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Fenty's 'Bullpen' Rejects Traditional Office Model

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 3, 2006

Even the people who work for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams have had trouble snagging a meeting with their boss. After taking an elevator to the mayor's fortresslike office suite at the John A. Wilson Building, there is a security guard who checks to see whether Williams is available.

Mayor-elect Adrian M. Fenty's deputies don't have to work so hard: At his transition office at the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center, Fenty (D) sits near the center of a large, open room, surrounded by 30 staffers.

"You can walk right up to him," said Carrie Brooks, Fenty's communications director, who sits a few desks away. "And you know when he wants you. He gives you the two-finger wave."

Fenty's office is known as the "bullpen," a concept and name he borrowed from New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (R). A former businessman, Bloomberg said he was mimicking the open style of Wall Street's trading floor when he reinvented his mayoral work space five years ago.

At the Wilson Building this week, workers will begin knocking down walls on the third floor to create a permanent bullpen for Fenty, who intends to shun the isolated sixth-floor mayor's suite after he is sworn in Jan. 2. By sitting among his deputies, keeping close tabs on them and engaging them in everyday decisions, Fenty said he will foster increased accountability and a spirit of openness that he believes has been missing from city government.

"When you are cordoned off, you go up to your office and you don't see anybody, and you have no idea what's going on except by getting on the phone and calling people," said Fenty, aides buzzing around him at the Reeves Center. "Here, I'm right in the middle and know instantly what's going on."

Fenty is establishing an aggressive agenda for his administration, including installing a new police chief and possibly seeking control of the public school system. And for a government used to the more traditional approach of Williams (D), Fenty's bullpen concept has raised some eyebrows.

One former Williams aide who now works in a different city agency said he likes the bullpen idea but believes most of Williams's staff would have bristled at sitting so close to their boss. Another former senior adviser, Gregory McCarthy, who served as Williams's legislative director for seven years, said the Williams team did not think communication was a problem even though the mayor was on a different floor.

"Mayor Williams felt comfortable delegating a lot, so that's the style we had," said McCarthy, who works as a consultant in private industry. "Adrian is coming in with an aggressive, hands-on approach. He wants to hit the ground running and is promoting this boiler-room attitude. For that, this bullpen sounds about right."

When Fenty's transition team approached Carol J. Mitten, director of the city's Office of Property Management, for help in creating a bullpen big enough to house all 40 agency directors, she was stunned.

According to Fenty aides, Mitten explained that there was no space at the Wilson Building to build a room large enough for that many people. Furthermore, she laid out potential problems that could arise if agency directors were housed at city hall even though most agencies have headquarters elsewhere.

Fenty's aides ultimately scaled back, in part because of the spiraling costs of their initial designs. The final blueprint shows a room with desk space for 33 people and two conference areas separated by glass partitions.

Fenty, Chief of Staff Tene Dolphin, incoming City Administrator Dan Tangherlini and incoming deputy mayors Victor Reinoso and Neil O. Albert will sit in the bullpen. The seating chart has yet to be completed, and agency chiefs might be asked to rotate in and out.

The project, which requires modifications to the heating system and computer wiring, will cost about $200,000. It will be paid for with city money reserved for Wilson Building maintenance. Mitten said she supports the project.

How smoothly the bullpen will function remains to be seen. In New York, Bloomberg staff members have spoken out anonymously, saying that Bloomberg micromanages them. It also has been reported that Bloomberg aides are afraid to speak openly around the mayor and routinely leave the bullpen to take cellphone calls.

Fenty is known to be demanding, requiring long work hours of his aides. During his two-year campaign, Fenty relentlessly pushed his staff to plant yard signs and knock on doors, even on weekends. Shortly after winning the primary election, Fenty fired his longtime spokesman, who had tried to carve out more personal time for himself.

But Fenty dismissed suggestions that his staff might be cowed by working near him.

"People will stay more focused," he said. "And they have their BlackBerrys if they want to do a personal message with no one seeing them. . . .

"One of the great things Bloomberg said is that when the mayor had the biggest office that was the farthest removed, everyone else wanted to get as big an office as possible, as far away as possible," Fenty said. "But when the mayor sits in the center, everyone wants to get closer to the center because that's where the power is."

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