If you want to understand the fruits of good planning, and strong leadership, look no further than the reforms to the fire service that were finally implemented in 2013. The moves were fought at each step of the way by the firefighters’ union, they had proxies in elected officials and some on the council, and yet in the end the reforms were all enacted, some on 3-2 votes.
But the key to the success was being able to not only implement the changes, but find the right people to take over. We see that in the person of Nathan Trauernicht, who not only has the challenge of making changes, but has the ability now to win over skeptics.
That is the key, because it is possible to ram through changes any time you have a 3-2 majority, as Steve Pinkerton did in 2013. The key is to keep those changes in place once that majority disappears – which it might in 2014 – and once the people who implemented the changes are gone –as they will be in two weeks.
Steve Pinkerton recognized the need to bring in an interim fire chief who would not succumb to the pressures of the union. He then creatively bought time by putting Landy Black in charge of both the police department and the fire department, and then he skillfully found in UC Davis Chief Nathan Trauernicht someone with the skills to make it all work.
Despite the 3-2 majority he enjoyed with council, Mr. Pinkerton had to dodge firefighter union organizing activities, a vote of no confidence in his interim chief Landy Black, and two letters from some of the most powerful elected officials in Yolo County in particular: Lois Wolk, Mariko Yamada, Don Saylor and Jim Provenza.
Steve Pinkerton held strong when the firefighter’s union pressured Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs to fire him, but ultimately he decided enough was enough and got out of town before the firefighters could regain a majority and oust him outright.
The result of that move, along with questionable decisions by several on the council, has created a giant leadership void. While dealing with the fire service was an important reform, particularly in light of the fiscal imbalances they caused, our concern is that the leadership is gone that can deal with another host of critical issues.
We have already seen this void at work in the roll out of the study on the POU. The city appeared to be caught off guard with the early push back from PG&E and the ease with which they were able to recast the POU project into a risky and expensive endeavor.
The roll out of the revenue measures was equally problematic. The council has known that they will need to seek new taxes to balance the budget since last June, and yet it wasn’t until December that this topic was even broached; there was an ad hoc focus group, but only belated city outreach.
The result was a midnight vote on the sales tax that was so sloppy the council had to come back in re-write it to make it pass the smell test and even then, the measure they put on the ballot came up about $1.8 million short on revenue.
The city most likely will pass the sales tax, but early polling shows that the parcel tax may not pass. Without the parcel tax, the city will not be able to invest the money it needs into roads, parks and other infrastructure.
The roll out of the business park was already sloppy. The city needs new sources of revenue so that it does not have to reach into taxpayer pockets repeatedly to make ends meet. The first roll out of a business park proposal last summer turned into another fiasco.
However, opening the discussion has improved the ability of the council and the city to make its case to the voters. Now we are likely to see another proposal east of Mace, but it is very tricky.
The question is when will Mace 200 move forward. Rob White, the city’s Chief Innovation Officer who was brought to Davis to help foster business and economic development, in response to a reader question this week stated, “We have been meeting bi-weekly with one of the landowners. I am expecting to see some kind of actual proposal from them in the next few weeks.”
Of course, we have been expecting an actual proposal for the past month or two.
For his part, he does not believe that the city manager turnover should have a material impact.
Rob White wrote, “Steve has been a very good catalyst for this effort, but the very clear direction from Council on the innovation park is for me to continue to work through the challenges with the landowners that results in a successful proposal presented to the community as soon as possible. Though I had expected to see something earlier this year, we are still on track for a community dialogue this summer and a possible citizen-initiated vote in Spring or Summer of 2015 (depending on the process).”
In addition, he offered, “There is now very clear (and public) interest from at least one other party in developing a site, so we may have some healthy competition brewing. We will see what happens, but its a positive sign that interest in Davis is coming from more than one source. Not sure how that will play out ultimately, but it allows the Council and community an opportunity to be a little more directive in what we would like to see as characteristics for an innovation park proposal.”
But Mr. White also perhaps unwittingly highlights a potential downfall, and that is the uncertainty of who will be on the council after June. We know Joe Krovoza will not be on council. Rochelle Swanson has been the strongest proponent and agent for economic development on the council. Dan Wolk is perhaps a distant second.
But what illustrates the fragility of the situation is the potential that none those three may be on the council in January. And yet, even if we take the dodge on the POU, we need to get a parcel tax and land use project approved to move forward toward a sustainable future.
Nature abhors a vacuum, and what we may see are agents of the status quo rising up to fill that void, whether they be in the form of the firefighters’ union, PG&E, or other single-interest individuals bent on thwarting change.
A year ago, we seemed to have a strong emerging team of city leaders on staff. We had just won a coup in hiring Rob White as CIO, we had the best city manager in at least a decade, and there was a solid majority on council to push through the needed changes.
Now, most of those advantages are gone and Rob White must be wondering by now if at some point he will become the next shoe to drop. One of the key tasks in the next few months for this council is taking the steps to make sure that this does not happen.
The city this week hired Gene Rogers. Ironically, the community has not had the chance to meet him, because he’s on vacation in Europe. On the one hand, he probably should take his vacation while he can get it; however, on the other hand, it might behoove the council to allow the community to vet a man who will make $3600 a week, but maybe that’s just me.
It’s hard to imagine an interim city manager doing more than minding the shop, but, then again, we saw what damage that could do the last two times the council brought in interims. In 2006, that nearly meant the city deteriorated into overt civil war (and they still hired him) and in 2011, that meant that city’s water project quite nearly met a disastrous end (this time they did not hire the interim).
We have a lot of challenges here. As we said earlier this week, if Steve Pinkerton had tried, he probably could not have timed his departure more closely.
The question now is what are the consequence of this void and whether we can recover.
—David M. Greenwald reporting