Transitions – New Leadership Creates Opportunities

Matt Yancey was hired as new Davis Chamber of Commerce Director
Matt Yancey was hired as new Davis Chamber of Commerce Director

 by Rob White

As the City moves forward on finding the next City Manager, there have been several other local and regional leadership positions facing transitions over the past few months.

These transitions include the CEO of the Davis Chamber, the CEO and a key economic development position at the Sacramento Metro Chamber, the CEO of the Sacramento Area Regional Technology Alliance (SARTA), a key economic analyst at the Sacramento Area Commerce and Trade Organization (SACTO) and the dean of the Graduate School of Management at UC Davis. Of course this is just a quick list and there are likely others I have not accounted for here.

My point is that with transitions in leadership come opportunities – some positive and some surely negative.

On the negative side, there is a loss of knowledge, experience and stability. The leader of any organization has likely established a certain culture and work environment that will be out of balance until new leadership is found.

But with the transitions comes new opportunities, and that is what I would like to focus on.

As the City Council searches for the next City Manager, they are most certainly weighing many factors. Regardless of what they decide, the City staff will have a new leader to indoctrinate into the “Davis way,” but the new manager will also have an opportunity to create a new set of paradigms and partnerships.

Many have their opinions about what Steve Pinkerton did (or didn’t do), but those points are mostly moot now. He has departed and leaves a legacy of his decision-making, but his actions and influence on current and future decisions is not material. We have an Interim City Manager and he is making daily decisions and assisting City Council in policy setting to the best of an interim’s ability.

But as we move forward and the City Council selects the next leader for the City staff, I would challenge all of us (staff and community) to use this as an opportunity to set new direction and strengthen or renew relationships. There will undoubtedly be the normal dissecting of their experience, ability and early pronouncements. And I have no doubt that the Vanguard community will look deeply into the selected individuals past.

I would premise that regardless of who is selected, we should rally around this new leader, amplifying their strengths and helping them become quickly acquainted to the Davis community. We might be best served to first assume that they will succeed as a leader in our community before we start to figure out all of the negatives that ‘might’ occur.

The hiring of the new CEO of the Davis Chamber is a great example of this concept. We all know that Kemble Pope did some great things for the Chamber and that there were some that criticized his actions. By all outward indications, his Board seemed happy with his leadership abilities and they created several new programs and are about to unveil their 2020 Prosperity Plan. So clearly, he left a positive mark on some parts of the organization.

With Matt Yancey coming on board, the community gets a business leader that has a strong economic development background and a proven track record with a regional chamber of commerce. We are lucky to have him and his skills as a collaborator will be needed for him to succeed in Davis.

With this new community leader, we also receive a chance for any less than optimal relationships to be renewed. We get a fresh start and an opportunity to create new linkages based on a new set of circumstances. Sure, Matt will meet with his own challenges, and may even have some relationships that just don’t work well. But this change gives us a clean, new slate and a chance to recalibrate (and in some cases, reconnect).

So my challenge to each of us is that as we see new leadership locally and regionally, let’s use this as a chance to recalibrate our community dialogue and create new (and better) connections that serve our community needs. Let’s assume the best of the new City Manager (no matter who it might be) and let them have a chance to prove their abilities and demonstrate the reason why the Council selected them.

Why not assume that we can have more opportunities from these changes… I think we might all be better served to approach our activities from a place of abundance versus scarcity. But that is another article entirely!

Thanks for reading and considering my ideas. Your thoughts are always welcome. My email is if you choose to email me directly or you can follow me on Twitter @mrobertwhite.

About The Author

Rob White is the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of Davis and was selected as a 2012 White House Champion of Change for Local Innovation. He serves as an ex-officio Board Member for techDAVIS (a local tech entrepreneur industry group), as an executive Board Member for the Innovate North State iHub, and as a Board Member for Hacker Lab and the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation. He is a candidate for the Doctorate in Policy, Planning and Development from the University of Southern California and has a Masters from USC in Planning and Development and a Bachelors of Science in Geology from Chico State.

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  1. Anon

    1. The “Davis way” is not set in stone, and depends on who one is talking to in this town. There are very differing views of that term.

    2. I agree that setting a positive tone and not assuming all sorts of negative outcomes will be the most helpful in moving our community forward. We have a golden opportunity to make this community so much more fiscally sustainable and innovative. 😉

  2. Davis Progressive

    in general i think new leadership is a chance for fresh air, but i worry about special interests trying to contaminate the process. i suspect this was in response to david’s article from yesterday, i don’t think this allays concerns expressed there.

    1. Incog


      With respect to leadership of the Chamber of Commerce, Kemble Pope was a political operative for John Whitcombe and friends. Talk about contamination by special interests.

      I have high hopes that Matt Yancey will be an honest broker and an outstanding leader (and definitely a breath of fresh air).

  3. Anon

    To DP: I agree with your statement “in general i think new leadership is a chance for fresh air, but I worry about special interests trying to contaminate the process”. Where our differences may be is which special interests we are worried about. I worry more about those who oppose growth no matter what, and developers telling citizens whatever they think we want to hear. How about you?

    1. Davis Progressive

      i’m more worried that our fiscal system will be strained by organized city employee groups trying to get back in through the back door (after they lost out on the electoral process). this is the influence based politics i worry about. i really believe with a level playing field we can make the case we need to get a measure r vote passed, but if the increased revenues ends up going back to the firefighters and employee compensation, we’re just feeding the trough again.

  4. Tia Will


    My biggest concerns are the extremes at either end of the spectrum. I find the grow as much and as fast as possible group just as concerning as the no growth, no how, no way. Neither group seems to care about balance or respect for the values and perspectives of others.

    1. Anon

      Honestly Tia, I just don’t think there is anyone in this town who believes we should grow at any cost. If the innovation park did not pencil out fiscally, and was a net neutral or negative, I don’t think anyone would support it. JMO

  5. Frankly

    I think we might all be better served to approach our activities from a place of abundance versus scarcity.

    I think 80% of the calls the police get are for noise ordinance complaints. And I understand that a very small fraction… something like 5%… end up with a fine. Most are just neighbor squabbles. I also understand that the general ambient noise level (traffic, people, etc.) in most of the core area and many other areas of Davis exceeds the level in the city ordinance most of the time.

    If you haven’t yet, please visit the downtown around 11:30 PM on a Thursday or Friday. And if you can stay awake long enough, travel down Russel Blvd. at 1:30 AM. And the time between 11:00 PM and 3:00 AM generates over 50% of the police case load… and most of it focuses on the downtown core area. At 1:30 AM on a Thursday or Friday, there is more traffic on Russel than at any other time of the day or night.

    I have two points here:

    One – our scarcity approach has led to an extreme population-dense community where we are congested, making lots of noise and irritating each other.

    Two – our scarcity approach has caused a concentration of smallish eating and drinking establishments downtown… and at night Davis downtown has become the hot club scene in this part of the valley. They come from Sacramento and Fairfield. Change has happened and is happening despite our desire and approach to prevent it. And many see the changes as completely undesirable.

    The problem with a mindset of scarcity is that change just happens to us. Conversely, the abundance approach/mindset means that we generally are on-top of the change and working to anticipate it and manage it.

    Ironically those that want to control so much by blocking and opposing development are actually much more lacking in control.

    1. Don Shor

      In the past you’ve urged that we redevelop downtown for more eating and entertainment. Now you say it’s a problem. Are you suggesting we disperse the restaurants and bars around town so the police can try to manage the drinking and fighting in multiple locations?

        1. Alan Miller

          Living a block from downtown I have huge problem with the “change” you site. I’ve lived in this area since 1984 and I don’t see a change in the drunken idiocy on Little Friday through Saturday. It’s as stupid today as it was thirty years ago. I love having people come through and flip our garbage can just because they are drunk and Little Friday happens to also be our garbage night. I love having a guy from the bars fall asleep driving away drunk and end up on an embankment next to my house, or another car missing the 2nd and L corner and ending up in PG&E (if they started at Sudwerk) or the railroad tracks (if they started downtown). Or having a guy take the side off of five cars in the neighborhood before tearing off into town and crashing into a parked car. A small group of downtown businesses profits mightily off selling alcohol to young people, and the police do their best to catch a few people before they drive off drunk and potentially plow into something or someone. A fine Davis tradition on Little Friday.

          What has changed is the installation of sub-woofers. From 11:00pm to 2am, the window in which I usually try to go to sleep, about 7-8 years ago several clubs downtown installed sub-woofers. When this started, for about a year I called the cops and nothing happened. Finally one sympathetic officer admitted to me the way the noise ordinance is written they have to be able to register the noise on their meters in front of my house. The bass, however, just vibrates the house THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP. It’s also almost impossible to pinpoint the responsible business when bass is not directional and multiple businesses are pounding at the same time. I do not ever give money to those businesses that make themselves into nightclubs with subwoofers on Little Friday. So I usually just don’t count on sleeping until 2am on Little Friday, which sucks as I work. Some change sucks; I don’t know how I can be “in charge of it” sans cutting the wires on the subwoofers, which is a crime, and excess bass is simply “unenforced”.

          What the F— does any of this have to do with scarcity or abundance? I have no idea. There is scarcely ever a Little Friday without an abundance of THUMP-THUMP-THUMP.

  6. Tia Will

    I am eagerly awaiting Rob White’s thoughts on abundance vs scarcity. From our previous conversations emails and exchanges on the Vanguard, I am anticipating we will have very different views on what these terms actually mean.

  7. Alan Miller

    “Have you nicely asked the businesses to tone it down?”

    I did talk to owner/manager of the nearest loudest one when he opened his business and he assured me they were not going to have dancing on Little Friday. I let him know I didn’t have a problem with the music/noise/dancing except for the sub-woofers. He said he understood and not to be concerned. Three weeks later they got subwoofers and ever since they have used them. What’s really annoying is about 1:30am for the last half-hour on most Little Friday’s they crank the sub-woofer way up, my theory being everyone including the DJ’s are super drunk and don’t care.

    I’m totally cool with a neighbor having a loud party, especially if they let us know in advance. Usually I’ll turn on a fan and go to sleep. These subwoofers, however, are so powerful they literally transmit the vibrations through the water table and they can strongly shake houses well over a quarter-mile away. AND it is EVERY Thursday, Friday and Saturday (when enough students are in town to justify).

    I don’t patronize any of these businesses; I will not give them my money.

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