Meet the Next City Manager

Davis-city_hallby Jennifer Nitzkowski, Michael Bisch and Alan Humason

With the pending departure of Davis City Manager Steve Pinkerton to Incline Village, Nevada, a discussion of his replacement is in order.  Recent history and the City’s struggle to effectively grapple with the current fiscal mess have shown how critical the City Manager position is to the welfare of our community. All things considered, the stakes for all of us are very high, and the City Council has to get this hire right.

To assist the City Council, we’d like to share our thoughts on what should drive the City Manager replacement process. Fundamentally underlying the process should be solving the City’s fiscal challenges as fast, efficiently, and fairly as possible. Progress has been made to date, but nowhere near enough as the City’s budget deficit continues to widen dramatically.  Furthermore, dramatic, substantive progress must be made in economic development—that means robust, swift, creative efforts to build a diversified economic base that creates jobs and generates significantly more tax revenue.

The person at the helm of the City’s affairs must have a firm understanding of our community, proven leadership and problem solving skills, innovative thinking, a command of public relations, and the will to practice transparent governance; all other qualities pale in comparison. The selected City Manager must truly possess these attributes whether they were acquired in the public, private, non-profit sectors, the military or academia. Therefore, we respectfully insist that the City Council refrain from barring qualified candidates from either the interim or permanent position based on limiting criteria such as “an MBA in public finance” or “15 years career experience in municipal government.”  The immediate and future needs require our leaders to think outside of the box. Taking this input to heart, we have every confidence the Council is capable of making a sound choice.

It is also our hope that the next City Manager will prove to be a wise, durable counterweight to the vagaries of a changing City Council.  City Council members come and go, and while their service to our community is no doubt honorable, for the most part, Councilmembers are in effect volunteers with other jobs to fill their time and attention. We need a City Manager who will keep Councilmembers focused on adopting and implementing solutions to the primary fiscal and economic challenges we face and will work to prevent the City Council from being distracted by less pressing matters.

We are imagining a City Manager with a willingness to speak up publicly when Councilmembers are failing to focus on the long-term fiscal and economic interests of the community.  The City Manager need not be combative, but certainly must have the ability to articulate a compelling argument and defend it with hard facts and sound reasoning.  We’re also imagining a City Manager with the public relation skills to bring the community into the governing process while guiding us to effective solutions.

Creating and fostering a socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable community is a challenging endeavor.  The Davis Chamber of Commerce, Davis Downtown, the Yolo County Visitors Bureau and the entire business community stand ready, willing and able to work collaboratively with all stakeholder groups to overcome today’s challenges while planning for a bright future for our deserving community.

Davis Chamber of Commerce – Jennifer Nitzkowski, Chair, Board of Directors,  Davis Downtown – Michael Bisch, President, Yolo County Visitors Bureau – Alan Humason, Executive Director

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.

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  1. Matt Williams

    This is a very well thought out statement by the Chamber of Commerce, Yolo Vistors Bureau, and Davis Downtown leaders. I applaud them for making it.

    On Friday prior to the closed session City Council meeting to discuss the Interim City Manager / City Manager situation, I sent all five Council members the following e-mail, which addresses many of the same issues that Jennifer, Alan and Michael addressed in their OpEd.


    [Joe] [Rochelle] [Dan] [Brett] [Lucas], as you and your fellow Council members consider the Interim City Manager decision, I would like to state my firm conviction that Rob White is not only the best internal choice as the Interim City Manager (ICM), but also the best ICM candidate period.

    Interestingly enough when I was talking about the ICM possibilities with someone yesterday, their criticism of Rob was that “He is too new.” Today I processed that comment together with the “go to the outside” theme of the Davis Vanguard article on the ICM alternatives, and it became clear to me that Rob White is simultaneously an outside person (too new = outside) and a person who already has a considerable body of knowledge about the major challenges facing the City. If Rob is willing to specifically eliminate himself from the permanent CM candidate list, he would appear to be an ideal candidate who could help us “not miss a beat” in continuing the progress Steve Pinkerton has achieved in his two and a half years, without any of the distractions of worrying about his permanent CM candidacy.

    That leads us to the very important “running point for economic development” issue that some have raised, specifically wanting to be sure that Rob’s focus on that isn’t diluted. I think Jeff Boone hit the nail on the head when he asked on the Vanguard, “would Rob be more or less effective in moving economic development forward if he were in the role of the interim city manager? The more I ponder that question, the more I find myself believing that Rob will actually be more effective in that role if he is ICM.

    Since he has arrived Rob has to follow the a multi-step economic development process, (a) research the issues, (b) formulate the strategy and tactics, (c) bring Steve to a level of comfort on the formulated strategy and tactics, (d) then in many cases practice “hurry up and wait” while Steve runs them up the flagpole with the Council members, and (e) move forward when the Council sees the wisdom of translating Rob’s formulations into policy directives.

    As the ICM, the natural inefficiencies inherent in step (c) and step (d) will be mitigated/eliminated, and as a result the City’s economic development efforts will be more nimble, more efficient, and whenever the City Manager is asked a question about economic development they will get the best possible answer from the best possible spokesman.

    If Rob were currently doing bedrock research into where the City should possibly go (as he was doing in early 2013 shortly after his arrival in Davis), then I would be much more concerned about tearing him away from what he is doing. However, anyone who watched Item 7 on Tuesday night clearly saw just how effective a messenger and communicator Rob is. Having an ICM with those skills and abilities and insight would be a major step forward for the City in my opinion.

    In addition, with Rob in the ICM slot, Council could immediately begin the process of looking for a permanent City Manager knowing that when you completed that search, Rob White’s title would revert back to being solely Chief Innovation Officer, and that economic development would continue on its very positive upward trajectory … a trajectory that is totally consistent with Davis’ community character … a trajectory that builds on the core competencies of the Davis/UCD/Yolo community, education/research and agriculture.

    I realize that this is only my personal opinion, but it is a well-considered and heart-felt one, and I wanted to share it with you and your fellow Council members.

    All my best.

    Matt Williams

    1. Frankly

      I support Rob for interim CM, and maybe also as a candidate for the position. That would seem to help with the continuity of ongoing progress for existing policy discussions. However, I would worry about the impact to the resources needed for championing economic development. A CM is primarily an executive administrative role and it is complicated by the standard grind of bottom-end personnel management combined with top-end relationship management. There is often little time left for the kind of deep-thinking problem-solving that a chief innovation officer is required to do. The ability to carve out enough time for a CM to play in the economic development space would depend on the quality of his/her direct reports to handle more of the day-to-day stuff. And frankly, if that next level of management was a capable as is required, we would probably be seeing one or more of them qualified to be the interim CM.

  2. Jason Hawthorn

    I agree with Matt Williams and Frankly on this. Rob White makes complete sense to be interim and potentially for long term City Manager. He has the background, excellent communication skills, and vision which is clearly consistent with our community’s goals. I think that he has the ability to handle City Manager and economic development responsibilities and given our immediate need for a person with his skills, we should give him the opportunity to help the City in a role that he is needed for now.

  3. Tia Will

    I would like to add an additional perspective in support of Rob White. He has the ability to not only lay out his own vision in a clear and logical manner, he also has the willingness to listen with the intent of understanding the perspectives of those who favor a different vision for the community.

  4. iPad Guy

    I second the motion for the interim appointment. Let’s wait until all the applicants show up to decide whether Rob still is the best person for the permanent job.

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