My View: Who Fills the Leadership Void?

Davis-city_hallIf 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

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


  1. PhilColeman

    “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.”

    Steve, Landy, and Nathan are, indisputably, sterling examples of quality leadership in the chronology cited. But a significant omission is noted and deserves identification and recognition.

    Steve Pierce–with his subtle, quiet, and effective leadership skills–served as interim Fire Chief and restored the dysfunctional and unorganized fire department to a position where the membership was better willing to accept the later reforms of Chief Trauernicht.

  2. hpierce

    Upon reflection, my opinion is that the city does not need “strong” leadership, but “effective” leadership. My opinion is that Steve Pinkerton has been a “strong director”, not a “leader”. Which might have been a right fit.

    Roger Storey was a good and effective leader when he was City Manager. He commanded the respect and the enthusiasm of the ‘best and brightest’, and showed the key employees his support and respect.

    We truly need a LEADER moving forward. Someone that the key employees will enthusiastically follow, using their best efforts to serve the City [being the citizens]. And a leader that recognizes the talented staff who carry out the CC policies, and his/her direction, and respects and supports them in the face of those who would belittle staff.

    To quote from a song made popular by Bonnie Tyler, “We need a hero”.

    Here’s to finding one.

  3. Mr. Toad

    So many inaccuracies.

    It wasn’t that Pinkerton had enough it was that Incline Village made him an offer he couldn’t

    You also seem to want to somehow blame Lucas and Dan but there is no evidence to support this assertion. You have reported that Bobby Weist was claiming he had the votes to get Pinkerton removed. That takes three votes. So why do you insist that the putsch came from two? Why not the third, fourth or fifth members? In fact there was never a vote taken to dismiss Pinkerton. That means there was no more than an un-seconded motion if there was even a motion at all. So why you persist with a fiction that maligns Dan and Lucas and is bewilderingly unsupported by any evidence except that they haven’t voted the way you wanted on every single thing is beyond me.

    Finally the idea that things could fall apart when Steve leaves negates the biggest success of all that occurred on his watch. The “me too” clauses in the contracts with the other bargaining units was the big thing that reigned in the firefighters from sucking a disproportionate share of the discretionary budget. Once Pinkerton got that in the other contracts it was and remains game over.

    Pinkerton has done a great job for this community on an entire range of issues dealing with everything from employee contracts to retiree health costs to making the community realize that economic development is not a bad idea. We owe him a vote of gratitude but the notion that it will fall apart without him is a little too much to imagine. One of the things we should be most happy about is that Pinkerton also leaves behind a set of competent managers and a healthy foundation from which the community can move forward as long as we stay the course that Pinkerton, under the direction of this council, has set us upon.

    1. Biddlin

      ” So why you persist with a fiction that maligns … and is bewilderingly unsupported by any evidence except that they haven’t voted the way you wanted on every single thing is beyond me.”
      From what I’ve read in the last few years, I assumed that was “The Davis Way!”

      1. Matt Williams

        Biddlin, the point that Toad seems to miss every time he jumps in on this particular issue is that David’s comments are not about the behind closed doors actions of Lucas or Dan, but rather about the out in public actions of Bobby Wiest. Neither Lucas nor Dan publicly bragged that they had the votes necessary to fire Pinkerton … Bobby Wiest was the person who did that. That isn’t “The Davis Way.” That is “Bobby’s Way.”

        1. Mr. Toad

          Oh please Matt if it happened please please tell us the who, what, when, where and why? Without that how can anyone evaluate for themselves anything.

          1. Matt Williams

            Toad, are you saying that you finally believe that Bobby Wiest said what he said?

            With that said, one of the characteristics of confidential sources is that answers to both your “who” and “why” questions would violate the confidential nature of the information they shared with David.

    2. Matt Williams

      Toad, if you really want an issue to lose focus and go away, the last thing you want to do is get out the claxon horns and strobe lights and shout to the heavens about the issue. David has an opinion about the issue. That opinion is different than yours is. You aren’t going to change David ‘s opinion, and he isn’t going to change yours. You say he has no proof. He says you have no proof. Until one or the other of you provides Vanguard readers with actual proof (which neither of you can do) we are left with nothing more than speculation. What you have to ask yourself is our speculation good or bad?

  4. Mr. Toad

    Actually we know there was no vote. We know it takes at least a motion and a second, two votes, to have a vote. So we know there were not two votes to fire Pinkerton.

    Anyway, if David insists upon writing scurrilous attacks, someone should point out his error. Its one think to attack someone without proof its quite different to point out the lack of evidence. The wonder is why you and others on his board don’t call him out for it?

    1. Matt Williams

      That is easy to answer Toad. David provided the Editorial Board evidence of two reliable, informed sources that confirmed the story. The journalistic standard is “two non-conflicting sources” before going forward with the story. Your real issue should be with Bobby Wiest for bragging that he had the votes to oust Pinkerton when he really did not have those votes.

        1. Don Shor

          No it doesn’t. You are probably one of the only people in Davis who believes the version of these events that you keep posting. No: nothing you have stated indicates the accusations are false. Nothing. I’m guessing the two council members you think you are helping would probably prefer that you abandon this line of reasoning.

          1. Matt Williams

            Don and I haven’t agreed on much lately, but we clearly agree on his words above.

          2. Mr. Toad

            You may agree but it would be better if you would provide the factual basis for the accusation.

          3. Mr. Toad

            making or spreading scandalous claims about someone with the intention of damaging their reputation.
            “a scurrilous attack on his integrity”
            synonyms: defamatory, slanderous, libelous, scandalous, insulting, offensive, gross;

          4. Matt Williams

            Again Toad, you obtusely fail to focus on Bobby Wiest … or are you saying that Bobby’s pronouncements were scurrilous?

          5. Mr. Toad

            But that is not the question Matt. The question isn’t what Bobby Wiest said or did its what Dan and Lucas did?

          6. Matt Williams

            That may be the question for you … you have been very clear that it is the question for you … but it isn’t a question that changes Bobby Wiest’s actions and statements, which is what David reported on.

          7. Mr. Toad

            David is implying that Lucas and Dan supported Bobby in his attempt to get Pinkerton fired. How does he know this is the case the only answer I get is there was no vote and believe me I have asked. There was one ambiguous post by Brett but if you read it critically it doesn’t tell us much.

          8. Mr. Toad

            I haven’t posted anything more than that there was not a vote and what it takes to make a vote happen. Is there some contention about these facts? It is the Vanguard that continually subscribes to a version of events that is completely devoid of the actual actions of the people you malign.

          9. Matt Williams

            Again you are failing to focus on Bobby Wiest’s actions/statements. Is there a reason you choose not to hold Bobby accountable for his pronouncements?

          10. Mr. Toad

            Hold him accountable for whatever you can. Hold Dan and Lucas accountable for whatever you can but please tell us exactly what Dan and Lucas did? Otherwise we are being asked to take your word for it. Could you imagine any reputable news organization behaving in such a way? What kind of an argument is this is what happened. We can’t tell you what they said or did but believe us it happened. That is your argument.

          11. Matt Williams

            You have done a very effective job of that. What they did doesn’t change in any way, shape or form what Bobby did/said. Their actions do not unring Bobby’s bell for him.

  5. Mr. Toad

    Two sources that said what? You guys have never provided anything more than accusations without any basis or context. No when, where or why violating the basic rules of journalism.

    1. Matt Williams

      Toad, the context of Bobby’s comments/claims was pretty straightforward … he was publicly counting (within the Davis City Limits) his votes in what proved to be a speculative and presumptive manner in the hours prior to the closed session meeting of the Council.

  6. Mr. Toad

    I have no doubt that Bobby did what he could to get Pinkerton fired as reported but Bobby’s actions are not the question here. Dan and Lucas’ actions are in question and as you seem to admit they came out differently than predicted by Bobby. So the Vanguard should tell us enough about the context of your accusation that we have more than the accusation itself to go on because its really not enough when we know at least one of them refused to second a motion to fire Pinkerton. We need to know which one or if there was even a motion to begin with and what was the basis for that motion if it happened at all? Was it fire related or was something else going on in Pinkerton’s review that merits discussion but has not been explained. The problem is there are a lot of holes and unanswered questions that readers are being led to accept without understanding the full context of what happened. Without that underpinning you guys only have your reputations for people to trust. While that may be enough for many Vanguardophiles its not enough for objective observers. I say this as someone who is friends with all the players David, Dan, Lucas, and Steve. There are few in the community who would like the truth more than myself so please tell us the story so that we can understand it or stop making accusations you fail to support.

    1. Matt Williams

      I have no doubt that Bobby did what he could to get Pinkerton fired as reported but Bobby’s actions are not the question here.

      Why are Bobby’s actions not in question here?

    2. Don Shor

      I say this as someone who is friends with all the players David, Dan, Lucas, and Steve.

      And since you post anonymously, we really have no way to assess the value or validity of this assertion of yours. And, of course, if you’re a friend of theirs — you could ask them and let us know what they say.

      1. Mr. Toad

        Okay but so what if you don’t care to take my word for it? Its about what the council members did anyway. How they responded to Bobby and what they said or did about Pinkerton and why they did it. That is what David has failed to substantiate.

  7. Mr. Toad

    Because he is not an elected official. He does not have the authority to fire Pinkerton. He is not currently running for higher office as is Dan. So the response of Lucas and Dan to the pressure from Bobby is what matters because they are the ones that answer to the voters.

    1. Matt Williams

      You are welcome to take that truncated position. I personally think the actions of Bobby Wiest are far more important, especially since it is those actions that were observed by and reported on by the sources who spoke to David. Your truncation is arbitrary and appears to be driven by personal friendship.

      1. Mr. Toad

        No you are wrong. If David had truncated, as you say, by saying Bobby sought to get Steve fired there would be no dispute but when he implicates Dan and Lucas as being complicit in Bobby’s plans he needs to give us the supporting details.

  8. Mr. Toad

    I should also add the response of Rochelle, Joe and Brett too because if Bobby truly thought he had the votes to fire Pinkerton he needed one of them as well.

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

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