Sunday Commentary: A New City Manager is Highest Priority

Share:
Interim City Manager Gene Rodgers discusses the revenue options before council.
Interim City Manager Gene Rogers discusses the revenue options before council.

When Steve Pinkerton announced in February that he was leaving for Incline Village, he gave the city of Davis until the end of April to find an interim city manager and then start their search for a permanent replacement. At the time, there was a public discussion over whether we were best suited for an internal interim city manager or an external one.

I sided with the idea that an external hire would allow the individual to stay out of the local political fray. What I never dreamed is that the interim city manager would become part of the problem. However, on a weekly basis I hear complaints about Gene Rogers from councilmembers and city staff.

As one councilmember told me rather bluntly, “He is kind of weak.” That may be the most innocuous complaint there is against him. Even two and a half months into his tenure, he rarely leads at a council meetings and still defers reports to other senior staff.

While I could document a number of specific and disturbing incidents – I have to be careful as specifics would get back to certain city staffers.

So here are a few examples that are intentionally vagued up to protect staffers involved. First, staff is suffering from poor morale and, while this is not a new problem per se, it is worse now than it was.

Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis have made employee morale one of their priorities, writing, “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.”

While they lay out some pro-forma type influences, the most important thing they can do is find a new city manager – and quickly – who will be responsive to the needs of city staff.

What we have heard is rather appalling – stories where Mr. Rogers is abusive and insulting to staff, often in front of others, where he blames city staff for his own mistakes.

Because he is a retired annuitant the state imposes very strict hours on his service. But he has often used that as an excuse to abruptly leave meetings, leave town and head back to his home in Monterey at the end of the week, joke about how he’s gone in just a few months, etc.

Naturally, the time constraints are a problem in a position like city manager – that was clearly not a factor that we really thought of when we advocated an outside hire rather than an internal choice.

Bottom line, we could probably hold our breaths for another few months and allow the department heads and deputy city managers lead if it weren’t for the underlying problems that were laid out above.

In 2011, a far more capable interim city manager – Paul Navazio – made several critical errors, first crafting a budget that did not address the concerns of the new city council and then failing to implement the budget that they ultimately passed.

The bigger disaster was the water project that, for reasons that still aren’t clear, was passed without doing a water rate study or a real cost of service analysis. The result is that the water rates that were passed on that September 6 were not only politically problematic, but they would not have generated the revenue needed by the city.

That forced the new city manager, Steve Pinkerton, to jump into the fire having to deal with multiple crises at the same time.

While in a some ways things are better now, thanks largely to the leadership of Rob White and his idea to put out the RFEIs, the city is moving forward on the innovation parks needed to generate new revenue. Strong staff and council leadership has helped push some of the applicants away from political hazards.

However, coupled with the loss of Dianna Jensen, the water rates road has been a little more rocky and fraught with landmines. The lack of city prioritization on Measure P and dealing with the water rate issues led to, at best, a rocky road toward new rates.

While city manager Steve Pinkerton did reach out to the community on the budget, both the Measure O results as well as the polling on the parcel tax showed an overall lack of city support for a new parcel tax.

Externally, therefore, it would appear that the city is in far better shape than it was three years ago. However, small policies and incidents have been blowing up into larger problems.

The city is underway in a formal process to hire a new city manager. They have until the end of October to do so, but it would behoove them to step up their game. Hiring the wrong city manager would be a disaster for the city.

They need a city manager who can provide good and strong leadership, help the city reach out to the community, and also work well with city employees to restore good relationships. As we have mentioned previously they cannot do that on the cheap, with lowball offers.

Good employees unfortunately cost money. But look how much money a good city manager can save over a mediocre one in labor costs, reorganizational costs, and efficiency.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

Share:

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

24 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary: A New City Manager is Highest Priority”

  1. Barack Palin

    “staff is suffering from poor morale and while this is not a new problem per se, it is worse now than it was”

    “Staff” always seems to be suffering from poor morale no matter who’s in charge. If they don’t like their jobs they can leave or if they have a bad attitude maybe it’s time for the city to find other workers with a better attitude.

    1. Dorte Jensen

      One of the reasons for low morale is the City Council raise, which was approved by all Council members but Dan Wolk on September 10, 2013 and which took effect when the new Council was seated on July 1, 2014. Mr. Rogers had and has nothing to do with that issue.

      Does everyone know what scapegoating is? It is when the blame of the group is heaped on one individual. Wikipedia describes it in management: “Scapegoating is a known practice in management where a lower staff employee is blamed for the mistakes of senior executives. This is often due to lack of accountability in upper management.”

      I will look into this situation.

      1. Davis Progressive

        this is story about a complaint about the city manager not doing his job and being abusive to city employees, not about employees being pissed off that council members make slightly more than before.

  2. Barack Palin

    “staff is suffering from poor morale and while this is not a new problem per se, it is worse now than it was”

    “Staff” always seems to be suffering from poor morale no matter who’s in charge. If they don’t like their jobs they can leave or if they have a bad attitude maybe it’s time for the city to find other workers with a better attitude.

    1. Dorte Jensen

      One of the reasons for low morale is the City Council raise, which was approved by all Council members but Dan Wolk on September 10, 2013 and which took effect when the new Council was seated on July 1, 2014. Mr. Rogers had and has nothing to do with that issue.

      Does everyone know what scapegoating is? It is when the blame of the group is heaped on one individual. Wikipedia describes it in management: “Scapegoating is a known practice in management where a lower staff employee is blamed for the mistakes of senior executives. This is often due to lack of accountability in upper management.”

      I will look into this situation.

      1. Davis Progressive

        this is story about a complaint about the city manager not doing his job and being abusive to city employees, not about employees being pissed off that council members make slightly more than before.

  3. Barack Palin

    It just seems cheesy to me that staff confides to a local blog and the integrity of someone gets impugned anonymously in print. David, did you try to get Mr. Rodgers reaction to this and his side of the story?

    1. Davis Progressive

      why do you see it as cheesy that a staff member might air a legitimate concern to the vanguard, which we have all come to rely on for critical information? david probably scoops the enterprise more often than not, how would he do that if he didn’t have sources to feed him the information?

  4. Barack Palin

    It just seems cheesy to me that staff confides to a local blog and the integrity of someone gets impugned anonymously in print. David, did you try to get Mr. Rodgers reaction to this and his side of the story?

    1. Davis Progressive

      why do you see it as cheesy that a staff member might air a legitimate concern to the vanguard, which we have all come to rely on for critical information? david probably scoops the enterprise more often than not, how would he do that if he didn’t have sources to feed him the information?

  5. Tia Will

    Hiring a “retired annuitant” whether in the public sector, or a retired “locum tenens” in the medical field is a tricky proposition. We have found that some are very dedicated and dynamic and will do a great job because they truly care about the well being of the patients they see and take pride in their own performance. Others it is clear are more interested in biding their time, seeing as few patients as possible and collecting the check. I would not recommend hiring a retired individual ( unless they were building a second career ) without direct knowledge of their temperament and work ethic.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      CalPERS put those limitations to prevent the double-dipping. The problem is that if makes it difficult to hire a functional employee. When we had Paul Navazio and Bill Emlen as interim’s, they worked the full day as a regular city manager worked. Here’s they are limited to a certain amount of hours. So CalPERS in attempting to fix one problem, started another.

    2. Barack Palin

      “knowledge of their temperament and work ethic.”

      That could be said about any individual, regardless of their age. The thing that is nice about hiring a retiree is you’re tapping into their vast experience and knowledge of someone who has already been there.

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        Agreed. And that is why I put into my comment the caveat unless they are building another career. I actually do not think that this has anything to do with age other than the fact that retirees tend to be older. Although not always ,as some careers allow retirement at relatively young ages or with relatively fewer years of service thus allowing for the development of full second careers.

        I also appreciate your second comment about experience. It is invaluable and companies that appreciate this and allow their older employees to take on training or consulting positions instead of forcing them out if the physical aspects of the job becomes overwhelming are providing a real service both to the individual who can continue contributing and to the company which will often benefit from the knowledge of someone who ” has seen it all”.

      2. David Greenwald Post author

        Absolutely, but then you hamstring him by asking him to leave (per the CalPERS regulations) to leave at 5 pm. City Manager is not a 9 to 5 job.

        1. hpierce

          Someone doesn’t understand the CALPERS annuitant rules. They limit the total # of hours worked, per FISCAL year, to around 950 hours. So, someone could work 40-50 hours per week, as long as they didn’t exceed the FY limit (which ‘resets’ on June 30). Mr Rogers and/or the City is to blame for behavior David describes, not the PERS rules. Again, truth and accuacy falls victim to an author wanting to excuse inappropriate behavior. There is no reason why the City could not demand full attention of Mr Rogers to his tasks, starting tomorrow.

  6. Tia Will

    Hiring a “retired annuitant” whether in the public sector, or a retired “locum tenens” in the medical field is a tricky proposition. We have found that some are very dedicated and dynamic and will do a great job because they truly care about the well being of the patients they see and take pride in their own performance. Others it is clear are more interested in biding their time, seeing as few patients as possible and collecting the check. I would not recommend hiring a retired individual ( unless they were building a second career ) without direct knowledge of their temperament and work ethic.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      CalPERS put those limitations to prevent the double-dipping. The problem is that if makes it difficult to hire a functional employee. When we had Paul Navazio and Bill Emlen as interim’s, they worked the full day as a regular city manager worked. Here’s they are limited to a certain amount of hours. So CalPERS in attempting to fix one problem, started another.

    2. Barack Palin

      “knowledge of their temperament and work ethic.”

      That could be said about any individual, regardless of their age. The thing that is nice about hiring a retiree is you’re tapping into their vast experience and knowledge of someone who has already been there.

      1. Tia Will

        BP

        Agreed. And that is why I put into my comment the caveat unless they are building another career. I actually do not think that this has anything to do with age other than the fact that retirees tend to be older. Although not always ,as some careers allow retirement at relatively young ages or with relatively fewer years of service thus allowing for the development of full second careers.

        I also appreciate your second comment about experience. It is invaluable and companies that appreciate this and allow their older employees to take on training or consulting positions instead of forcing them out if the physical aspects of the job becomes overwhelming are providing a real service both to the individual who can continue contributing and to the company which will often benefit from the knowledge of someone who ” has seen it all”.

      2. David Greenwald Post author

        Absolutely, but then you hamstring him by asking him to leave (per the CalPERS regulations) to leave at 5 pm. City Manager is not a 9 to 5 job.

        1. hpierce

          Someone doesn’t understand the CALPERS annuitant rules. They limit the total # of hours worked, per FISCAL year, to around 950 hours. So, someone could work 40-50 hours per week, as long as they didn’t exceed the FY limit (which ‘resets’ on June 30). Mr Rogers and/or the City is to blame for behavior David describes, not the PERS rules. Again, truth and accuacy falls victim to an author wanting to excuse inappropriate behavior. There is no reason why the City could not demand full attention of Mr Rogers to his tasks, starting tomorrow.

  7. Tia Will

    Another consideration here is the perceived role of an ” interim” leadership position. How the position was presented to the applicant might make a huge difference in how they view the position that they are being hired into. Is the position presented to them as essentially one of holding “the course steady” until the new leadership arrives, or are they clear that they are being tasked to step up and provide real leadership.

    The one problem that I have seen with Mr. Rodgers is his tendency to appear passive. I stress” appear “because I have only seen him in action at the City Council meetings where he appears to be entirely reactive. At one point, where leadership was clearly needed, then Mayor Krovoza actually had to ask Mr. Rogers to take a seat at the staff table. This kind of reactivity may have been his perception of what was being asked of hiim when he assumed the position, or it may be that he did not fully portray to the hiring committee that this amount of involvement was all he was willing or able to put forward. In any event, it would seem to me that the city would have been better off with more dynamic leadership even in the interim.

  8. Tia Will

    Another consideration here is the perceived role of an ” interim” leadership position. How the position was presented to the applicant might make a huge difference in how they view the position that they are being hired into. Is the position presented to them as essentially one of holding “the course steady” until the new leadership arrives, or are they clear that they are being tasked to step up and provide real leadership.

    The one problem that I have seen with Mr. Rodgers is his tendency to appear passive. I stress” appear “because I have only seen him in action at the City Council meetings where he appears to be entirely reactive. At one point, where leadership was clearly needed, then Mayor Krovoza actually had to ask Mr. Rogers to take a seat at the staff table. This kind of reactivity may have been his perception of what was being asked of hiim when he assumed the position, or it may be that he did not fully portray to the hiring committee that this amount of involvement was all he was willing or able to put forward. In any event, it would seem to me that the city would have been better off with more dynamic leadership even in the interim.

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