Mayor to city: Keep a lid on it

This one is tough to admit, but as of Monday, June 23, Year of Our Lord 2003, I officially miss Glenda Hood. Just a teensy, eensy, weensy viewable-under-a-microscope little bit of missing her, more of a pang than an ache, like losing a favorite pair of socks, not a lover. But there it is out in the open for all to mock. I miss Glenda.

Say what you will about HRH Hood -- and this paper said plenty, most of it critical -- but the woman was a known quantity, as predictable as a slowdown on I-4. Gay rights ordinance? No thank you. Baldwin Park giveaway? Yes please! Style over substance? Business as usual. Post-administration budget shortfall? Your problem.

What brought on this bout of nostalgia was a call to the Downtown Development Board about two weeks ago. I wanted to talk with DDB head Frank Billingsley about why downtown Orlando is seemingly stuck in neutral. It's frustrating, really. Orlando has everything going for it. There's no reason our little downtown couldn't be vibrant, alive, pulsing even. This city should be Austin east, but it's closer to Detroit south, if shuttered storefronts are an indicator.

There are, of course, many reasons for downtown's malaise, and Billingsley is the person to talk about them. Breathing life into downtown is his job. Unfortunately, the press isn't allowed to talk directly to city employees anymore per a new directive from Mayor Buddy Dyer.

The call to Billingsley was returned by someone in the DDB office informing me -- in an almost embarrassed tone of voice -- of the mayor's new policy. From now on, no matter the topic, Dyer speaks for Orlando. (Which reminds me of Dan Aykroyd as President Jimmy Carter on "Saturday Night Live" taking phone calls from citizens; he'd talk one guy down from a bad acid trip by suggesting the caller chill out to some Allman Brothers, and give the next schlub detailed instructions on how to fix a post-office letter-sorting machine.)

"He wants to have a consistent message and be aware of media inquiries," says Orlando's new director of communications, Marcia Goodwin.

So if you have a question, call Goodwin and get on the list.

Being a team player, I gave it a shot. A week passed, and so did another. Finally Goodwin called back. "He (Dyer) feels it's premature to talk about his plans," she said.

In the Hood era, city employees like Billingsley were free to talk about their areas of expertise. Sewers on your mind? Call the sewer department. Pissed about parking? Guess who you might ring up to get your questions answered. City employees who said something out of line probably got their butts kicked for it later, as the queen could be a trifle vindictive. Nonetheless, Hood's policy made perfect sense. No one knows it all, except Jimmy Carter, of course.

Now that Goodwin does all the intake, I'd like to suggest that she be budgeted for more voice-mail memory. More often than not, callers get a message saying they can't leave a message because the message box is full. Very helpful.

One Weekly writer reports that Goodwin had to empty her mailbox three times in one day because she is so inundated with calls; calls that could just as easily be fielded by someone else in the city machine.

The one-spokesman policy is wrong on many levels, but these folks are new at this. They'll learn.

The larger question is whether we have, in our new, progressive mayor, a control freak obsessed with his public image. Dyer is all about access when riding his bike to work or chucking garbage bags into a truck to demonstrate that he's a regular guy, but try to discuss something that isn't on his agenda, and he'll have to get back to you on that. That feels kind of creepy.

Scab update

At press time, June 24, the contract between members of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild and the Tribune Co.-owned Baltimore Sun had only a few hours left to live. By all available reports, it looked likely to die without a successor, meaning the odds are good that Guild members -- reporters, editors and ad reps, would soon be on strike. The two sides are a smidgen closer to an agreement than they were last week, but still a long way apart on key issues like health care and vacation time.

If you've been following the program, you know that the Tribune Co. has been recruiting scabs from its Florida papers, including the Orlando Sentinel, to replace Guild workers should they walk out. You also know that this column promised to out the scabs who took the trip north, which prompted the Sentinel to abandon all pretense of First Amendment advocacy and threaten the Weekly if we do it.

No names yet, but we do have a couple tidbits from well-placed sources (anonymous for obvious reasons) in Baltimore and Orlando that peg the Tribune's investment in breaking the strike at $97,500 a day in replacement-labor costs, to pay the salaries of some 325 scabs.

The Sentinel, we're told, has committed 12-14 people to the effort.

More as the story develops, as they say on TV.

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