March 24, 2014: Everett Gillison, Chief of Staff for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, in Rome as part of the delegation for the 2015 World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia.
Playing host to an international event like the 2015 World Meeting of Families (WMOF) is no small endeavor. There is one man, specifically, who will be in charge of making sure people are safe and that the event, which could draw two million people, runs smoothly. Everett Gillison, who is mayor Michael Nutter's chief of staff. Gillison is in Rome with the mayor and other delegates as they plan the WMOF and as they meet Pope Francis face-to-face. We stopped Gillison near the Pantheon today to ask him a few questions about how the city will deal with things, logistically.
Q: Tell us about your role with the 2015 World Meeting of Families.
A: Well, I'm the mayor's Chief of Staff but I'm also Deputy Mayor of Public Safety and in both roles, I have to serve as the person responsible for convening all of the various agencies that do big event -- police, fire and we have homeland security. All of those people come together in doing any big event and this event is obviously going to tax all of us. I have to come up with a plan that will not only keep everyone safe, but so everyone can enjoy themselves while they're in Philadelphia.
Q: That's a huge role.
A: It's a huge role. It's a huge logistics role. But we've grown from when we first started as a staff of about six to now, whenever we do our MIA (Made in America) or Welcome America stuff, we sometimes have upwards of 40 or 50 people in a room. So you know, I've gotten used to doing this. The city's gotten very good at it, we have a lot of great public servants who help us to make sure that we achieve what we need to do.
Q: How confident are you that the city can pull off something this big?
A: Very. I'm pretty sure we can do it. The only thing that we always have to worry about is that the people remain flexible. We have to manage everyone's expectations, both people in the city who are going to want to know that they're still having their needs met while all these other people are coming around, so we have to manage our communications, we have to manage our flexibility with our responses to people and we also have to make sure people understand that this is a good thing for all of us. As the city's statue continues to ride on a world-wide level, there's challenges to it, but there's a lot of positives.
Look we're standing in Rome right now, I'm in the Piazza next to the Parthenon and I'm learning about things, and I'm about to meet the pope to talk about his role in continuing Philadelphia's view as a holy experiment. I really think that it's an honor to be here and it's an honor to make sure our city can respond in a positive way.
Q: How important is this face-to-face meeting with members of the Pontifical Council for Families that is planning the WMOF?
A: I always think relationships are built. And they are the ones that last. I think face-to-face is always where you want to start, because you really have to find a certain context or common ground as you build on having something.
Q: A lot of older people are going to want to be at this event if the Pope comes to Philadelphia. How does the city deal with the emergencies and special needs that could create?
A: All of that has to be a part of the planning and sometimes that means you have to divide things up. We may end up having to do something like serve communion in several different places and have it be all part of the same big moment. Whatever we figure out, it will be a great thing for our city.
Q: What are you most in awe of here, being in Rome?
A: I've been here about half a day, but I think just the sense of history. The experience. Just being here. It's my first time to Rome and I'm actually looking at an obelisk that Moses may have had his eyes on when he was a kid. With my spirituality, to be able to be around these kinds of things, it humbles both my spirit and humbles me as an individual. And I'm just blessed to be here at this time and to have this opportunity.