We have spent this week talking about the qualities of a good city manager and what Davis needs. Today I will attempt to identify several qualities that we need – this is obviously just my opinion, and it is not an exhaustive list.
In response to Monday’s article, Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis posted three characteristics, skills, and abilities he was looking for.
1. An individual who works with City Council to chart a long-term vision for the economic, social and environmental health of the city and then works back from the critical ends to lay out a plausible legislative/policy path that the CC can work through to get there.
2. An individual who will use the vision to push the City Council to define clear priorities (given the foregoing) and stick to them – and who will challenge the Council (even publicly) when it deviates into non-critical areas.
3. An individual who goes beyond managing staff to 1) enabling staff members to increase their productivity by clearing away extraneous work (see above) and adopting more efficient systems for tracking and accounting for work and expenditures, and 2) creating a cohesive team of senior leaders who work together toward defined ends.
I have come up with five main goals – some of which are similar to what Robb Davis came up with. These really aren’t in order of priority.
The first one, though, is that the city manager must be able to carry out the goals and priorities of the Davis City Council. This is a key – for as much as Robb Davis’ first and second bullet points are well-taken, the city council is the policy-setting arm of city governance, and ultimately the city manager’s job is to carry out their directives to the best of his or her ability.
Someone pointed out to me that Paul Navazio was able to parlay his interim position into a full-time city manager position, in a less contentious city for about the same pay. Therefore, they argued, he was a winner in this.
My take away from that point is that this is not a one-size-fits-all, objective test. People who would be perfectly good city managers in other communities might not work out in Davis. And so this bullet point is really about finding someone who fits in with Davis’ mentality.
Second, we need someone who can move Davis forward on the road to fiscal stability. Council and the community are going to make a lot of the calls on policy direction – further staffing cuts, more concessions through collective bargaining, parcel tax, and innovation parks and economic development.
These are not only difficult decisions for city council and the community, but they are huge tasks for the city manager to have to implement. Whatever policy direction we go with, the city manager will be required to be able to develop policy with skill and finesse to implement these changes.
The innovation parks, while moving forward, have another 15 months of planning and will take a good deal of skill and finesse to get through the planning process and to the voters for their ultimate up or down approval.
Third is that the city manager will be asked to improve and implement employee morale. We have had a rough time in the last five or six years. The city has had to reduce its workforce, reduce pay, reduce hours, ask employees to do more while receiving less, and ask them to take concessions.
The community at times has been harsh and critical, and many have laid the blame for the city’s fiscal condition on the employees – ignoring the economy, the council policies, the community indifference, and the lack of sources of revenue.
We are asking our employees to do a lot – yes, they are well compensated – but from all reports, morale is at an all-time low across the board and there is no need for that.
In their six-month plan that was released three weeks after the council election, Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis wrote: “Employee Morale. Considering the difficult budget cuts and personnel decisions that have been made over the past few years, and the often-bumpy relationship between city employees and management, it will be important for the new City Council to build trust with the people who make our city what it is.
“To that end, we plan to have monthly meetings with employees to listen to their concerns, bring back the yearly employee recognition event and show (Dan and Lucas have even pledged to sing), and look at ways of reorganizing City Hall to make it a friendlier place to work – and for the public to visit.”
Key to that is hiring a city manager who, while capable of getting critical reforms passed, can do so while bringing city employees on board.
Finally, while the next city manager must be empathetic to city employees, he or she must also be aware and sensitive to community concerns. The strength and the weakness is the engaged citizenry who want a deliberative public process where they have both a stake and a say in the ultimate outcome.
That is a great strength of this community. People really care about their community. They invest time and resources in it.
At the same time, as we have seen, this can lead to beating subjects to death.
We have seen the good and the bad. We saw the mistakes made when a wireless company began installing an array without public input and dialogue. The mistake made by a veteran staffer who lives in the community caused that staffer to be demoted and might have led to termination under different city management.
We saw the failed and fumbled initial water process that led to the WAC and other community-based approaches.
The innovation parks will be a delicate discussion that has to balance revenue and economic needs against environmental and slow-growth tendencies in the community.
A heavy hand can lead to the opposite of the desired outcome and the city manager has to be cognizant of the community’s needs and desire while still working to implement policy at council direction.
Those are my thoughts on this day – what do you think? What do you see as necessary qualities for the next city manager?
—David M. Greenwald reporting