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Mayor Nutter's transition team is already at work

Having led the peripatetic life of a college basketball coach's wife, Karen Stokes knows a little about transition.

Having led the peripatetic life of a college basketball coach's wife, Karen Stokes knows a little about transition.

"Virginia Tech, East Carolina University, Wake Forest, University of Virginia, Texas," Stokes said when asked to rattle off a few of the stops. "When it is good, it's great. When it is bad, it just stinks. Which is why maybe I'm relishing this and not freaking out about it."

Stokes, 55, now works in City Hall. Her job is to help the Nutter administration pass the ball cleanly to the next mayor come Jan. 4, 2016, inauguration day.

"The mayor said to me: There should not be any hiccup in service from Jan. 4 to Jan. 5," Stokes recalled. "You wake up, and if you live in Philadelphia, you should not know there is a new mayor."

Even before the rest of the city was focused on whom that new mayor will be, Nutter was thinking of what that person will need to know when the time comes to surrender Room 215 in City Hall.

"Starting literally just after the November election, the mayor started talking to me about how we were going to help whoever was going to be the next mayor," said Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff Everett Gillison. "We wanted to make sure this would be a seamless transition."

Said Nutter: "It is not exactly a secret that at some point in time there is going to be a new mayor. The responsible thing to do is to prepare for that."

The administration reached out to Stokes, who was wrapping up a job working for Gov. Corbett as deputy director of his Southeast regional office.

She was hired by the city in January at $100,000 a year. Her title is project director. Her only responsibility is developing a transition plan.

"This a big job, and you want someone focused solely on it," Nutter said. "If you take someone who already is doing something else, they are kind of doing this and kind of doing something else. You want focus."

The administration hopes for a smoother transition than the one in 2008 when Nutter took over from John Street, a rival who had been the foil of Nutter's mayoral campaign.

Communications between the two parties had been tense, at best. Come inauguration day, the new Nutter appointees found their offices still littered with refuse left by those they were replacing.

Stokes laughed when asked about it.

"That history might have helped me get this job," she said, saying a superior whom she did not identify had told her as much. "They wanted to make sure there was not a similar transition."

Stokes has gone about her job methodically, starting by tracking down past transition reports and introducing herself to the key administrators.

Then came the request: She needed each department head and commission chair to produce a status report on their responsibilities as 2015 runs out. That included initiatives pursued, staffing questions, and looming challenges.

Ultimately, she will pull it together into a comprehensive compendium of city operations for the next administration. Gillison pointed to three four-inch-wide ring binders on the shelf of his office wall. They made up the 700-page transition document the Street administration provided Nutter in 2008.

"The goal is to give people enough information so they understand the critical issues that are going to hit their departments in the first 90 days," Gillison said. "It is a primer for people coming into government, sometimes for the first time."

Stokes keeps that goal in mind as she meets with the administration's leaders.

"I've asked them what they would have liked to have known the first few days, weeks, months on the job," Stokes said. "Now I have to figure out the best way to package that information."

Another challenge is calming the waters.

"We are being really transparent about the transition, but that scares the bejesus out of some people who don't know what that might mean to them," she said. "We want to empower people, not terrify them."

Asked about the transition, Stokes, Gillison, and Nutter were respectful of the democratic process, going out of their way to treat both nominees - Democrat James F. Kenney and Republican Melissa Murray Bailey - as potential mayors, although the Democratic Party's 7-1 voter registration edge suggests that Bailey should not waste too much time picking her staff.

Gillison said the administration was already sharing information with both candidates. After a winner is selected in November, the administration expects the process to accelerate.

"By the last week of December and first couple of days of January, it will be busy," Gillison said. "Just when you think it is going to be nice and easy, those of us in leadership positions will be working hard to share what we know."

Among them will be Nutter.

"It is all very fast and rapid," he said. "There is a lot to learn. I just want to make sure the next mayor is up to speed on things so they can get a running start. My role is to be supportive. Otherwise, I will stay out of the way."