While Boston mayoral candidates John Connolly and Martin Walsh probe for passageways into the fifth-floor offices in City Hall, the current occupant — Mayor Thomas M. Menino — is carrying out his exit strategy. Menino has never been described as technologically adept. But he and his top aides have hit upon an innovative parting gift: From now until Jan. 6, when the mayor leaves office, he and key members of his administration will update a lively blog — next.cityofboston.gov — designed to ensure a smooth transition for the next mayor.
The transition blog offers easy access to successful operational plans, policy briefs, and behind-the-scenes looks at lesser-known functions and functionaries at City Hall, such as the advance team that scopes out venues before the mayor’s arrival. It’s a huge upgrade from the booklets filled with warmed-over budget information and department head memos that many mayors bequeath to their successors. Menino isn’t backing Connolly or Walsh. But he will leave one of them with what should be the best practical guide to municipal government in the country.
The transition blog also allows Menino, 70, to make his presence felt after he leaves the spotlight. The mayor, who has served five terms, is making it tough for his rookie replacement to use inexperience as an excuse: Hold on, you didn’t know that city department heads need to start preparing budget requests in mid-January? It never dawned on you that the bidding process for a new trash removal contract would hit you on day one? What’s wrong with you? It’s all right there in the transition blog, including text and videos.
The Menino administration launched the blog on Sept. 28, which marked 100 days before the end of the mayor’s 20-year tenure. There’s no guarantee that the daily entries over the next 93 days will be as comprehensive or creative as the first few. But nobody should bet against any project that boasts heavy participation from the mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, the brain trust that creates computer applications to improve the delivery of city services.
Early postings on the transition blog include a section on the city’s Office of Environmental and Energy Services. It’s one thing to know that Boston was recently honored as the most energy-efficient city in the United States. It’s more important for the next administration to have a convenient guide to the ordinances, climate action plan, and citizen engagement tools that led to that distinction.
A lot of people will be sucking up to the next mayor. But that’s not the role of a city’s chief financial officer. A blog post from city CFO Meredith Weenick provides the next mayor with some indispensable advice: “Only fund recurring operations with recurring sources’’ and “estimate revenue conservatively.’’
Well before the new mayor takes office, the blog is also expected to link to a manual by the independent Boston Municipal Research Bureau. It will provide detailed advice on resource allocation, financial controls, and execution of labor contracts. The authors will even lay out specific challenges for next year’s fiscal budget. That’s the kind of attention that distinguishes fiscally sound cities like Boston from bankrupt ones like Detroit.
There is some danger that the next mayor will feel like a baby sitter who receives overly detailed instructions from an obsessive mother. But the winner will need to get over it. Menino does have a lot to teach about running a city the right way. And no transition blog can anticipate all of the wonderful and terrible things that take place within the city limits. Sooner than later, every mayor is called upon to improvise.
This week’s partial shutdown of federal workplaces and services shows just how dysfunctional government can be. The Menino administration’s transition blog, however, offers some relief for those who despair about the intentions and competence of elected officials. Anyone who takes a keen or even casual interest in government can call up the blog and gain access to the inner workings of a segment of government that actually works. Meanwhile, the next mayor of Boston goes on notice that there will be no excuse for blundering around in the dark.Lawrence Harmon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org