We saw it in meeting number one where five councilmembers, despite deep hesitations and concerns, voted to allow one of the innovation park project teams to put an advisory measure on the ballot. Behind the scenes, city staff then had to work very hard to convince the developers that this was not a good idea, and smarter heads prevailed.
Earlier this year, council made the decision to pull out of the POU (Publicly Owned Utility) after months of public outcry, much of which was fueled by a PG&E campaign.
We also saw this new council push back a parcel tax vote until the spring (at least), after polling showed that the public was not behind the parcel tax and largely unaware of the city’s fiscal condition.
Last year, in a commentary following a council vote to punt the issue of fire personnel and reducing personnel from 12 to 11 on a shift – a policy that they would implement on a tough 3-2 vote a few months later, we wrote that “somewhere along the way, the council has gone soft.”
The council, we noted, had seemed to believe that “a 3-2 vote is a four-letter word and they avoid it like the plague.”
We wrote, “Mayor Joe Krovoza was the only one who stood firm. He stood firm in the face of responding to former Interim Chief Bill Weisgerber’s bait about making the public unsafe, he stood firm in responding to the attacks from Joe Tenney and Bobby Weist, and he stood firm, even as his colleagues were going soft, in trying to get the council to commit to the staffing reduction.”
We would add, “As a number of people have told me, the council looked weak on Tuesday night. They looked weak and indecisive. And the problem is that they forget just whom they are dealing with.”
The question for any new council is how they respond to public pressure, and when they are willing to make a tough vote.
I say this because, on Thursday, the council made a 4-0 vote, in an empty room with only myself and the Davis Enterprise reporter present from the public, that will likely have a good deal of blowback in the community and privately.
Expanding the city manager’s compensation was absolutely the right thing to do, given the importance of the position, the FACT that the city of Davis has the lowest compensation for a city manager in the region, and the fact that they clearly (without saying it) were not going to get the people they identified as being the ideal candidates at the compensation level they were offering.
But it is easy to have courage in an empty room. I completely believe this was not manufactured to have a special meeting, in mid-July, on short notice, with little outreach to the community. But the appearance of hiding something in plain sight to a skeptical community looks just as bad as intentionally doing it.
The question is, what will happen if the council hears a barrage of complaints from the public? Right now, Bob Dunning remains fixated on water, it’s not clear if the Enterprise will make an issue of it, and it is too soon to see how the public overall will respond.
I happen to believe the council did the exact right thing, but my concern is what happens if the barrage of public opinion rains down on them? To their credit, two of them told me that they will be forced to take the approach of thanking people for their opinion and wishing them well.
And maybe that is how it is going to happen. After all, on the POU issue, the council needed public opinion ultimately to get done what needed to happen. On this issue, they can ram it through.
It is a fine line in public office. We were often critical of the 2006-2010 council majority that would ram things through on 3-2 votes, often in the face of public opinion blowing against them. The line between taking a firm stand and arrogant indifference is far slimmer than people would like to believe.
In the years following the emergence of a new council in 2010, it seemed that the council took strides to be more accommodating to the public stance, but sometimes went too far. It was clear, for instance, when the council voted 3-2 to put Davis Diamonds in the auto-mall that the council had gone too far in bowing to public opinion.
On the other hand, listening to the public can help avoid unpleasantries down the line.
The question here is what this council will look like. It is clear to the Vanguard at this time that hiring the right city manager is absolutely crucial to moving the city forward. I know that Steve Pinkerton got mixed views in the public – but from the standpoint of fiscal sustainability, he was absolutely critical moving forward.
I understand employee morale is a concern and finding a city manager who can improve it would be helpful, but only if the city manager understands the critical issues that the city faces – finding new revenue sources through both taxes and economic development is critical, but so too is holding the line on spending and employee compensation.
As I noted yesterday, Steve Pinkerton himself, however, did tell me on more than one occasion that, if he had asked for more money back in 2011, there would have been no way he could have settled with the bargaining units.
So we end up with the conundrum that we need to offer more money to hire a good city manager, but paying that amount of money makes it harder for the city manager to work.
The bottom line right now is that the council has a series of tough decisions that it will have to make. They will make decisions that not everyone will agree with and some of those decisions will be bitterly disputed. But make them they must.
The jury’s out – we’ll see how the council steps up.
—David M. Greenwald reporting