Illustration by Ryan Alexander-Tanner

MAYBE YOU REMEMBER all that hubbub last month about an 80-year-old sequoia up in St. Johns, and how the mean and awful parks bureau was going to have to cut it down to put in a new bridge and pathway.

Something interesting sat buried in all the neighbors' plaintive Facebook kvetching: Josh Alpert, a policy advisor on Mayor Charlie Hales' tiny staff, was among the dignitaries stuck watching the maddening saga unfold.

And that, you see, is something of a problem.

Because Alpert—with his boss neck-deep in a $25 million (for now) budget hole—arguably had more important places to be. Like, say, city hall. Or some bureau director's office.

But because Hales' office is only a month into its takeover of every city bureau and office, Alpert had no choice. For now, he's responsible for the parks bureau. And transportation. And the city's sewers. And so on. He's busy. Just like everyone else in Hales' office.

So when something goes wrong, and it always does, he's on call.

Consider it the hidden cost of Hales' decision to put his stamp on city bureaucracy at the same time as he's chewing on the city's worst budget crisis in a generation, while also fielding one of the smallest mayoral staffs in memory.

It's a good idea, in theory—keeping city commissioners from clinging to their bureau fiefdoms too fiercely. But it takes a toll. And it didn't help that Hales' chief of staff, Gail Shibley, was out sick for several days. Every commissioner's office has noticed something—though some don't seem to mind as much as others. (Hi, Dan!)

The office voicemail box has been full. It takes longer to get messages returned. The casual days of a commissioner's aide walking upstairs for a chat with a mayoral aide, or vice versa, are no more.

To be sure, Hales has enjoyed an extended honeymoon with his colleagues, with little things mostly forgiven and hopes high for improvement. Everyone appreciates his office's laser-like focus on the budget and the promise that he'll tackle systemic fiscal problems once and for all.

But that only goes so far. And just days before one of the most important weeks in the budget process—when financial planners sit down with the council to eviscerate bureau budget requests—some city hall insiders are holding their breath, worried the crush on city hall's third floor might not get better.

The concerns were news to Hales' office when I called to inquire. But spokesman Dana Haynes was gracious in responding.

"We appreciate hearing this. Communications between the offices seems very good, in both directions, and there's always room for improvement," he says. "As we reach our 60th day on the job, we readily admit we can't compare this year to past years. But we can report what we're hearing from internal city staff and from budget watchdogs: This budget is tough sledding. But so far so good."

In a few more weeks, we'll know if that's really true.