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