MARION BARRY'S "transition team" --
Commissioned, presumably, to prepare the victor to succeed himself as mayor in an orderly manner -- has taken itself more seriously than its title would suggest. In a detailed and wide-ranging report, nine task forces and a 28-member committee of city officials and business and civic leaders have recommended significant changes in the way this city would be run, in the services it would provide and in the policy role of its chief executive. If even a fraction of these proposals is adopted, the Barry administration that takes over officially on Jan. 2 (and with great inaugural fanfare the next day) will have a new look as well as emphasis.
Certainly the time is right -- since the proposed changes entail many shifts of top people and their titles, together with policies that are sure to draw opposition. Most people do not--and need not-- care about mere rearrangements of flow charts and high-level bureaucrats. Even the task force's emphasis on more power in the hands of the mayor says nothing until people know how any power is to be exercised. It is on policies--in the fields of public education, economic growth, welfare and housing-- that the team's proposals are noteworthy.
Take the schools, for example: the team's recommendation is not for a takeover of the system by the mayor, which no elected school board would be likely to, or should have to, accept. But precisely because petty jurisdictional battles have in the past stifled even an official suggestion of a role for the mayor in public education, the report proposes it out loud: "The mayor, as the chief elected official, should become involved in public education policy development and the coordination of general governmental programs with those in the public education system." In fact, this has begun to happen already -- with new cooperation between Superintendent Floretta McKenzie, Mayor Barry and the current, more-sensible- and-serious school board. This should be sanctioned, not officially discouraged or prohibited.
Just as this could facilitate moves such as the selling or switching of unused school buildings and grounds, changes in student transit subsidies and even financial arrangements, similar exercises of executive interest and control could bring improvements in economic development, housing construction and so on. It is toward these functions of government -- and away from what necessarily has been a heavy emphasis on financial management improvements -- that the "next" Mayor Barry says he hopes to move. Still, there is good reason to believe that, like it or not, the financial challenges in store for this and almost any other local government will require serious, constant attention. Without it, all these blueprints will be just that.