Saturday, March 29, 2008

Subtle Brilliance - Funkhouser's Triumph of Leadership

When I went trout fishing over the summer, my guide would often whisper, "Do you see that one out there?", and gesture toward a patch of stream. Despite my polarized sunglasses and best efforts, I did not have the experience to see clearly into the moving water and distinguish the shape and color of a trout among the rocks and moss in the stream. "No", I would whisper back, but cast to the spot anyhow, knowing that my lack of vision didn't mean the fish wasn't there.

Various commentators have failed similarly in looking at the budget battles that ended this week. They think they know what leadership looks like, but they don't see Funkhouser standing out in the moving waters of the negotiations like they think a big fish would.

The visible leaders in the process were Deb Hermann and Jan Marcasson, and they deserve every bit of praise they are getting. They did a superlative job of crafting a budget that everyone could sign off on, blunting Cauthen's attempts to undermine it, and making the most significant steps toward fiscal responsibility this city has seen in a decade. We are miles and miles from Cauthen's "happy face" budget that he produced in February. Instead, we have a fiscally responsible budget that begins to tie hard numbers to citizen priorities.

If Hermann and Marcasson were the visible leaders in this process, why am I praising Funkhouser's triumph of leadership?

He's the guy that made it happen. Just as Grant and Sherman deserve credit for leading the Union Army to victory, Lincoln (another tall elected official without Hollywood good looks) was the leader that saved the Union. I'm not equating Funkhouser and Lincoln, but I am pointing out that great leaders are wise enough to create conditions for other great leaders.

Back when Cauthen issued his deeply flawed budget plan, Funkhouser did something that no other recent Mayor has done. He sent it out immediately to his cohorts on the council and to the entire city, demonstrating a commitment to exactly the sort of integrity, competence and transparency which guided the voters to elect him. He set out on an ambitious and well-attended series of forums, empowering people who have never been invited to a political backroom to participate in the process.

Most importantly, he directed the City Manager to come up with a budget that really solved the structural imbalance in our budget (offering Cauthen an opportunity to atone for one of the lies on his resume). Of course, that budget was a harsh document full of painful cuts that everyone knew was dead on arrival. But it set a baseline, and grabbed the attention necessary to create change. If Funkhouser had not demanded that document, of if he had created his own harsh budget, the budget passed this week would have been a tinkered version of Cauthen's fantasy-world opening budget, and we would still be speeding on the path to financial ruin.

Another great stroke of leadership was to get behind the Hermann/Marcasson budget, even though it did not match up to some of his goals, such as putting 20 new cops on the streets, etc. Those are promises that will simply have to wait until our financial house is in better order, and a great leader is one who recognizes and supports solid work by others. Hermann and Marcasson crafted a solid budget based on financial reality, and Mark would have been foolish to let his version of the best become the enemy of the very, very good.

Remember a couple months ago, when people were actually talking about recall? Here we are, 8 weeks later, and we have a Mayor with more political capital than ever, a council with a dozen responsible members, and a budget that reflects our Mayor's values instead of our City Manager's fantasy world.

Sometimes, leadership means standing up alone in the howling storm and, through incredible feats of strength and courage, changing the future. If you were expecting Funkhouser to seize the podium at City Hall and, through a dominating personality and brimstone-filled speech, force the Council to accept a budget that was his, all his, you were probably one of those who wondered where Mark's leadership was this week.

Some people aren't very good at seeing beneath the surface.

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18 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan -

I agree completely. Funkhouser campaigned on restoring fiscal responsibility to city hall, and this week he delivered big time. No, he is not flashy, but he gets the job done. Haven't seen a politician like that in a long time.

3/29/2008 7:47 PM  
Blogger Xavier Onassis said...

You're overselling this and giving him way more credit than he deserves.

The scenario you describe assumes an astute and almost instinctual grasp of Machiavellian politics.

If Funkhouser possessed such skills, he never would have fallen victim to rookie mistakes like appointing Semler to the Parks board and installing his wife as his Chief of Staff and Campaign Treasurer.

He does not posses the subtle manipulative skills with which you credit him.

He is a ham-handed, socially-inept bean-counter who got a lucky break when a couple of City Council members stepped up with a workable compromise.

Not exactly "subtle brilliance" or a "triumph of leadership".

3/29/2008 7:53 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Good points, XO. Here's my perspective.

I’d like to think, Dan, that many of us are quite capable of seeing beneath the surface of things, and w are capable of sophisticated critical thought.

The interesting dynamic here is that both Wayne Cauthen and Funk, by positioning themselves the way they did, created the middle ground. That what happens when you have people that assume extremes – me being the glass half full kinda person – I see this as the beneficial creation of the general parameters of a compromise. More on that in a sec.

I’d like to get one thing out of the way first: Funk was on the right side on this issue. You are correctly (and we all should be) proud of him, generally, for his performance here.

Having said that, it is quite an overstatement to call Funk’s performance and leadership brilliant. In fact, Funk’s performance is adequate and up-to-snuff as far as a good, at large member of the Council representing the city. But it stops there, and he ended the whole thing with a horrible lapse of judgment in his letter to the Civic Council. A monumental blunder.

You’re also assuming that the council would not act in a fiscally responsible way without Funk. I disagree strongly with that assertion. Our council is capable of fiscal responsibility in the absence of Funk.

Let’s talk about leadership.

And you brought up Lincoln. Let’s set the record straight here on Funk and Lincoln. I know you specifically stated you weren’t comparing the two, but I’m going to set the record straight anyways. It’s a perfect way, as well, to highlight the leadership dynamic I’m looking for in my political leaders.

Lincoln is more apropos here than any other leader. I’m glad you brought it up.

Lincoln had an amazing (and very strange) combination of three things that made him great. (1) He was a very good, very accomplished career politician. He loved politics. He was an active politico for the majority of his adult life. He considered himself a professional politician, with a high degree of self-deprecation which was his style. (2) He was kindhearted and forgiving, to a fault. And he held very few grudges. (3) He had a very interesting and strong sense of what was right, a sense of right and wrong that often ran contrary to the majority opinion and conventional wisdom of his time. And he held on to his convictions.

This is going somewhere, btw.

These three traits came together into a personality who, everyday of his political life, actively worked for and sought compromise. That was Lincoln in a nutshell.

Incidentally, if you want to read just one book on Lincoln, throw out the Sandberg and other nonsense and read “Lincoln’s Virtues”, by William Lee Miller. He does a good job getting past the overused and inaccurate characterizations. Another good book is “Reelecting Lincoln: The Battle for the 1864 Presidency” by John Waugh.

The heart of Lincoln’s style was compromise. He didn’t smoke, drink or cuss. Yet most of the people he sought out socially, the people he enjoyed to be around, and the people that really liked him, did all of those things. In the face of incredible pressure, he was the symbol of what at the time was a forgiving attitude on the South – a softer reconstruction than many wanted, less vengeful, and he was perceived to be slow-moving and slow to mandate and enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.

Lincoln was a symbol of compromise. He didn’t sit on the sidelines throwing out an extreme, expecting others to be responsible for a compromise. He, himself, took on the responsibility of forging, and being the symbol of, compromise.

Lincoln public policy positions on slavery were significant compromises, based upon Lincoln’s savvy political collation.

(Remember, while Lincoln was anti-slavery, there were different flavors of anti-slavery – within the then Republican party - that were far more different than the differences between Democrats and Republican today.)

Lincoln was, by his daily actions, working to bring about compromise. Other people framed the extremes (going back to my first paragraph) and Lincoln worked on the compromises necessary. He stood for certain values, and worked every day to compromise to move in a forward direction towards his eventual goal.

Now, in my first paragraph, I mentioned that Funk established one end of the battle. Keep in mind Cauthen was the other end – I think you may have noted that Cauthen first counter-proposed a draconian budget, but that budget had another agenda I’m sure you’re aware of.

You indicated Dan, that Funk, after throwing down the gauntlet, let Marcason and Hermann work out the compromise, and then threw his lot in with Marcason/Hermann.

What would Lincoln have done? I’m certain about this answer: Lincoln would have established what he thought exactly to be the middle ground. Lincoln would have his sleeves rolled up, and be hunkered down trying the hammer out a compromise, instead of letting others take on that responsibility. Lincoln would have done that because of his love for politics, and his dedication to making forward progress in steps.

I expect my political leadership to behave exactly that way, and I don’t think Funk quite measured up.

However, you certainly do have reason to be proud of him.

3/29/2008 8:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I AM THE MAYOR!!!! LISTEN TO ME ME ME ME!! I AM SMART! I AM EDUCATED!!! I HAVE A PHD!!! P H F*CKING D!!!

LISTEN TO ME!! I AM THE MAYOR!

3/29/2008 9:10 PM  
Anonymous travel said...

The budget axed the additional police officers that are desperately needed in Kansas City. Once a city goes to hell because of crime, everything else falls to pieces. Why not use a little creativity and invite surrounding cities/counties to participate in a metro wide crack down on crime. I would be willing to financially support such an initiative. A safe city benefits all the communities around it. Funk may be a good bean counter, but I think he needs to learn how to cook them.

3/29/2008 9:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Funk ain't as bad as the last one.

Some of you have way to much time to write on blogs.

3/30/2008 6:59 AM  
Anonymous Officer Smiley said...

20 additional police officers would have meant absolutely zero in crime reduction, and everybody inside knows it. It was a political symbol, and Funky showed a lot of class when he gave up that symbol to move forward.

Funk has also been the best Mayor on the Police Board ever. He takes it seriously.

3/30/2008 9:49 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Mainstream - it's hard to take your faux scholarship on Lincoln seriously when you don't even know who Mark wrote to.

It's funny that you consider the man who led our nation into an actual, real-life, shooting, brother-against-brother civil war to be a better compromiser than somebody who just got Terry Riley to vote for a good budget.

XO - You fall victim to yet another myth of leadership. There's nothing Machiavellian or manipulative about working with others to accomplish a goal. The majority of the council is there to try to do good things. He simply created space for them to do it in.

3/30/2008 10:41 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Dan,

Funk didn't get Terry Riley to vote for the budget.

Do you really think he did?

And huh? You're trying to convince us that Funk does a better job than Lincoln on compromising?

You are truly a delusional Funkette.

I figured, hmm, give Dan a little bit of a nod here, but point out, in as nice a way possible, my view of Funk's better the avg(given the last year) performance - that was however, far from brilliant.

Tell you what, I'll type the "Civic Council" intead of the "Chamber" - and you keep on trying to convince us Funk is a world-class coalition builder.

Oh, and that he got Terry Riley to cave on the budget.

What nonsense, and nothing, in those two cases could have been farther from the truth.

"Subtle brilliance"?

Subtle bullshit.

Once again, you, Funk and the rest of his mean-spirited advisors and fans have turned an ok situation into yet another divisive fiasco.

The Chamber letter was obnoxious, and embarrassing.

I'll take my "faux" scholarship any day over your Funkette interpretation of recent and not-so-recent history.

Oh - and keep on holding up Funk as a great leader, on par with Lincoln, oh, and Obama.

You guys buy into that crap, but most reasonable people don't.

You said above:

"It's funny that you consider the man who led our nation into an actual, real-life, shooting, brother-against-brother civil war to be a better compromiser than somebody who just got Terry Riley to vote for a good budget."

To answer the question again, yes, I do NOT think Funk is a better political leader and compromiser than Lincoln.

I'll stand by that without any fear of anybody (except you) trying to say otherwise.

What bullshit you attempt to serve up.

3/30/2008 12:40 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

There you go again, Mainstream, falling prey to your misunderstandings of true leadership. In your unsophisticated understanding, the only way Mark could get Riley on his side would be to get him to "cave" on the budget.

Great leaders don't have to resort to fire and brimstone to accomplish worthy goals, particularly when working with others who have the good of the city at heart, as did Mr. Riley.

But, to address your concerns about his letter to the GKCCoC, sometimes it IS necessary to stand up for yourself. I know that the city is more accustomed to a Mayor who viewed herself as more of a waitress at Sonic - jotting down the orders of the bigwigs and working to deliver their orders quickly and with a smile - but I'm glad to see Mark call the Chamber on its duplicity and gutlessness. Another of the reasons I voted for Mark is that he doesn't kowtow to power often - a trait that sometimes causes short-term problems but will, I am confident, result in his longterm greatness.

FWIW, I don't think that Funk is a better politician and "compromiser" than Lincoln, either. Nor do I think that compromise is the ultimate virtue in a politician.

3/30/2008 2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan, have you ever compared Funkhouser to Obama? I think that mainstream's hearing voices again.

3/30/2008 2:07 PM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

No anon, I'm not hearing voices. The voice regarding Obama (& his wife Michele) were comments of Gloria, who on several occasions mage analogies between herself and Funk to the candidate couple.

Dan….unsophisticated? You could be right, let’s see.

My point of view originates from my understanding of our form of gov’t. The Mayor's power resides in essentially four forms (I'm oversimplifying): (1) appointments; (2) bully-pulpit of the office, as a symbol of Kansas City and a significant influencer of things; (3) as a coalition-builder and member of coalitions on council; and (4) as a single voter and at-large member of the council.

(Hint: #3 above is what REALLY accomplishes things in our form of gov't) The mayor of Kansas City is not, in name or spirit, chief executive of anything.

Now, if you want to argue about whether #3 is the source of most of the Mayor’s power, I’m certainly open to that.

But to say compromise (budgetary and legislative compromise, which is what we have with this approved budget) is not a significant part of leadership in our form of government, well… that’s just….

Unsophisticated.

Dan, you're way overselling the Mayor's accomplishments.

You know, you could have just said, "mainstream, I don't agree with your definition of leadership. We'll just have to agree to disagree, I'm just glad you're beginning to recognize that Funk is adding value in the way you and I had in mind when we voted for him. I'd urge you to consider my points." Or something like that. That would more than likely shut me up as well, considering I think I always seem to need to have the last word, which is irritating, I know.

But noooooooooooooooooooooo. You couldn’t do that.

That would be a tactic that would leave everybody feeling like they’ve won, they’ve had input. A foreign concept apparently to you and the Funk Admin.

Compromise is not the only definition of leadership, but it’s a prime component of how our Mayor can effectively form and implement public policy.

I have yet to see you or anybody else see Funk make a coalition on an issue work in council. All of your examples, and specifics, describe Funk acting as an island.

Including the budget.

And then, coming out of a clear victory (regardless of my criticism), he has to fire off an ill-conceived letter to the Chamber, justifying his power based upon his academic background, and reminding people that “he’s the mayor.”

Here’s something fundamentally wrong here.

Funk essentially won on this, regardless of my criticism, so why burn bridges at this point? Why do you feel the need to publicly proclaim his “subtle brilliance”? (When that’s a stretch)

One step forward, two steps back.

I’ve given this advice to Funk and to you so many times I can’t count them: take the high ground – just about always -, build bridges and make people feel that “we as a city” have won. When you brag and try and rub the losers faces in their defeat, you’re creating life-long enemies and hurting yourself in the short and long run.

And I’ll tell you, and everybody else that will listen, that Funk did well. But “subtley brilliant” is going a little too far.

3/30/2008 3:53 PM  
Anonymous You Must Assimilate said...

Dan - the fact that you've not responded to Mainstream's last bout of goofiness may mean that you are allowing him the last word, since it was so transparently ineffective, or it may mean that you actually have a life outside this blog.

I feel like I need to point something out to you, even though you seem like a smart person. You need to understand the rules of engagement regarding Funkhouser in the world of blogs.

First off, you piss people like Mainstream off when you say nice things about Funkhouser. Praise is a provocation. And, when people like Mainstream get provoked, they imagine things that aren't there. I went back and looked for where you said that compromise "is not a significant part of leadership in our form of government", and realized that Mainstream had, for the thousandth time, imagined you said something you hadn't.

Don't you see that by saying something nice about Funkhouser (and Marcason, and Hermann, and the entire council), you took "one step forward, two steps back"? Because people are free to rip on Funkhouser every single day (read Tony's daily crap, if you can stomach it, or the morons at Prime Buzz - Mainstream's not even the dumbest one there!) - including made up shit and name-calling, but if you dare to say something praising him, you are taking two steps back. Don't you get that?

And why don't you listen to Mainstream's "high road" advice, while he's attacking you and making stuff up about what you haven't said? What's wrong with you?

Join the crowd, Dan. Join the chorus of people who live to deride the Mayor. Join the people like mainstream who believe that leadership exists only if you take orders from the Chamber of Commerce, or attack the Mayor. Join them, Dan.

Think alike.

3/30/2008 6:14 PM  
Anonymous travel said...

Officer Smiley - I'd appreciate some further explanation of why additional police officers would not benefit KC.

3/30/2008 8:04 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

Thanks for the advice, You Must. I was out at BB's Lawnside, and I was shocked that even blues singers can't find the negative side of things as regularly as the Funk haters. Nor did they get angry when we applauded one of the other musicians.

Good times.

3/31/2008 6:13 AM  
Anonymous mainstream said...

Dan is the "HAP HAZARD!!" of KC politics.

For the claims he makes, he might as well be wearing a plaid suit and flailing his arms wildly.

Thank God he's lost some weight, otherwise he'll hurt somebody supporting Funk the way he does, God Bless him.

Note to the comment from "you must (be an) ass..."

People don't get mad at Dan when he says nice things about the Mayor.

They get mad when he calls the budget deal approved by council as a Mayoral "Triumph of Leadership" and "Subtle Brilliance".

Kinda like the old saying about a salesman -- "When you're getting chased out of town, act like you're leading a parade."

I've said a million times Funk did well on this issue. Dan should be proud of him - and I say that honestly.

But a "Triumph of (Funk) Leadership"????

An exaggeration, to say the very least, considering he didn't do anything or expend any energy on compromising.

And Dan, of course, said that compromise was not a first priority, and I then mentioned the only real power the Mayor has is to lead legislative coalitions.

But when it comes to Funk, Dan's selling used cars. He would increase his credibility by not trying to oversell his candidate.

(note to Dan, Gloria, Joe: it's probably time now to quit ranting about Funk's academic credentials, no one cares, and it actually works against you. Teaching 19 year olds about auditing is 1,000 miles away from managing a major urban city.)

3/31/2008 8:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This could be the most pathetic attempt to kiss any one politician's butt that i have ever seen. Do you seriously think that we now have a mayor "with more capital than ever before"?

I must be hearing things since every event that I attend is full of people making fun of him. And believe me when I tell you that I don't miss community events.

4/01/2008 1:28 PM  
Anonymous Porch Pundit said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but I don't believe you. Why would anyone believe an anonymous commenter making bogus factual allegations?

(Oh, I get it, you were making an April Fool's joke, since everyone who really is at the community forums seems impressed with him and enthusiastic about the opportunity to be heard.)

4/01/2008 1:38 PM  

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