POSTED ON JUNE 23, 2010:
Not Always Second Fiddle
Sometimes, first violin or bass drum, Terry Simonson knows the score at city hall
Terry Simonson wanted to be mayor of Tulsa once -- twice, actually.
In January 1998, the Republican Party found itself with only one candidate who had filed to run in the Tulsa mayoral race, Dennis Mahon, and he proudly proclaimed himself a white separatist.
As the filing deadline loomed, so did a major embarrassment for the party. Unless another candidate stepped up to run -- an unattractive proposition, given that the Democratic incumbent, Susan Savage, was wildly popular and considered unbeatable -- the only GOP representative in the race was going to be a guy perhaps best known for operating a "Dial-a-Racist" hotline.
Party leaders did not want that to happen. They approached Simonson, the long-time Tulsa County party chairman, and strongly suggested he take one for the team.
"So on the last day of that filing in January of 1998, with that being the only choice for the Republicans, I went down and just filed (to run) to save the city and the party the embarrassment of that, more than anything else," he said. "Nobody gave me much of a chance to do well. I didn't have any name, I didn't have any money, I didn't have any organization. I didn't have anything going for me. I think most people thought that I'd just be in it just so the other person could be defeated."
Simonson was expected to win the primary, then essentially concede the general election to the powerful incumbent. The prevailing wisdom among Republicans was that Savage would win easily, but at least there would be no unfortunate criticism about the local GOP being a spawning ground for racist wingnuts.
That didn't sit well with the candidate himself.
"I decided, 'If I'm going to do this, I'll give it all that I have, and I'll figure out some way to be a contender. Even if I don't win, I'm going to go the distance as a contender,'" Simonson said. "And at the end of the election, somehow I got (46 percent) of the vote. The spread between me winning and me losing out of 70,000 -- some votes was (6,000) votes. That was good. I was OK with that, considering where I'd started."
Simonson said he learned a lot from that experience, both about the city and the nature of campaigning. And when 2002 rolled around, he was ready to put that wisdom to work. Little did Simonson realize that his second campaign for mayor was about to teach him even more about the nature of politics, and people, than his first run.
"At the time that I ran in 1998, I said, 'I don't have any money, I don't want to spend a lot of my own money,' and I was kind of pressured from the very, very top of our party on down, so I did it," he said. "There was this subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle promise, 'If you do this -- and you're not going to win, you know you're not going to win, this is a real fall-on-the-sword campaign -- if you do this, chances are when 2002 rolls around, it'll be an open seat, and we'll be there for you.' "
In 2002, there was, in fact, no incumbent in the mayor's race, with Savage having vacated the office to join newly elected Gov. Brad Henry's cabinet. Realizing the opportunity that lay before him and emboldened by his unexpected success four years earlier, Simonson targeted the mayor's office again. He was ready to call in the chits he had earned from making that thankless, goodwill run four years earlier and enjoy all the advantages his earlier campaign had lacked, namely money and support from the local party.
But Simonson's presumed coronation as the GOP nominee got sidetracked when Bill LaFortune -- a former Tulsa County judge and district attorney, and, probably most importantly, the nephew of former Tulsa Mayor Robert LaFortune -- filed for the Republican nomination, as well. It didn't take Simonson long to see the handwriting on the wall.
"And so some of those 1998 commitments and promises all the sudden didn't seem to be so solid," Simonson said. "And more people believed that Bill had a better chance of winning -- not just the nomination but winning the race than I did."
Just like that, much of that promised support vanished. Simonson wound up running a distant second to LaFortune in the GOP primary, who then defeated Democrat Gary Watts in the general election to become mayor.
"But that's politics," Simonson said wistfully. "And I think that's a lesson people should know -- that just because people say, 'If you'll do this for me, I'll do something for you,' don't necessarily put that in the bank vault. You may let that happen to you once because you're kind of naïve -- but you shouldn't ever let it happen to you more than once."
Putting aside his bruised ego, Simonson joined the staff of the Tulsa County Commission and resumed working on behalf of the Republican Party. He insists he never even considered bearing a grudge.
"No, because you learn that, as well," he said. "You learn that sometimes loyalty or commitment in politics can be not as much as you would like it to be. But that's the world you're in, so you take it as you find it."
Now 59 years old, Simonson said he has given up on ever running for public office again -- he also lost bids for the county clerk's office in 1984 and city auditor in 1988 -- insisting he is best suited for his current role as chief of staff and legal counsel to Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. and being "the guy behind the guy," as he likes to put it.
As the chief architect of Bartlett's policies, it's Simonson's job to present ideas to the mayor. If Bartlett likes them, Simonson then develops those ideas more fully and plans an implementation strategy.
"He was the first choice and the obvious choice," Bartlett said of Simonson, recalling his thought process when he began putting his staff together after being elected in November 2009. "I thought about one or two others, but I thought, 'No, Terry's it. He has the experience ... He really enjoys the responsibility of governing well. He understands that concept very, very well.'"
The Front Man
At first blush, Simonson might seem to have moved into a low-profile, behind-the-scenes role with the new mayor, but not if the first six months of the Bartlett administration are any indication. Simonson's often brash style has rankled many people, including some members of the City Council, contributing to his being the target of a council investigation into whether he lied to or misled councilors and federal officials this past winter about a federal grant that was used to rehire laid-off police officers.
District 8 Councilor Bill Christiansen, perhaps Simonson's most outspoken critic, believes Simonson has a lot of fence mending to do, regardless of how that investigation turns out.
"I'm really floored at the way it went so negative so fast," Christiansen said of Simonson's relationship with the council. "And I don't think the council did anything to create that.
"I like Terry as an individual," he said. "He's a bright guy with a lot of good ideas. But he never seems to be able to compromise on issues. It's 'My way or the highway.' That's not the way to run city government."
That's not an opinion shared by everyone on the council. District 7 Councilor John Eagleton described Simonson as far easier to work with than others who have held his position.
"He does an effective job far more often than not," Eagleton said.
Simonson hasn't always been immersed in politics, though as it's been a big part of his life for a long time. He has served as a member of the state Horse Racing Commission and the city's Capital Improvements Committee, along with holding various other public service and community positions. He even served a stint writing a column for this publication.
But it was then-Tulsa Mayor Jim Inhofe who brought Simonson to Tulsa from Kansas in February 1979, when he chose him from a field of 400 applicants for the newly created position of court administrator.
Simonson maintains strong ties to the legal field today; as he earned his law degree from the University of Tulsa and practiced privately for 20 years. It was from that background, he said, that he derived his approach to governing.
"I've been an attorney for 20 years, and attorneys tend to become problem solvers," he said. "I read a lot about what's going on elsewhere in the country and the world, and sometimes I get idea inspiration that way. I think a lot about the problems we have, the challenges we have, and I try to think of different ways to approach them."
Eagleton knows Simonson better than most members of the council. The two have worked together on cases in the past, as well as on opposing sides. He said Simonson enjoys a reputation for being capable and hard working -- but not enough so to get the best of Eagleton when the two squared off in court, apparently.
"I kicked his tail," Eagleton said, bursting out in laughter. "He's a good lawyer, but he's not that good."
Bartlett is effusive in his praise of Simonson, particularly when it comes to describing his political acumen.
"He's very articulate, very direct, but he has a great depth of knowledge and ideas about governing -- how to govern well, how to react well," the mayor said. And when it comes to framing those issues for the public, "He's the best I've ever seen."
That perspective is shared by Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry, who worked with Simonson from 2007 through 2009, when Simonson served as deputy to then-Commissioner Randi Miller before becoming the county's public information officer and director of governmental affairs.
"Terry is one of the brightest and most articulate people I have met in government during my 16 years of public service," Perry said. "I don't know anyone who is as knowledgeable about the various levels of local and federal government as Simonson. He is a dedicated, hard worker for whoever his employer is and is always striving to make the organization better.
"And he is definitely not an 8-to-5 guy," he said. "We had numerous conversations after hours while he was here, and the same was true of the other commissioners. I first observed this of Terry when he was chairman of the Tulsa County Republican Party, and then saw it up close as he worked for the county. We hated to lose him; he was an asset to the county."
Original Minds, Revisited
Simonson's preference for odd-hours brainstorming is something he has carried with him to City Hall. His day typically starts very early, somewhere around 4am, though he doesn't arrive at the office until 7 or 7:30am. Much of his time in between is spent trying to develop creative solutions to the problems that awaited the Bartlett administration when it took over -- an unprecedented decline in the city's sales tax receipts and a corresponding budget crisis that has dominated the mayor's agenda in his first six months in office.
Simonson frequently processes his ideas by jotting them down on a laptop and fleshing them out during the course of a morning before taking them to work and presenting them to all of the members of the mayor's staff for a thorough hashing out.
He has provided the impetus for many of Bartlett's more noteworthy proposals so far, including the idea to have an efficiency audit conducted of all city departments by the firm KPMG as a cost-saving measure. The mayor initially wanted the organization to examine just one department, but Simonson suggested a city-wide audit instead.
"His thought process was more expansive than mine initially," Bartlett said, adding that he and his chief of staff set aside 10 to 15 minutes each day to kick around new ideas.
Simonson's biggest impact might come from his ideas about how to widen the city's revenue stream. Heavily reliant on sales tax receipts for its general fund, Tulsa routinely experiences trouble maintaining basic government services during economic downturns, when consumer spending declines.
At no time in its history has that been more of an issue than during the current fiscal year, when city leaders found themselves so cash strapped that they had to resort to reducing or terminating many of those services, along with furloughing all city employees for eight days and laying off others.
Simonson put together a list of ideas designed to generate new revenue and enable the city to reverse many of those reductions. Bartlett presented them in late April to the council, but the proposals were widely panned as mere tax increases by councilors, who voted late last week to adopt a budget that didn't include any of Simonson's revenue-enhancement ideas.
Simonson was disappointed to see many of those ideas panned initially by the council. He considered that ironic, since the genesis of many of those proposals came from councilors themselves, he said.
"I sat through a number of City Council committee meetings and heard councilors throw out ideas of their own," he said. "For instance, Councilor (Jack) Henderson threw out, 'Let's have a public safety sales tax.' Councilor (Roscoe) Turner threw out, 'No, let's have an entertainment tax.' And then you have councilors (Maria) Barnes and (Chris) Trail, 'No, let's do a voluntary donation program.'
"Now, in and of themselves, each of those ideas probably weren't going to make it on their own, but I sensed in those ideas another idea, another way of doing it," Simonson said. "And so they should get the credit, at least for throwing those things out, because I thought a voluntary idea, like Councilor Barnes and Trail brought up, is a good idea. And something for public safety, that's a good idea. How do we make it a workable idea? So, I'll take something like that and just begin researching it."
By the time those ideas have worked their way through the mayor's staff and are presented to the public, they might not bear much resemblance to their original form. That's OK, Simonson said, who maintains he learned long ago not to take those kinds of changes personally.
He hopes others can embrace the same philosophy.
"It's not being afraid that if it doesn't end the way it started, you don't have to feel offended," he said. "If it comes out different, it's still a good idea at the end than it was the way it began. Then you should feel like you at least accomplished something, because it's about the idea, it's not about the ego."
Keeping It Separate
Easier said than done, perhaps. Ego and politics seem to go together like oil slicks and Gulf beaches these days; although criticism is often an equal partner in that equation. While Simonson is no stranger to having unflattering things said about him, he tries to remain philosophical about the less-savory aspects of a career in politics.
"If you truly believe that you can make a difference on the inside of these glass walls, then you have to develop a tough skin," he said. "I think, historically, some of the best leaders in government at all levels have been survivors. If you want to think outside the box or have new ideas, whatever you want to call it, at the end of the day, if it means change, you can expect to be attacked by people comfortable with the status quo.
"But if we don't change, things eventually will move backward. You never get ahead standing still."
That philosophy led Bartlett and Simonson to take an aggressive approach to bringing the city's financial difficulties to heel. Both have maintained that the position Tulsa finds itself in today was years in the making, and the road to long--term stability will also take some time, somewhat painfully perhaps -- a situation Simonson believes citizens have grasped for themselves.
"I think for the most part, people realized that the problems and challenges that Mayor Bartlett found were none of his making, so there was no blame or holding him responsible for something he did not do," he said.
"I think by the time he arrived here, people knew the pain was not over, and that tough times call for tough decisions," Simonson said. "I don't think he and I realized that there were so many complex problems, but he ran as mayor to be a change agent and to do what he could to get Tulsa back on its feet. And he asked me to come help him."
Simonson said he never spoke to Bartlett about a position in his administration while working on his campaign. But he recalled having a "What if?" conversation with his wife Karen about the possibility of going to work for Bartlett if he were elected. He was intrigued by the idea, but didn't make up his mind for certain until Bartlett actually approached him with the idea after the campaign, offering him the dual position of chief of staff and lead counsel.
Simonson now earns a salary of more than $145,000 -- considerably more than the mayor's annual pay of $105,000 and tops among Bartlett's lieutenants. That contrasts with the $135,000 that Amy Polonchek, Mayor Kathy Taylor's chief of staff, pulled down and the almost $95,000 that Nancy Siegel, Taylor's general counsel, earned -- though Simonson fills both roles, resulting in a net savings of $85,000 for the mayor's budget.
Serving in a dual capacity does not seem to have overwhelmed Simonson -- despite the demanding nature of the task at hand and the fact that the city found itself in uncharted financial waters last winter.
In an odd way, Simonson said, he has been energized by the difficulties the Bartlett administration inherited, for it has provided a chance to re-examine almost every aspect of municipal government operations.
"During the good times, you can't pull people to change," he said. "The good times is the status quo, and why are we changing the status quo, it's a good time? ... The bigger the challenge, the less people can stand out there and defend the mess. The less people can say, 'I like how we're sliding down the hill. I like how we're no longer able to provide good, basic services.'"
Of course, no one would ever say that, he said.
"So that opens the door wide to say, 'OK, then, we're going to make it better than it is,' and nobody needs (to say) that we're doing it the best that we can and the status quo is terrific," he said. "And nobody has. I think it's come home real clear over this last year of having to cut $15 million and 300 positions that this is a serious situation."
Upon going to work for Bartlett, Simonson -- a veteran of the mayoral administrations of Inhofe and Dick Crawford -- quickly sized up the situation for his new boss.
"One of the things I told him early on was, I said, 'You're going to hear a lot of information,'" he said. "I said, 'There's probably no job that has so much data overload. Smart leaders know that there's at least two sides to every story. But a discerning leader knows which side to believe. And that's the kind of leader you need to be. You're already a smart guy. You need to be a discerning leader. And that's where I can help you.'"
A JAGged edge
Simonson's tenure as the mayor's chief policy architect hasn't unfolded without a degree of controversy. The most serious problem he's faced has been the charge that he lied to or misled members of the council and federal officials when it came to using Justice Assistance Grant funds to rehire officers from the Tulsa Police Department who had been laid off because of budget cuts in January.
The charge was outlined in a letter three deputy police chiefs sent to Police Chief Chuck Jordan in March. The City Council hired independent investigator Terry Laflin to look into the matter, but Laflin has said his efforts have been hamstrung by his inability to get Simonson or Bartlett to sit down for an interview. Bartlett has called on the council twice to drop the investigation, to no avail, his latest request being denied by District 2 Councilor Rick Westcott on May 27.
"I feel comfortable in saying that several councilors have expressed a certain amount of distrust in things Terry has presented," Westcott said. "They believe that Terry intentionally presented false information regarding the availability of the JAG funds. I would prefer we get the results of the investigation before I draw any conclusions."
Laflin's report was presented on June 17 to councilors, who went into executive session to discuss it. That session was continued until a special meeting on June 22, after which Laflin's findings were expected to be released.
Christiansen is particularly vexed by the difficulty Laflin said he has had in getting Simonson and the mayor to submit to an interview.
"They have put off meeting with the investigator, as I understand it, four times," he said. "I just don't understand that. I would think they should want to get this behind them as soon as possible."
The gravity of the situation is demonstrated by the fact that every member of the council, including its five Republicans -- Christiansen, Westcott, Eagleton, G.T. Bynum, Chris Trail and Jim Mautino -- voted in favor of the motion to investigate the charges, he said.
"In my heart, I thought it was a major step for the five Republicans on the council to vote for the investigation," Christiansen said. "That is worth a thousand words, as far as I'm concerned. We wouldn't have initiated it if we didn't believe there was some substance to this."
The mayor doesn't share that viewpoint. He stands firmly behind his chief of staff, though he acknowledged the issue has become a distraction.
"It's much to do about nothing," Bartlett said. "It's unnecessary. The unfortunate thing is, his integrity was brought into question. Once this is resolved, and I certainly think it will be resolved in his favor, I do hope the individuals who made the accusations apologize -- and sincerely apologize -- because he will be owed an apology."
Simonson has maintained his innocence all along, arguing that Stuart McCalman, an aide to Bartlett who recently resigned, has taken the blame for providing the mayor and his chief of staff with conflicting information about the availability of the grant money. According to the Tulsa World, McCalman had been sending information to Christiansen that appeared to lend weight to the charges by the three deputy chiefs that Simonson lied about the specifics of the federal funding used to rehire the laid-off officers.
"So I think once he came forward and confessed, I felt like that should have and will put to rest that I never intentionally misled or misrepresented anything to the council," Simonson said. "Everything I said and presented came from the advice of Mr. McCalman -- who we were told was the expert on all of that. He was in Mayor Taylor's administration, she highly touted him, told Mayor Bartlett, 'You need to keep him, he knows everything he needs to know about all these grants,' and so, to our detriment, we relied on him.
"So that would seem to leave some police officers believing somehow I lied to the Department of Justice," he said. "Of course, that never happened. The Department of Justice believes we properly administered the grant, we properly used the money. They have no concerns. They aren't investigating anything whatsoever. So if the council believes they have to move forward with that, I'm 100 percent confident that the Department of Justice is not going to find that I did anything out of line with that. And the reason I know I did everything proper is because we would not have gotten the approval to redirect the money for the police officers if we had done it improperly. It was only because we followed the rules and regulations correctly that we got the approval."
That claim was bolstered when a Justice Department official e-mailed Bartlett in late May to inform him the agency was not concerned about its dealings with Simonson.
As for the information McCalman was sending to Christiansen, Simonson said it obviously impacted his relationship with the council.
"I did not know that, and I could not understand why they were having a hard time believing me as I was explaining the process that we went through with the police department," he said. "And I didn't know that I was being -- and that the mayor was being -- undercut by somebody in the office telling us one thing to say to the council and then saying just the opposite to the council."
Simonson claimed he has never been presented with a detailed explanation of what he is alleged to have done wrong.
"Nobody has specifically said, 'You made this statement or statements on this date, and we believe that to have been a lie,'" he said. "Still, to this day, almost 60 or 90 days later, nobody's ever told me that. Nobody's ever told me what 'it' is. So, the mayor has confidence in me. He was involved in all those meetings and discussions. He knows that there's nothing to this, and at the end of the day, the mayor is responsible for all the personnel."
Simonson said, that like it has become to Bartlett, the issue is a distraction, and the lesson he will take from this is that communication between himself, the mayor and the council needs to be improved.
As for the impact of the investigation on Simonson's ability to deal with the council, Eagleton said he didn't perceive that any councilors had prejudged the evidence, and he believes Simonson can continue to be an effective advocate for the mayor.
"I see no impediment to Terry's continued service," he said.
Christiansen declined to speculate about how the investigation might turn out, but he said he's been alienated by Simonson's approach.
"It's a shame this situation has arisen," he said. "I was looking forward to working with Mayor Bartlett. He campaigned as a conservative Republican, one who wasn't going to raise taxes. But it's regressed, and I don't think that would have happened if Mr. Simonson wasn't in the position he's in."
The Confrontation Thing
If Simonson's boss has a problem with the way he conducts himself, the mayor doesn't show it. Indeed, Bartlett acknowledges that his chief of staff certainly isn't the type to back down from a fight.
"Oh, no, no," Bartlett said, smiling. "He will speak his mind -- respectfully, but very directly. Sometimes people are not used to having their opinion respectfully criticized and don't like it. He's had to tone down his positioning on things a few times because he realizes some people don't appreciate a direct expression. He understands that."
Eagleton, himself no shrinking violet, isn't put off by Simonson's manner, explaining that he considers it a positive whenever he doesn't have to guess about someone's position on an issue.
"In politics, if you speak your mind bluntly, you get a reputation for being confrontational," he said. "Personally, I think I have a bit of that reputation, too. Anyone who is straight to the point and blunt does not bother me at all."
That directness might not always come to the surface, at least as far as Elizabeth Wright is concerned. As a member of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission, Wright was the target of an attempted ouster attempt by Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith in November 2009, when Simonson was still working for the county. He wound up conveying Keith's concerns to Wright, even being directed at one point to seek her resignation, which she refused to submit. Wright ultimately survived the ouster attempt, but she came away from the experience with ambivalent feelings about Simonson.
"I felt like there was always something brewing beneath the surface that wasn't coming up," she said. "He was guarded -- and perhaps appropriately so for his position."
Simonson seems to strike people in a variety of ways. Westcott -- who has known Simonson since 2003, when Westcott began getting involved in political campaigns -- said he's never witnessed the in-your-face style that others attribute to the mayor's chief of staff.
"I've not seen that side of Terry," Westcott said, who described Simonson as professional and friendly in their dealings. "I will say, if he admits that is something he has trouble with, that is not always productive in business or municipal government. In a working environment as small as ours ... that strategy really doesn't work at all."
While others might have concerns about Simonson's truthfulness, Westcott isn't one of them.
"I have found him to be, in my opinion, as forthcoming as he can be, recognizing that in any professional situation, in government or in a private company, there are sure to be times when any person in upper management can't reveal everything," he said. "That's the nature of the business. I do believe Terry's been as forthcoming as he can be."
For his part, Simonson makes no apologies for his unwillingness to back down in his role as the mayor's advocate.
"Whether it works for you or works against you, having been an attorney for 20 years and having spent a good part of that 20 years in courtrooms and in trials, you learn you don't let anybody push you around," he said. "You stand up for your client -- in this case, the mayor. You're more prepared when you walk in the room than anybody else in the room, and you've got to be quick thinking and quick responding in a fast-moving environment like this.
"If it's not worth fighting for, then you shouldn't be doing this job," he said. "This job has to be for fighters. So if you have a cause or something you really believe in and you want somebody who's a passionate, fighting advocate, and I'm on your team, then hopefully, I've added value to your team."
The difficult decisions that have had to be made during the past six months perhaps have forced Simonson to take a hard line, he said.
"These kinds of challenges really galvanize your convictions," he said. "If you don't have any character or grit, this job will blow you out in 30 days because you'll have strong forces, as we have seen, come at you with all the force they have to see what you're made of. Can they bend you, and, eventually, can they break you? And you just have to resolve you're not going to let that happen."
Christiansen, on the other hand, would appreciate some flexibility -- and humility -- from Simonson.
"I think Terry needs to realize that city government is made up by the charter as a checks-and-balances system, sort of like saying, 'Nobody's the king,'" he said. "And I feel as though when Terry became the chief of staff, he was bound and determined he was going to do it his way or the highway ... It's not a kingdom, it's a democracy."
Christiansen acknowledged he hasn't voiced his dissatisfaction with Simonson to Bartlett, but he pointed out the mayor hasn't asked him what he thinks. And he doubts it would come as news to Bartlett.
"I think the mayor's probably heard it from a lot of people," Christiansen said.
Now in his fifth term, Christiansen said he can't compare the current situation to any he's seen before. He believes Simonson has become a major problem for Bartlett.
"For a guy who ran on getting along with the council, he's probably got the worst relationship any mayor has had with the council since I've been on the council," he said.
After a rugged start, Christiansen said Simonson tried to patch up his relationship with the council.
"But the way things were handled and the way he was condescending to councilors during those meetings, I think Dewey would be a lot better off for the next three years if he went with a different chief of staff," he said.
That doesn't appear to be something the mayor is considering. Simonson acknowledged his style isn't always received well, but he believes it serves Bartlett's purposes well. And that's his primary concern.
"I think one of the things that makes the mayor and I kind of compatible in what we do here is, I'm probably more the kind of guy that's going to get right back in your face," Simonson said. "And the mayor is probably more of the kind of guy that is more diplomatic. I think there's absolutely a time and place for both.
"And that's maybe more of my role, is to not take stuff off people that I know is untrue, incorrect, inaccurate or incomplete and stand by in silence, leading them to believe that they're absolutely right. And if there's any reason I believe that, 'No, you're not absolutely right for whatever reason,' then I feel it's my loyal obligation and duty to this mayor to stand up to that. And I'm sure that might sometimes come off as too confrontational. And maybe if there was anything I needed to work on to be better at, it was maybe to try to tone that down. Just kind of tone that down."
A Kinder, Gentler Approach?
"I'm working on it," he said, laughing. "I've even told the mayor, 'Maybe that's one of the reasons that I've had some early difficulties with the council is because early on I watched how they treated some of the staff and didn't feel like some of the staff that appeared in front of the council were treated very well by some of the councilors. And I think part of that was they weren't as prepared as maybe they should have been when they went to the council.
"So I decided that I'm going to be prepared for everything," he said. "But if anybody tries to push on me, then I'll push back because I didn't come down here to be pushed on. I came down here to work with you on whatever the topic might be. I don't think they like that, or maybe they weren't used to that. And so I've told the mayor maybe I need to find a softer, gentler approach in how I make my points. I'm willing to concede that that would be helpful. So I'm working on it."
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