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September 5, 2006

Your Weekly Reeder: Jurich 101 - The governor should enroll post haste

When Ernie Fletcher got to Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the Governor’s Cup football game between Kentucky and Louisville, I hope the first thing he did was look up Tom Jurich. The governor should ask the U of L vice president for athletics to let him spend a week following him around and picking his brain.

I’m serious. Jurich has, in abundance, the leadership skills that Fletcher so painfully lacks. Look at it like this: If the two were to switch jobs, state government would be far better off under Jurich than U of L athletics would be under Fletcher.

I know, I know. Jurich knows little or nothing about health insurance, energy and other pressing issues. So what? He can hire wonks and geeks to be his policy experts. The important thing is, he knows how to inspire, motivate and delegate. He knows talent when he sees it and he knows who to trust.

I understand that certain leadership traits are innate and can’t be taught. You can’t teach personality. You can’t teach charisma. But you can teach common sense, the commodity that’s been most painfully lacking in the Fletcher administration.

Common sense is the foundation of good policy and good public relations. The two go hand in hand. If you have one without the other, you’re doomed to failure. Jurich could teach Fletcher a lot about common sense.

Look at how Jurich deals with the media, for example. He’s accessible, candid and quotable. He treats the media as friends, not enemies, and he knows how to play those who desire to be on the inside of U of L athletics, which is most of us.

When Jurich was named to succeed Bill Olsen, he didn’t begin making personnel changes as soon as he hit town. He listened and learned. He gave everyone, including former basketball coach Denny Crum, ample opportunity to prove they deserved to keep their jobs.

To this day some of his most trusted staffers — Kenny Klein and Kevin Miller, to name two — were in place before Jurich came aboard. Fletcher, on the other hand, doesn’t have any top advisers who worked in previous administrations, and this lack of institutional knowledge has led him to make crucial mistakes that could have been avoided with more experienced aides in place.

Once Jurich makes up his mind, he has the courage of his convictions. From day one, he said U of L basketball would never play in an arena built at the old Water Company site. To many, his reasons seemed specious bordering on lame. It made no difference. He stuck to his guns until everyone, including Mayor Jerry Abramson, bent to his will.

For better or worse, Jurich got his way.

On the other hand, Fletcher too often has been a follower instead of a leader. He has gotten a lot of bad advice from his inner circle and not recognized it for what it was. He also has demonstrated a misguided sense of loyalty to those who have served him badly, a character flaw that has driven many capable individuals, including most of his Cabinet Secretaries, out of state government.

Sadly, we already have evidence that the governot — ah, governor — hasn’t learned much from his disastrous and debilitating battle with Attorney General Greg Stumbo in the merit-system investigation.

The ink was barely dry on the surprising cease-fire agreement with Stumbo when doggone if Fletcher wasn’t out there proclaiming his innocence despite the fact that he had just accepted responsibility for wrongdoing within his administration.

In other words, he engaged in hubris when humility was in order, immediately raising questions about his sincerity, his grip on reality and his ability to rebuild his credibility. It was decidedly not the way to begin mending fences.

With the merit-system mess behind him, Fletcher now has an opportunity, however slim, to become a viable candidate for re-election in 2007. It depends on whether he has learned from his mistakes, whether he’s willing to make changes in philosophy and staff, and whether he’s willing to rise above the petty politics that so far have been his undoing.

The odds against him are as daunting as Giacomo’s odds of winning the 2005 Kentucky Derby, but handicappers should never underestimate the built-in advantages of being a sitting governor.

So let’s encourage the governor to take a course in Jurich 101. It might not be enough to get him re-elected, but it would surely make him a more effective leader for the rest of this term.

Contact the writer at
leo@leoweekly.com