Commentary: Thoughts on the Departure of Dirk Brazil and the Needs of the City Going Forward

City Hall

The statement this week that City Manager Dirk Brazil had announced his retirement, effective January 8, 2018, came as a bit of a surprise.  There had been speculation ever since Dan Wolk left the city council that Dirk Brazil might be following him and leaving at some point, but, as time went on, frankly that seemed less likely.

His departure after just over three years as city manager seems to continue a trend that he lamented early in his term.  A Davis Enterprise article from June 2015, six months into his tenure as Davis city manager, noted, “He’s also helping repair damage done from the recession, repeated state takeaways from city budgets and the carousel of seven different city CEOs in the past 15 years.”

That carousel now will continue and, depending on the ability to hire someone quickly, the city might have to employ another interim city manager.  In 2014, Steve Pinkerton left in April, and Dirk Brazil was hired in late November.

Mr. Brazil represented markedly contrasting styles from his predecessors.  Steve Pinkerton was very hands-on.  Dirk Brazil, at least in the public arena, seemed to have a much more hands-off approach, allowing the assistant city managers to make the bulk of staff presentations.

What are the needs of the city at this point?

It is interesting to reflect on what we went through in July 2014 when the Vanguard ran a three-part series, “What Makes a Good City Manager?”

Part 1 – What Does Davis Need in a City Manager?

Part 2 – What Makes a Good City Manager – the Good and the Bad

Part 3 – What Qualities Does Davis Need in a City Manager?

In order to answer that question this time around, let us look at what I see as the three most pressing issues in Davis – although all are somewhat related.

First, we have the fiscal health of the city.  In 2014, the city was still emerging from the Great Recession.  Recall that in the spring, the city council pushed for a sales tax.  In fact, when Steve Pinkerton was leaving, he agreed to do a series of meetings laying out the city’s fiscal position.

While the immediate structural deficit disappeared, the city went through a time under Dan Wolk where the word out of City Hall was “Davis Renaissance” and the mayor trumpeted a balanced budget, 15 percent reserve, and fiscal resiliency.

The reality was not there and the city, under the leadership of Mayor Robb Davis, the Finance and Budget Commission and the consultant Bob Leland, identified an ongoing shortfall of just under $8 million – and some believe that to be a low number.

The finance department has been some sort of mixed bag under the current city manager.  For years the city’s finance director was Paul Navazio, who left to become Woodland’s city manager in 2012.  Steve Pinkerton had his own vast knowledge of the budget and finances and put budget control as a key priority.  He brought in another former city manager, Yvonne Quiring, as his finance person, to various effects.

Under Dirk Brazil the city has not put in place a strong finance director, the city manager himself does not have a background in finance and for a few years I would argue that the city was not advancing the ball forward on the fiscal concerns.  Only this year, under consultant Bob Leland and pressure from the mayor and city council, have we gotten back on track fiscally, in my view.

Second, we have the issue of housing which is quite vexing and in some ways outside of the control of the city manager.  After all, the council voted to put Nishi on the ballot –we can certainly argue that Nishi had its flaws, and the voters ended up rejecting it.

While the city manager himself does not have a land use background, again, unlike Mr. Pinkerton, the city has solid leadership under Community Development Director and Assistant City Manager Mike Webb.  And they made a solid hiring decision, despite our initial trepidations about his background, with the hire of Ashley Feeney who had previously worked for the New Home Company which brought us Cannery.

Third, the area in which I have greatest concern at this point is on the economic development front.  Without harping on the decision too much, I would argue that letting Rob White go as Chief Innovation Officer was a huge mistake and a blow to economic development in the city.

When Dirk Brazil came in, we had two solid projects on the table for economic development and innovation parks.  Davis Innovation Park and Mace Ranch Innovation Park.  Davis Innovation Park has since been left and has reformed in another form in Woodland.  MRIC continues to meander through the system, having just obtained EIR certification even though its future remains unclear.

All is not lost here.  We have seen Area 52 and the Sierra Energy company pushing for an innovation site on their South Davis location.  We have also seen the purchase of what is now the University Research Park by Fulcrum Properties.  But overall I think we have taken steps backward and not forward since 2014, when everything seemed to be lining up in our favor.

There are opportunities with the new chancellor and the Greater Sacramento Economic Council’s push for a regional innovation center, but that will require skill and a lot of leadership to pull off.

I see those three issues as the areas in biggest need of an influx of leadership, starting with the city manager and a vigorous city council.  Which way will the council now go with a new hire and how quickly can they get a new person in place?

—David M. Greenwald reporting



Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$
USD
Sign up for

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

36 thoughts on “Commentary: Thoughts on the Departure of Dirk Brazil and the Needs of the City Going Forward”

  1. Greg Rowe

    I’ve been actively involved in a lot of cities and have therefore seen a variety of city managers and city management styles.  They include Sy Murray in Cincinnati and San Diego.  At that time Cincy had a relatively “weak” council-mayor system coupled with a “strong” manager. Murray’s strong leadership style worked there, but he ran into big problems when he became city manager in San Diego, where he butted heads with that city’s then strong mayor, Maureen O’Conner.  Given that type of experience, perhaps it would be wise for the city council to first consider what kind of council it wants to be, and select a city manager with a temperament and leadership style to match.   I’ve also witnessed the ultra-strong leadership style of former Sacramento City Manager Bob Thomas, who was obviously “running the show.”  (He also for a time was the Sac County CEO.)  Thomas was an economic development expert and unquestionably got a lot done, but his brusque style eventually wore thin on many, including the mayor and council.  I don’t think that style would necessarily resonate with Davis residents.

    I’ve been surprised that in a city the size of Davis that the council members have no staff. Given that all of them have other jobs, I don’t know how they keep up with the demands of being on council. Regardless of whether the new city manager is highly visible or gets things done by working quietly behind the scenes (as did Mr. Brazil), I think Council would be well advised to hire a manager that can assist the council by carrying some of their burden, while providing guidance based on successful experience and accomplishments elsewhere. I don’t think it matters if that person is at a point in their career where they may, too, retire in 3-4 years.

    I also think a track record of success in economic development combined with budget and finance is essential. Also, given that UCD has thus far made no affirmative response to the City and County resolutions calling for at least 50% of the students to be housed on campus in 2027-28, I think it is essential for the next city manager to be prepared to take whatever actions are necessary (both publicly visible and behind the scenes) to continue putting pressure on UCD.

    As it  currently stands, UCD’s rapid enrollment growth in recent years has resulted in a student population (more than  35,000 this quarter) that is now equal to more than 50% of the city’s population of 68,740 in January of this year. I know of few other towns where the local university’s student population is so large in relative terms.   The UCD draft Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) projects that UCD will add 11,000 more people to the “university family” between 2017 and the 2027-28 academic year (including students, faculty, staff, Los Rios Community College students, dependents and affiliated non-UCD employees), but for the most part does not indicate where all those people will live and how they will get to and from campus every day.  I hope the next city manager, along with council, will press UCD on where it expects that huge expansion to be accommodated, and makes sure the resultant impacts are thoroughly analyzed in the EIR.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think the staffing issue is the counter-side to the salary issue.  If you had councilmembers making sufficient salary, they may not need a “day job” and therefore may not need their own staff. Personally I would prefer both, but I don’t seem to have a lot of support for that notion.

      1. Tia Will

        I would prefer both, but I don’t seem to have a lot of support for that notion.”

        You have it from me. But then I doubt that has even as much significance as your opinion. I am a strong believer in paying for what we want. Given that we are rapidly approaching a city population of 70,000, I believe that we need to compensate our leaders sufficiently ( salary and support) to allow them to adequately perform what have become full time jobs.

      2. Howard P

        Unclear what you mean by,

        “If you had councilmembers making sufficient salary, they may not need a “day job” and therefore may not need their own staff.”

        “sufficient salary”, in Davis, means low 6 figures… plus PERS, Medical, etc…

        Yet, you continually fail to investigate/disclose what the true compensation is for CC members…

        Whatever…

    2. Matt Williams

      Greg Rowe said . . . “As it  currently stands, UCD’s rapid enrollment growth in recent years has resulted in a student population (more than  35,000 this quarter) that is now equal to more than 50% of the city’s population of 68,740 in January of this year.”

      Greg, let’s drill down into your statement.  The numbers below are the  decade-by-decade Total Enrollment numbers for the City of Davis and UCD from 1970 to present:
      1970 ______ 1980 _____ 1990 _____ 2000 _____ 2010
      12,971 ____ 18,370 ____ 23,318 ___ 25,075 ___ 30,449 _____ UCD Total Enrollment
      23,488 ____ 36,640 ____ 46,209 ___ 60,308 ___ 65,622 _____ City of Davis Population
      55.1% _____ 50.1% ____ 50.5% ____ 41.6% ___ 46.4% _____ Enrollment as a Percentage of Population

      So your statement that UCD’s enrollment growth means a student population equal to more than 50% of the city’s population is correct, but that statement is not inconsistent with 5 decades of UCD/City of Davis history.

      1. Ron

        Matt:  “So your statement that UCD’s enrollment growth means a student population equal to more than 50% of the city’s population is correct . . .”

        Actually, the numbers above don’t disclose the percentage of student population residing in Davis (at any point in time).

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          There’s a data point that Matt should include which is that the current student population growth has occurred without a corresponding city growth.

        2. Ron

          Assuming I’m calculating it correctly, the city actually grew at a significantly faster rate than UCD, in the numbers that Matt presented.

          Again, though – one cannot determine the increased amount/percentage of students “absorbed” by the city, using the numbers above.

        3. Ron

          John:  I didn’t ask a question.  However, from prior postings, I understand that the city is already housing approximately 63% of the total student population (which is more than 20,000 students).

        4. John D

          Ron,

          Should have said: My comment was in reference to your non-question:

          “Again, though – one cannot determine the increased amount/percentage of students “absorbed” by the city, using the numbers above.”

          85% between 2000-2015.

        5. Ron

          John:  I was referring to the percentage of students that Davis houses.  In other words, start with the total number of students, then determine what percentage of those students that the city of Davis houses. (It’s approximately 63% of the total number of students.)

          I believe that the original source of that information was UCD, itself.

          Not sure what’s “painful” about that. (Unless one believes that the percentage/amount should be even higher, for example.)

        6. Ron

          John:  Just saw the other part of your post.

          Yes – it appears that the city absorbed an even higher percentage, during the past few years.  (All the more reason for UCD to do its part. In fact, the discrepancy is worse than I suggested.)

          Honestly, I don’t know why Matt even initiated the “statistics without a point.” (Not to mention that it’s pretty off-topic, here. I simply responded to it.)

        7. John D

          Ron,

          No, my misreading of your earlier comment – thought it was (coincidentally perhaps) in reference to the table’s 63% of adult Davis residents who are either university students or retirees.

          I think we’re engaged here in a micro-discussion of university “impacts” on their “local” host communities and we’re solely focused on trends in the student demographic – when the more dramatic influence on such local host communities can more often be traced to the proliferation of well-paying, private-sector technology jobs flowing from the university – a phenomenon with has clearly eluded us here in Davis.

          Perhaps that’s by design, but certainly it does stand out as a particularly unusual anomaly when comparing to other UC host communities and most other world class research university host communities?

      2. Howard P

        Greg may have ‘started the drift, but others have tried to move the tectonic plates big time to add to the “drift”… Ron, Matt, David, and John… reminds me of an old song… except that was Abraham, Martin and John, with an additional verse for Robert…

      3. Matt Williams

        Here’s the Joe Friday (pun intended) look at the historical “absorption” of UCD students (the 20-24 year-old US Census demographic cohort) in the City of Davis population.

        1970 ______ 1980 _____ 1990 _____ 2000 _____ 2010
        12,971 ____ 18,370 ____ 23,318 ___ 25,075 ___ 30,449 _____ UCD Total Enrollment
        _5,972 _____ 9,678 ____ 11,819 ___ 13,698 ___ 17,200 _____ City Population in 20-24 Cohort
        _46.1% ____ 52.7% ____ 50.7% ____ 54.6% ___ 56.5% _____ Enrollment Percentage Housed in City

      4. Matt Williams

        John D said . . . “Ron, I should have said: My comment was in reference to your non-question:

        “Again, though – one cannot determine the increased amount/percentage of students “absorbed” by the city, using the numbers above.”

        85% between 2000-2015.”

        John, I’m not sure what your source is for your 85% “absorbed” value.  I’ve updated my spreadsheet of historical US Census and historical UCD enrollment information to create the decade-by-decade “absorption” table below.  The 2000-2010 “absorption” by the City of UCD’s Total Enrollment increase is actually 65.2%.  Over the entire 40 year period from 1970 to 2010 the “absorption” is 64.1%.

        http://www.davisvanguard.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Enrollment-Absorption-in-Population.jpg

        I don’t have a source for 2015 census/population information for the 19-24 year old Census cohort, but if I can get those numbers I will update the spreadsheet for the 2015 “absorption.”

        1. John D

          Matt,
          To your point, clearly, there are college and university students living in Davis who are attending Sacramento City College and Sacramento State University, so the suggestion that UCD attendees are solely responsible for the “in town” growth of student residents is admittedly inaccurate.  But that was not the primary point of my post.

          You choose to focus on an age category (20-24), while I am more interested in the US Census and American Survey category described as “School Enrollment – College or Graduate School” and the ratio and absolute number of students in a given “local City economy” – particularly in reference to the number and quality of private sector jobs within that same community.   We are regularly asked to consider the circumstances in “other university centric towns and areas within towns” – recent examples include UCSD, UCI, UCSC, Palo Alto, Ann Arbor.   One of benefits of using the census category titled “School Enrollment – College or Graduate School” is that it affords like comparisons across communities.
           
          Should there ever be an interest in comparing how we are stacking up against other university centric host communities – in terms of jobs creation, cost of living, and fiscal resilience of their City governments – some of this comparison data might be of further interest.

        2. Howard P

          Yes, John D… and the figures also do not account for college students, of any stripe, whose primary domicile is their parent(s)’ home in Davis… there are real limitations to the data… and how that data is ‘collected’… as they say, “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure…”  And sometimes, ‘stats’ can be deceiving… one needs to be skeptical…

        3. Matt Williams

          John, looking at the 1970 Census data, together with the 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010 data, I haven’t been able to find the college/university student cohort (category) in each of those Census data sets, so in order to get a look at the comparative impact of UCD student residents trended over the full 40-year period (my area of interest) using the 20-24 age cohort became the best available proxy.

          With that said, if we can identify the college/university student category you prefer to use in each of those five respective Census databases, I fully expect that the trended pattern over that 40-year period will be remarkably similar to the trended pattern illuminated by the five data points of the 19-24 age cohort.

          There is value in looking at trended data (as I am doing) and looking at individual period data (as you are doing).  Those two perspectives are not either/or, but rather both/and.

          ————————

          Howard, if any of the individual Census numbers were being used as a specific benchmark, I would agree with your point, but the “flaws” that exist in the 1970 data set are very likely to be proportionally repeated in the 1980 data set (within reasonable tolerance levels), as well as in the 1990 data set, and the 2000 data set and the 2010 data set.

          Regarding how the data is collected, collection of the “age” data point of each of the Census respondents  isn’t likely to have much collection bias.  “Age” is one of those matter of fact data fields that respondents arguing to answer by rote.  If the data filed was “when did you stop beating your wife?” I would expect some collection bias.  With that said, which field would you expect to have more collection error, “age” or “school enrollment status”?

    3. Jim Hoch

      ” If you had councilmembers making sufficient salary, they may not need a “day job” and therefore may not need their own staff. Personally I would prefer both, but I don’t seem to have a lot of support for that notion.”

       

      As an alternative they could spend less time on straws, Gandhi Statues, and federal policy. Crazy I know but worth a try if all else fails.

      1. Tia Will

        Hi Jim,

        Amount of time spent on this issues that you consider insignificant( but others don’t) is insignificant according to comments from several council members. But hey, who cares what they think ? Right ?

        1. Jim Hoch

          The only thinking that counts is by the people paying. Why do you think they don’t disclose what they are getting now? Transparent CA says Rochelle got $40K from the city last year. Is that correct or not correct? How come we cannot definitively say? With all the significant issues that have been avoiding why spend anytime on BS? You are familiar with the concept of triage?

        2. Jim Hoch

          Robb,

          Reading The Vanguard has convinced me that the city is beset by crisis at all sides. I will compile a list for you.

          BTW, what is the total comp for each member of the CC?

          Thanks for the response,

           

          Jim

      2. David Greenwald

        Jim: I don’t believe they spent any time on straws.  They spent a lot of time on Gandhi, but most of that was completely unanticipated.  I would ask you to go back over the last year and tell me which items they spent considerable time on that you object to.

  2. Howard P

    perhaps it would be wise for the city council to first consider what kind of council it wants to be, and select a city manager with a temperament and leadership style to match.

    Got to disagree with that statement… it’s not ABOUT the CC… it is about the COMMUNITY… I hope, perhaps foolishly, that the CC looks for a CM who might well challenge them (after all, the CC have become more ‘politicians’ rather than ‘civil servants’, IMO) [Think Vigfus, Maynard, Kent, Kathleen, Jerry, and several others, who put public service ahead of politics], and always be focused on the community… as written, you seem to support the ‘City Administrator’ approach… I have found that to be a dangerous model… a “lackey” to the CC… we need to avoid that, big time…

    CC’s come and go… 40-60% every two years (depending)… we had a couple of ‘grace periods’ as to CM… Reese and Meyer… we also had the benefit of city employees who served 10-35 years… builds institutional knowledge… stability…

    If the current CC narrows their focus to those who meet their ‘agenda’ needs, 20% (current CC members) will be gone in July 2018… I see 1-3 wannabe politicians who would have no second thought to appoint someone who would ‘make them look good’, no matter how the community thrives… just my opinion…

     

  3. Howard P

    Other comments re: UCD housing are drifting, IMHO… whatever, as I truly don’t care…

    Issue is, ‘leadership’… St Pinkerton lacked a ‘good’ one… most but not all of his cronies are gone… he did much damage, some initiated by his cronies…

    The City needs a CM who can be a leader… not a “yes-person” to CC; not a ‘get along at all costs’ person… the CM manages the day-to-day operations of the City, via their department heads… that is the essence of why we are a City… IMHO…

  4. Jim Frame

    he did much damage, some initiated by his cronies…

    He was hired to do damage.  City Hall was out of control, allowing personnel and other costs to spiral rapidly upward with no realistic plan to reverse course, and a nice-guy CM was never going to be able to rein that in.  Pinkerton was a hatchet man rather than everyone’s best friend, and the non-political members of the CC managed to install him to stanch the budget bleeding.  I’m not sure he would have lasted much longer even if the political careerists on the CC hadn’t managed to regain control, but that’s okay, he did what need to be done.

     

    1. Howard P

      He was hired to do damage.

      True, and he succeeded, big time… including hiding the costs of creating his “bunker” @ the east end of CO, and relocating much of PW from  the Corp Yard… hundreds of thousands of dollars… not traceable (as line items), at his direction… truly a job well done…

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        On the other hand, you’ve chosen to focus on a relatively minor detail. The city was able to move in the correct direction on issues like compensation and retirement benefits. Started to get at a realistic picture on infrastructure. The biggest problem and reason we are still in a mess now is that with Dan Wolk in charge, he decided to run for Assembly instead of continuing to clean up the mess in City Hall which allowed the problems to spiral back out of control.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for