects to get his transition effort in motion Friday, when he and a clutch of advisors have lunch with Acting Mayor Matt Claman. Sullivan said he expects about a dozen people to fill out his transition team, and they'll spend their time poring over issues with department heads and city executives before coming out with a report before the new mayor is sworn in on July 1.

Claman called to congratulate Sullivan on Tuesday night after the election's outcome was clear, and said Wednesday he expects to serve as an advisor in helping Sullivan through a smooth transition.

Claman, the former Assembly chairman who took over as acting mayor when Mark Begich resigned Jan. 3 to become Alaska's new U.S. Senator, said he plans to hand over a 25- to 30-page report on the status of the city when he and Sullivan meet Friday.

"It will talk about each of the city departments," Claman said. "It talks about successes, it talks about challenges and it talks about opportunities for each of those departments."

And it will be a starting point for Sullivan's own transition review of local government.

"You want to get updates on any and all issues important to each department, if there are crises or expenditure that you need to know about," Sullivan said. "Generally, city government runs fairly smooth.

"Certain things happen every year. You gear up for plowing snow in the winter, you gear up for patching potholes in the spring. But you definitely want to find out if there's any unforeseen roadblocks up there that you want to be cautious about."

Sullivan's margin of victory in his runoff with Eric Croft was among the largest wins by any mayor since unification of the old city and borough governments in 1975.

But it was achieved without the support of most labor unions representing city employees; the unions contributed to Croft's campaign and some endorsed him.

Derek Hsieh, president of the union that represents Anchorage police, said Wednesday he doesn't expect problems.

"The police association is committed to doing the right thing without respect to politics," he said. "We've already reached out to the new mayor."

A central theme of Sullivan's campaign was a desire to explore "managed competition," a practice of opening the delivery of some public services -- public safety jobs excluded -- to private sector competition. Supporters of privatizing government services say it can be more inexpensive; it also can be lucrative to the businesses that win contracts.

Sullivan said city employees shouldn't be worried that he's going to upset the apple cart. The experiences of other city governments that have tried contracting out some services show that changes in the way services are delivered need to happen slowly and thoughtfully, he said.

"It has to be very well-thought-out, very well-planned," Sullivan said. "The key thing is involving the employees in the process. They get to compete for providing the service just like the private sector.

"It has to be inclusive, and it works much better that way."


Contact reporter Don Hunter at dhunter@adn.com or 257-4349.

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