City Council Finally Get Its Man: Dirk Brazil, New City Manager

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By the time the council formally meets to hire Dirk Brazil as city manager on October 21, it will be just shy of six months since former City Manager Steve Pinkerton officially left. On Monday night, in closed session, the council voted to appoint Dirk Brazil on a 4-0-1 vote, with Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis abstaining.

They authorized a contingent offer to Mr. Brazil, subject to acceptance by Mr. Brazil and formal approval at the October 21, 2014 Council meeting. According to the release from the city, the city council, led by a council search and subcommittee of Lucas Frerichs and Rochelle Swanson, engaged in an extensive national search for a new city manager, and was very pleased with the caliber of the over 80 applications received and thanks all the participants.

“My Tuesday nights will never be the same, but I’m OK with that. To take a leadership role in the city where I live is, to be honest, an incredible opportunity. I know there are significant challenges ahead of us. That’s the norm in local government. But there are also so many great possibilities,” said Brazil.

Mr. Brazil is currently the Assistant County Administrator for Yolo County and has served in this post for the past eight years. During this time, Mr. Brazil has worked on economic development, inter-government relations, natural resources management, legislative affairs, climate change/sustainability projects, and other regional initiatives, according to the city’s release.

Mr. Brazil brings with him knowledge on a number of regional and intergovernmental projects including the Downtown University Gateway District (Nishi), the Woodland-Davis water project, UC Davis’ Seed Central and Food Central efforts, the Yolo County Climate Compact, the Innovation Park proposal process, the Yolo Natural Heritage Program, the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, and Community Choice Aggregation, the city release said.

Prior to Yolo County, Mr. Brazil’s professional experience included positions as: District Director for then-State Assemblymember Lois Wolk; Chief Deputy in the California Department of Fish and Game; Chief Deputy in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Policy Director for Gray Davis during his tenure as State Controller and Lieutenant Governor, as well as holding a variety of leadership positions in the California State Legislature, the release continued.

“We appreciate all the highly qualified candidates who interviewed and we were fortunate to have excellent applicants for the Council to choose from. I couldn’t be more excited about Dirk’s selection to be our City Manager,” said Mayor Dan Wolk. “He’s smart, experienced, works well with others, and knows our community. We are facing a number of challenges and Dirk will help us immensely in addressing them.”

“I am confident that we have selected a person who will provide exceptional leadership to the organization for many years to come. I look forward to working with him and the Council to address our important priorities,” added Councilmember Brett Lee.

“This Council is strong, intentional and cohesive. And as a manager, you can’t ask for a better starting point,” said Mr. Brazil. He continued, “My job is to make sure the whole organization mirrors those qualities – everyone moving in the same, clearly defined direction. The Council sets the policy. We make it happen.”

The city release continued: Mr. Brazil is married to Nora, a Davis elementary school teacher/librarian and has two college age children. Mr. Brazil has an MA in Public Policy from Claremont Graduate School, a BA in Political Science from UC Davis, graduated from the Executive Management Program at the University of Washington and was a Coro Foundation Fellow.

They added that Dirk Brazil replaces former City Manager Steven Pinkerton who served the city of Davis from September 2011 through April 2014.

The release stated that Mr. Brazil will take over on November 3, 2014.

—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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59 thoughts on “City Council Finally Get Its Man: Dirk Brazil, New City Manager”

  1. Gunrocik

    The press  release forgot to mention the three other members of the search committee:  Craig Reynolds, Don Saylor and Bobby Weist.  Looks like Dan decided to hire a Campaign Manager instead of a City Manager. Nationwide search? I don’t think so. Kudos to Robb for not going along with the charade.

    1. South of Davis

      Gunrocik wrote:

      > Kudos to Robb for not going along with the charade.

      I’m disappointed that Robb did not vote.  Unlike many others on the city council I didn’t think Robb had plans for higher office and would not have to worry about his votes hurting fundraising down the road as he ran for higher office (like a State Senator from Illinois who did not vote yes or no on many things)…

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, I had not seen Robb’s reply when I put in my Harry Truman “Show me” thoughts. I was not speaking in any way for Robb, nor had I talked to him about his vote.

  2. Don Shor

    Mr. Brazil has worked on economic development, inter-government relations, natural resources management, legislative affairs, climate change/sustainability projects, and other regional initiatives… knowledge on a number of regional and intergovernmental projects… District Director for then-State Assemblymember Lois Wolk; Chief Deputy in the California Department of Fish and Game; Chief Deputy in the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife; Policy Director for Gray Davis during his tenure as State Controller and Lieutenant Governor, as well as holding a variety of leadership positions in the California State Legislature, the release continued.

    Are any of those budget related?

  3. Frankly

    To take a leadership role in the city where I live is, to be honest, an incredible opportunity.

    My first recommendation to Mr. Brazil is to lose the habit of using this euphemism… because the logical reflection is “when and why would you lie”?

    My biggest disappointment is the lack of private-sector business experience.  It seems we keep electing and appointing system insiders that will be forever lacking in their ability to see outside of a narrow box of public sector self-interest that has led us to so much financial difficulty.

    1. Gunrocik

      Frankly, your biggest concern should be his lack of any experience in running a City or managing a budget–and I would have thought you would already be in cardiac arrest over his close ties to the Democratic party.

      1. Frankly

        What senior level public sector employees do you know that don’t have close ties to the Democrat party?  I can’t think of many.

        His lack of experience running a city and managing a city budget are not necessarily bad things since he also has not developed bad habits.  His lack of experience building a more efficient and less costly organization means he will be learning how to do this while we pay him.  He has no track record from which to judge if he is capable or not.  So it is a crap shoot for if he really has the talent to succeed at the job.  I would have preferred we don’t take risks like that at this point in time, but then the CC has the responsibility and authority to select the best person for the job.  I will given the new CM the benefit of the doubt until we get to see him in action.

        1. Gunrocik

          Would you hire someone to run your company that doesn’t have any relevant industry experience?

          Has it ever occurred to you that city government is a pretty complex operation, just as complicated or even more complicated than running a software company, a manufacturing plant or a financial institution?

          Do you think the Board of Directors of Agraquest would hire the Manager of the local Orkin branch just because he sells pesticides and he used to work for the mommy of the Chairman of the Board — and he is a really nice guy and works well with others.

          Do you really think it is a responsible decision to hand the reigns of a $200 million a year corporation to someone who has never been in charge of anything and who has never even worked in that industry?

           

           

        2. hpierce

          Define your terms… for the city I can point to many senior mgt employees who either have no political affiliations, or, if they do, they are Rebulican… but they all are professional enough to keep that out of their job duties.  Clearly, you must bring your political stripes into your work, as you don’t see how government employees don’t.  Hope your politics fit with YOUR employer.

          I call “bullshit” on your implication that a significant number of senior City management staff, current, or recently retired, are linked to ANY party/philosophy (other than public service).

        3. Frankly

          <i>Would you hire someone to run your company that doesn’t have any relevant industry experience?</i>

          Absolutely.  There are some fabulous examples of this.  Louis Gerstner comes to mind he turned around IBM never having worked for a technology company.  Steve Jobs was not a technical engineer, yet he grew and led a company that was mostly technical engineering.

          Barack Obama didn’t have a stitch of executive experience, nor budget experience, nor foreign policy experience, nor military experience… and look how many people were fine hiring him!

          We have some existing Davis city employees at a senior level that have decades of work experience in their filed of expertise, yet it is clear they are in over their heads.

          But it is very possible that this CM choice has all the right stuff despite his lack of specific experience.  He deserves his honeymoon period just like any other new leader hire or appointment.

          But getting back to the challenge to my point that senior government employees tend to roll Democrat… you are going to have to provide more data to convince me otherwise.  Because if we tended to have this political balance that you insist we have, we would have more outcomes reflective of conservative leadership.  So, either these Republican and conservative senior employees in government are second tier leaders, or they don’t exist, or they are lying about their true political orientation… or they are wimps afraid of speaking their mind because of fear of professional retribution… and if that is the case, what use would the be in this debate.

  4. South of Davis

    Davis Burns wrote:

    > Why was Bobby Weist on the hiring committee?

    Do you really need to ask?  It is so the unions make sure they get a CM that thinks firefighters all need to make $100K…

  5. Davis Progressive

    if i were the police i’d be pissed and wonder where the political power is.  mayor hires firefighters pick, ignores the police on the mrap.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          I don’t have any experience dealing with Dirk Brazil. However, I have some with his boss at Yolo County, Patrick Blacklock. Mr. Blacklock’s work history (which includes a stint as a lobbyist in Sacramento) was not too different from Mr. Brazil’s, prior to Blacklock becoming the Yolo County Administrator.

          In my experience, Blacklock has been a good manager for Yolo County. He has not solved all of its many labor problems. But with their latest contracts he made some progress. If Brazil is anything like Blacklock–which seems likely, given he works directly under him–this is probably a good choice for the city of Davis.

          I also think it is beneficial that he has lived in Davis for a long time. More than someone coming from far afield, he is already vested in our community and he is likely to have a stronger, personal reason for making sure it stays strong well into the future. I also suspect that he will not have to take so long getting up to speed, if for no reason other than the executives of all of our local governments talk with each other and largely know the problems each is facing.

      1. Gunrocik

        Take off your rose colored glasses, Rich.  This is the hand picked choice of the Wolk, Weist, Saylor and Reynolds.  This is an attempt to take the city back to the good old days when the labor unions ran the show — face it, if Dan is going to beat Mariko for Senate, he can’t have some independent thinking City Manager upsetting the Fire Union.  And if Dan doesn’t win, Craig and Will won’t have a job anymore.  If Dirk is so great, why did they have to hire Patrick Blacklock from that evil outside world you talk about — and gee, he came from the outside and is doing a pretty good job.

        1. Rich RifkinWDE 73

          This is the hand picked choice of the Wolk, Weist, Saylor and Reynolds.

          Only time will tell exactly where Mr. Brazil attempts to take Davis. One thing I believe is certain: Fiscal reality will rule the day. The people of Davis don’t want more and more services cut and don’t want our infrastructure to get any worse. So if the budget and labor contracts are not addressed adequately, we will soon enough have to pay the piper, and that means gutting our services, including public safety.

  6. ryankelly

    This is fabulous news.  Dirk Brazil is a really good guy.  I am very pleased with the choice.  We now have a local person who is very familiar with the Davis community and Yolo County.   I think it is up to us to treat him well, so he sticks around for a while.

  7. Sam

    So we just increased the salary of the position to hire someone who (it looks like) has no experience actually running any type of business or government agency? Just what the City needs as our streets and pools fall apart, going into contract negotiations, as pension costs are rising with a current structural deficit. What could go wrong?

    1. South of Davis

      Sam wrote:

      > What could go wrong?

      Nothing for the insiders that put him in.  He gets paid more, they get paid more and we get more tax increases.

      I just read in the Marin IJ “The fiscal toll such pensions take … helps explain why there are 140 proposed tax increases on California ballots this November,” including 17 in Marin alone”.

      We are going to need a lot more sales and parcel tax increases to “stop employees from leaving for the private sector” when everyone else want to get raises and get paid like the new CM…

      P.S. I just looked on LinkedIn and while he did not have much on there he did say he graduated from UCD in 1981 (I’m wondering if Don ever ran in to the guy at Primero or any Fraternity parties)…

    2. Alan Miller

      So we just increased the salary of the position”

      I’m sure they had to increase the salary.  With only 80 applicants, how else could they fill the position?  #tongue blasting thru new gaping hole in cheek#

  8. Barack Palin

    So David, you stated earlier that we needed to pay more in order to get a better CM.  How did this work out for you? Do you consider this a better CM with lots of experience who also just happened to have worked for the mayor’s mother than we could’ve hired at the old pay?

  9. Doby Fleeman

     
    Speaking as a Davis businessman, one who has spent many hours in discussion of the issues which many of you DV readers hold so dear – i.e. fiscal imbalance, unfunded liabilities, unsustainable city budgets and the absence of meaningful, coherent, sustained exploration of economic development alternatives for the community – I can assure you Mr. Brazil both understands the issues, the range of available options and is positively and constructively engaged in those conversations. 
     
    For the past five years, Dirk has been a regular attendee and active participant in discussions before the Davis Chamber of Commerce Government Relations Committee.  I cannot speak for others, but I do know from experience, having chaired this committee for several years and continuing to remain active, that Mr. Brazil is very familiar with the challenges facing both Davis and the larger Yolo community.
     
    While I was a supporter of Steve Pinkerton, I believe that Dirk will bring  a different tone and tenor to the conversation – together with greater collaboration.  Dirk won’t have to spend the next two years explaining why or how he “really gets it” when talking about the Davis culture.  He and his family are already a part of it.  And, most importantly, he really cares about this community – this is his home town.
     
    The other thing, Dirk is a smart guy – smart enough to know that if he were to blindly follow some unsustainable,  blatantly politically directed policy path that he would never hear the end of it.  He already has a good job – why would he need to bring that kind of grief on himself and his family?
     
    I feel that we have suffered significantly in prior years by having someone in charge who is not a member of the community.  Personally, I like having a city manager who lives in and cares deeply about the community.  If Dirk is crazy enough to accept the job, I say “more power to him” – you couldn’t ask for a better leader.    
     

    1. Frankly

      Thanks Doby.  This is encouraging.

      One question/challenge…  Although I agree in general terms that someone that is a longer-term resident with a vested interest in the community would seem a more desirable choice, this also risks getting someone that has e no-growth mindset.

      Basically, if Mike Harrington is happy about the selection, we should all worry.

      1. Doby Fleeman

        Frankly,

        Obviously, I can’t speak for him, but I’m guessing that he understands the relationship between additional new employers/jobs and economic activity and the corresponding additional, new net revenue from property tax and sales tax as potential sources of new operating revenues.

        Admittedly, I am counting on the assumption that Dirk does clearly understand the need for additional new revenue, and presumably lots of revenue.

        The reason I say this is threefold: One) Given the revised starting salary range established for the position, there will likely be increased pressure for higher compensation at all intermediate and lower salary ranges – with the magnitude of that disparity determining how much pressure,  Two) With the likely number of retirements and early retirements coming down the pike in 2015, it seems likely there will be a whole new batch of employees looking to higher per position compensation as the result of the revised (reduced) benefits schedules versus  those in effect for current employees, and 3) a whole new slate of employees would mean a whole new layer of long term pension and healthcare benefit premium contributions to somehow be squeezed into future budgets.

        For what its worth, I’d be looking more at the pro-forma General Fund operating projections through 2020 to get a better idea of the likely budget challenges we will be facing.

        Fire Fighter compensation issues present their own particular brand of compensation challenge, and the “me too” clauses make them all the more difficult to satisfy from the standpoint of impact on overall, citywide compensation levels.  But even without those specific pressures, I am predicting these other wage cost pressures will present a very real fiscal challenge of their own.   Realistically, do you think the Council will take on Pension Reform, or further Healthcare Reform?

        One way or another, Davis is going to have to figure out how it is going to make these higher compensation levels affordable.

        The bottom line question will remain: “Short of more and more new taxes on existing residents – What is the city going to do about improving revenues?”

        1. Don Shor

          there will likely be increased pressure for higher compensation at all intermediate and lower salary ranges

          Which the council and city manager will have to resist. Employee costs need to be capped. They’ve reduced staff considerably without reducing employment costs, as far as I can tell from the budget figures that were presented on an earlier thread. If I’m wrong about that, it would be good to know.

          We are asking the voters to pay more taxes and expand the city limits in order to rebuild infrastructure, improve the roads, balance the books and develop a prudent reserve. If the costs of employment increase, beyond the parts that are beyond their control, then the city manager and council aren’t doing their jobs.

        2. South of Davis

          Don wrote:

          >  If the costs of employment increase, beyond the parts that are beyond their

          > control, then the city manager and council aren’t doing their jobs.

          The sad thing is that the “regular people” that pay taxes don’t give much money to people running for office so they tend to “do the job” of the people that do give them money (unions and politically connected business) that just happens to require more taxes to pay more money and benefits to the unions and pay more money to the politically connected business that charge $10 million to build a $2 million pool…

          I hope Robb is telling the truth about not running for higher office (it seems like just yesterday I was listing to current SF Mayor Ed Lee swear that he would never run for Mayor) and we can get some more people who think the “only” way to “do their job” is to 1. increase taxes, 2. increase pay and benefits and 3. give crazy amounts of money to the politically connected who build and “consult” on things (like if a school board member is trying to fire her daughters former coach)…

        3. Frankly

          The bottom line question will remain: “Short of more and more new taxes on existing residents – What is the city going to do about improving revenues?”

          Yes – that is the bottom line.

          I hope you are wrong about the pressure to increase compensation, but you do make a good point that the table was set by the CC agreeing to increase the pay for the CM position.  I viewed that as a mistake.

          I find it interesting comparing compensation levels for similar positions in the private sector and then wondering where this belief comes from that we need to succumb to the argument that Davis cannot compete with other cities for talent.

          This does connect back up to my earlier posts about my disappointment that the new CM did not have any private-sector experience.   It seems to me that there are people in charge with a vested interest to keep the hiring process as a closed-loop.  And if you think about your point that the CM pay increase will put pressure on the downstream layers to expect a pay increase, they the opposite would be true… pay increases at the line level would cause the higher layers to demand greater pay.

          So, as a closed-loop system all layers have a vested interest to inflate compensation levels.

          One big question…   is the CC part of that closed loop system, or are they outside of it and lacking any vested interest or even a potential interest, for compensation increases of city workers?

          I would expect to see all city job openings to be clearly and openly posted and include functional qualifications that don’t restrict or eliminate any candidate having only only private-sector experience.  And I would like to get data from the city for how many applications they received.  Assuming these things, my guess is that the city would be flooded with applications for almost every city job.  And that would be a strong indication that the existing compensation levels are more than adequate.

        4. Doby Fleeman

          Don,

          All well and good, but when I start hearing the City Council talking about the jobs:housing & jobs:population shortage – then, and only then, will I begin to take heart.

          If you don’t talk about it and set it as a consistent, recurring priority, with measurable deliverables – the issue drops to the bottom of the priority list.

          From “Our Plan Palo Alto 2030”, examples of high priority multi-tasking and how those results might look after a few decades of focused effort:

          – Palo Alto has a ratio of approximately 3.04 jobs for every employed resident, compared to 1.05 jobs for every employed resident in the county as a whole.
          – Palo Alto has added over 625 affordable housing units since 1999.
          – Palo Alto has tracked increases in non-residential square footage in Downtown since 1986 and in other areas of the City since 1989.  The average annual growth in non-residential square footage Citywide between 1989 and today has been 96,406 square feet per year.

    2. Anon

      Thanks for the insight into the new city manager.  I certainly will give him the benefit of the doubt until something shows me otherwise.  He needs all the support he can get in this town.

      1. Gunrocik

        According to this website:  http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?a=yolo-county&q=brazil&y=2013   Looks like he made about $166,000 last year.  Our City Manager made 188,000.  http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/2012/davis/steven-j-pinkerton/  If you give the new CM about a 15% raise over what he makes now you won’t have any wage inflation at all.  I’m guessing that increased salary range was for an applicant with actual City Manager experience–no reason to increase the salary for a first time CM who doesn’t even have to relocate.

          1. Matt Williams

            Gunrock was already taken as a user name by someone else, so he chose the alternative spelling.

    3. Gunrocik

      I give up guys.  I know that over here on campus we aren’t the model bureaucracy — but let’s face it — we’ve had great outcomes over the years.  This fact sheet says it all:  http://www.ucdavis.edu/about/facts/rankings/discipline.html   Is it too much to ask to have a city and school district that are also world class?

      Can you please stop putting nice guys in charge of these major corporations.  I’m already paying a lot of money for private schools and now it looks like they are also on our way to parcel taxing me into oblivion for both the Schools and the City.

      You’ve got a School Superintendent without a PhD, without the requisite management experience, and with a Board that he can’t control.  Now you are bringing in a political operative to run the City.  Never been in charge of anything.  Clearly has lots of time to kill if he has been able to attend countless Chamber of Commerce meetings.  University is crawling with those types of folks, but we don’t let them into the academic side of things.

      To speak in academic terms, you are promoting guys to department directors who don’t even have tenure!  That isn’t how you make this a world class town.  Why is it that us folks over in the Ivory Tower can see this while our local business class continues to fall for false prophets?

      1. hpierce

        You want a PhD to control elected officials… OK.  You “give up”. OK.

        remember PhD can mean ‘piled higher and deeper’.

        Don’t let these things get to you.  It is intermission.  Feel free to leave.

      2. hpierce

        BTW… have had ‘academics’, with multiple initials after their name, ask where their city water comes from… once that is explained, they ask where their hot water comes from.  Brilliant, but clueless.

  10. DavisBurns

    I agree, he deserves our support and good will.  When he makes decisions we don’t like, then we complain.  Right now he is a new employee and deserves the benefit of the doubt.

  11. hpierce

    Can we assume that the text of the CM contract will be available as part of the CC packet on Friday?  Including compensation, both salary and other, and provisions for term of contract if either the CM or CC chooses to terminate the contract before its end?

  12. TrueBlueDevil

    As an outsider, it sounds like we could have used a budget guru who is able to make tough choices, or someone with nuts-and-bolts experience in the private sector / business development / large scale deal making. Both would have been great.

    It seems like we got an “insider”, who knows all the buzz words, players, and history, but is unproven. Or maybe he is proven to the vested power structure who want more of the same.

    In any event, I think the behind-the-scenes power structure and front-of-camera players should advocate that he make the same amount as the previous CM, or less, given his lack of experience. If they want, give him a bonus for results, just like the business world. Fiscal prudence is a high priority when revenues are so meager.

     

  13. Tia Will

    “just like the business world. ”

    While I agree that bonuses for meeting established goals might be a better compensation structure than increased salary, as someone who has had almost her entire career in the “private sector” and the “business world” I find a certain irony in holding up the “business world” as the gold standard for a location to have gained experience. Just like within the public sector, there are success stories and failures within the  private business community. CEOs come and go. Having success within one company does not guarantee success in future ventures. The individual who is “hot” today, may be out in the future due to failure to foresee dramatic changes in the changing tides of  economic activity or by mistaken judgements about one’s likely future market share, or the effects of actions of one’s competitors. We saw this in the late 90’s  when our medical group was very, very close to financial collapse.

    I see no reason to believe that simply because an individual in the private sector has been successful to date, that this will automatically translate to success in the public sector where the skill sets needed are clearly not identical.

    In any event, I welcome and wish the best of luck to our new city manager.

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