Two for One 

Creation of a deputy mayor gives Metro its own Charlie Sheen

Creation of a deputy mayor gives Metro its own Charlie Sheen

The good news for anyone trying to get a meeting with the mayor is that now there are two of them—sort of. The bad news for the mayor is that his new deputy outearns him by more than $25,000 a year.

For the first time in Metro history, there’s a pinch hitter in the Courthouse, and by the mayor’s own declaration, meeting with him is almost as good as meeting with the real thing. Mayor Bill Purcell’s promotion of his chief of staff, Bill Phillips, to deputy mayor will give an air of officialdom to relations between Phillips and the various people he deals with—whether it’s Metro department heads, Council members, or Nashville constituents.

“It gives people the assurance that if they talk with me, and the mayor’s not available, it’s not a waste of their time,” Phillips says. “I think it formalizes what we’ve evolved into. I think I’m safe in saying we’re working well together. And we’ve built a confidence that I won’t pull a coup of any kind.”

The structural change is also the latest mimicking of state-government anatomy (where the governor has a deputy governor) by Purcell, who grew up as a politician in the state Legislature. And it may be mildly good news for Purcell’s right-leaning detractors. While the mayor has worked hard to create a reputation as a managerial hard-ass, Phillips is himself regarded as a demanding taskmaster. But even in the nonpartisan universe of Metro, Phillips, a devoted conservative Republican, may bring to bear some occasional viewpoints that his more liberal-minded boss would be more likely to overlook.

That’s not to say Phillips plans to go out on any limbs. “I’m pretty conservative about exercising any real or perceived authority, and if I’ve got any question, I’m going to go to the policy maker, which is the mayor,” he says. “It’s not a diluting of what he does, but an improving of the efficiencies.”

The great thing about titles is that they have no marginal cost: You can replace a modest one with a grandiose one for no additional charge. Thus Purcell was able to promote Phillips—who remains chief of staff—without having to ask the Metro Council for single nickel. The added stature should be helpful to Phillips if he ever goes looking for an investment banking job. (Of course, the currency may be a little debased on Wall Street, since New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has a whole stable of staffers called deputy mayors.)

While the move is great for the people who have to deal with the mayor’s office because it increases accessibility, it is less clear what it does for Metro government. Presumably, Phillips will continue to do the departmental whip-cracking that he’s always done. Beyond the cosmetics, there’s not much to the change.

But there will be some inflation: Now that Purcell has let that title out of the bag, it will be awfully hard for any future mayor to call his chief of staff anything so simple as chief of staff again.

Grand vizier may be next in the offing.

Praying for money

It’s fair to say that, given Mayor Bill Purcell’s management and money-tightening temperament, and a city budget mostly bereft of unclaimed dollars, Metro bureaucrats are walking on eggshells. No one wants to be excoriated—à la Buck Dozier—in the mayor’s next brutal belt-tightening anecdote.

Fortunately for Davidson County Sheriff Gayle Ray, she’s got an obscure law on her side. Courthouse wretches have been doubling over about a recent purchase order the sheriff’s department produced for 40 Muslim prayer rugs at $25 a pop. That’s right. The city spent $1,000 so that the city’s jail inmates have official Muslim rugs on which to pray.

“I was questioning that myself a couple of weeks ago,” Ray told the Scene, explaining that it’s her understanding federal law requires the government to provide “essential items for worship as long as they’re not things that are a threat to safety and security.”

“The bottom line is we’d probably have a lawsuit on our hands, which would cost us a heck of a lot more to defend than buying the rugs,” says Ray, who estimates that there are about 20 Muslims currently in the Metro jail.

“I was very curious about it myself. We are looking at every possible item we don’t have to buy these days.”

To reach Liz, call 244-7989, ext. 406, or e-mail

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