City Manager Decision: Davis’ Future in the Balance

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weist
Firefighters’ union president Bobby Weist is working hard to get his preferred city manager – will the council let him get his way?

Over the last several months, a number of people have come to me, concerned that if they end up supporting first the sales tax, then the parcel tax, and now the innovation parks, the new revenue will not go into shoring up city infrastructure and securing vital city services and amenities, but rather go for salary increases.

There is a history of this. Much of the same rhetoric that we are using today was used in 2004 to pass a half-cent sales tax. We were told that parks would close and police and firefighters would be laid off. The measure passed, but instead of being used to shore up vital programs, it went to employee salary and compensation increases. Massive increases.

Fire got a 36% pay increase starting in 2005, until the 2009 MOU. Police got about half that at 18%. Everyone got at least 15%.

We have spent a lot of time this week pouring over the results of the Godbe Research public opinion survey, but the most telling answer in looking at potential opposition statements to the parcel tax (which polling showed it would not pass at either tested level), the most salient, is that there is “no guarantee funds will be spent where most needed.”

The irony (and again this points to the bad survey form) is that the parcel tax can be allocated to specific funding. Now, it’s not like categorical funds which can only be spent in a given category, which is why the school district has the parcel tax oversight committee, ostensibly to monitor and make sure the money is being spent as advertised by the school district.

Still, not only does the city have fudge room, but also, right now there are millions in general fund money being allocated to roadways out of necessity and those could be reallocated to other uses (such as employee compensation) if a parcel tax passes.

The bottom line here is that this comes down to trust. As I have argued here, over the past several years, really starting in 2011 with Joe Krovoza and Rochelle Swanson on board and later joined by Dan Wolk, Brett Lee and Lucas Frerichs, the council has done a lot to earn public trust on city finances. Some want to argue they could have gone further, others have pushed back that we have gone too far.

Bottom line, the city has done a lot to restore public trust.

But we are not done. In fact, this is the most dangerous time in the last seven years. The economy is finally improving, but the city is not seeing a huge increase in tax revenue. The public has just passed a sales tax measure, but polling and anecdotal evidence shows it does not grasp the enormity of the financial threat. As noted earlier this week, nearly 65% of those 504 Davis registered voters polled believe that our fiscal condition is at least fair, with less than a quarter believing it is poor or very poor.

We were looking at $5 million in structural deficits increasing to $8 million when the voters passed a sales tax measure this past June. The voters are clearly not paying attention and the lackluster Measure O campaign last spring did not help.

The firefighters’ union that has lost influence and faced a rash of reforms in 2013 is resurgent and hoping, with a new mayor who is more sympathetic to their needs and the council needing to hire a new city manager – after the union chased the last city manager off to the hills, that they can regain their traction in city government in a community where the vast majority of residents are not paying attention.

The city council believes that times have changed and that the pre-2010 ways are no longer viable. I think that is largely true. I don’t think we are going to go back to days where we retroactively increased pensions to 3% at 50, increased fire personnel to four on every engine, and instituted 36% increases.

But we had a long history where the firefighters’ union literally ran city hall. They got everything they wanted. They got the council by a 3-2 vote to not read the fire report in 2008, for crying out loud. That was not that long ago.

For the last four years, at least by a majority vote, the firefighters were shut out of city government and the city manager worked hard to implement reforms. But that changed last fall when two city councilmembers attempted to fire the city manager back in November and the city manager took a job at Incline Village.

The union president was likely buoyed by the four top elected officials co-signing a letter opposing the shared management.

While both shared management and the reduction in fire staffing will be difficult to roll back, having a sympathetic ear from the mayor and potentially a new city manager is a game changer.

We should be worried about who the next city manager is going to be and whether he or she will have ties to the union president. We should be worried about what kind of access and influence the union president has had on the hiring process.

The polling right now shows that a parcel tax will have a tough road to get approved as it is, but if we cannot trust city governance to guard the henhouse then it has no chance. The same may likely be the case with the innovation parks, though we have not seen specific polling.

If we do not get both approved by the voters, then this city will struggle just to provide basic services, let alone the amenities that this community has grown accustomed to. Without trust, there will be little chance of success.

We stand at the crossroads; it’s now in the hands of the city council to chart our future.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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.

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9 thoughts on “City Manager Decision: Davis’ Future in the Balance”

  1. PhilColeman

    David, you are really, REALLY stretching it to say the “resurgent” fire fighters, buoyed by four top elected public officials are back in the game in selecting the next city manager. Judges of this assertion need to only count again the series of consistent uninterrupted defeats that the local fire fighters have lost in the public political forum.

    “Four top elected public officials” is deliberately ambiguous wording, when the counter-question is posed, “How many of those cast a direct vote for the selection of the next Davis City Manager?”

    I’ll make the boldest, unconditional, possible counterpoint and we’ll see who is right as history unfolds. Any city manager that receives the blessing of the Davis Firefighters is receiving the-kiss-of-death. Nobody receiving the endorsement of any fire fighter group, local or state, will subsequently serve as Davis City Manager.

    I’m not trying to beat you up or be contrarian. That position has already been filled by many posters. You and Rifkin deserve FULL credit for exposing the political/economic alliance the local fire fighters for what they really are, and it’s not putting out fires. But here is where you claim victory and stop kicking a dead horse named Wiest.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      “I’ll make the boldest, unconditional, possible counterpoint and we’ll see who is right as history unfolds. Any city manager that receives the blessing of the Davis Firefighters is receiving the-kiss-of-death. Nobody receiving the endorsement of any fire fighter group, local or state, will subsequently serve as Davis City Manager.”

      The question is whether they will receive it publicly or behind the scenes. The firefighters have backed a number of candidates behind the scenes but not publicly. So, do you make the same prediction hold under that scenario?

      1. PhilColeman

        Absolutely. The fire fighter’s major weakness is that they are all extremely poor public communicators, every one of them, with the leader being the absolute worst. When he speaks in public, look at the other union members cringe.

        That weakness is compounded and contrasted by the presence of the most eloquent, charismatic, politically savvy–employee in Davis City Government who just happens to be sitting in the Fire Department headquarters. The Fire Department is now being administered by the Fire Chief, what a concept!

        So, yes, you are totally correct the fire fighters will work behind the scenes, by default. Unfortunately for them, they have lost virtually all of their political capital in past futile efforts on staffing, organizational reconfiguration, and attempts to discredit the interim fire chiefs, all monumental failures.

        Politicians will never toss their support behind losers. The fire fighter union will soon be resigned to just walking up and down the hallway humming, “Glory Days.”

  2. Davis Progressive

    why aren’t people more concerned about the possibility that the firefighters and their union president which fought all last year against reforms aren’t trying to regain their influence behind the scenes, on the qt?

  3. Anon

    1. “…lackluster Measure O campaign…” – It got the job done, didn’t it? If the DV was not willing to be part of the Measure O campaign and do the work, then throwing mud at the volunteers who were willing to take the time to support Measure O sounds pretty below the belt criticism – a cheap shot.

    2. “… union chased Pinkerton off into the hills…” – Proof that is the reason Pinkerton left? Personally I would not blame anyone for not wanting to put up with the constant carping and incivility that goes on in this town, and head for beautiful Lake Tahoe. Davis is becoming infamous for its ridiculous stances and incivility.

    3. “… top four elected officials co-signing letter against shared management…” – I am confused – the City Council at some point acquiesced to the shared management arrangement, no, or did I miss something? I very much doubt there is a tinkers darn chance of the shared management arrangement being changed.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      Anon:
      1. I believe a more robust Measure O campaign could have paved the way for a follow-up parcel tax campaign. As it stands right now, a parcel tax would fail. Measure O indeed passed (by far lower percentages than any other tax measure in the modern history of Davis (since 2000 or so).

      2. I have good word on this.

      3. You could be right, but I know talking to at least one of the two opponents, they wanted to change it. So we’ll see.

      1. Anon

        DG, you could have always been part of the Measure O campaign, rather than taking cheap shots at it after the fact. Nor do I think Measure O and how well it was or was not run had a darn thing to do with whether the parcel tax will or will not be successful. One has nothing to do with the other. A modest increase in the sales tax does not particularly effect the average citizen in the pocket book – a parcel tax hits directly at the citizen’s pocketbook. I think the real problem with the parcel tax is what it specifically covers, and how much it will be. If you throw in pool repairs into the mix for a parcel tax, my guess is there will be much less chance of it passing than it you stick to road and bicycle/pedestrian path repairs. And if you throw in a new 50 meter pool into the parcel tax, it is DOA.

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          Anon: First, I made the same point I’m making now before and during the campaign. So to imply that I’m only criticizing the campaign after the fact, is inaccurate. Second, I’m not sure I agree that I have an obligation to work on the campaign if I choose to criticize it. Do you expect the same from Debbie Davis or Bob Dunning?

          “Nor do I think Measure O and how well it was or was not run had a darn thing to do with whether the parcel tax will or will not be successful.”

          This is the more important point and where I differ with you is that I think the city could have made a much stronger case about the fiscal crisis than they did during Measure O, which is why I saw it as a lost opportunity.

          1. Anon

            Don’t agree with you on Measure O, but we will agree to disagree. I will agree with you that the city could have made a stronger case for all three prongs of addressing the fiscal mess:

            1) sales tax increase;
            2) parcel tax;
            3) innovation park.

            Except it is my understanding “the city” cannot actively campaign for these things, so I am not certain they could do anything about it anyway. As for explaining the fiscal crisis to citizens, Steve Pinkerton (before he left) was making regular stops all over town to explain the situation. I wonder if the problem is more that we are between city managers (and have a new mayor and new City Council member) than it is the any failing by anyone? The timing of the city manager leaving was very unfortunate.

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