Commentary: Community Needs to Rally Behind New City Manager

Dirk Brazil

The city of Davis is facing a series of enormous challenges in the coming weeks, months, and even years. But first on the agenda was selecting a city manager who would be able to run the city. In 2011, the Davis City Council chose someone from outside the community with vast experience as a city manager, Steve Pinkerton.

Now, six months after Mr. Pinkerton left, the council had a choice between another individual with that kind of experience in municipal government, or someone who has not really dealt with municipal government issues, but has been the Assistant County Administrator for some time and, importantly, lives in Davis and knows this community inside and out.

When I spoke with Dirk Brazil briefly on Tuesday afternoon, he reminded me that his is not a political position. It is his job to carry out the direction of council to the best of his abilities. While I do not know Mr. Brazil extremely well, the times we have met have always been good. He certainly understands the challenges ahead and that the stakes in the community right now are quite high.

I was struck yesterday by the number of people who came forward on Facebook and in emails that not only applauded the selection, but were very excited by it.

The words of Doby Fleeman should reassure those concerned about the city’s direction that we are headed in the right direction.

Yesterday in a comment Mr. Fleeman writes:

“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.

As one person I spoke to pointed out, the key will be not who the city manager is, but what directions the council gives to him to carry out.

We have some very critical decisions coming. One crisis that is just starting to form is a possible large exit of senior staff. Dirk Brazil and the council have a very thin needle to thread here. On the one hand, they need to continue fiscally sustainable policies, but on the other hand, they risk losing senior staff, some of whom we might consider indispensable, because of salary concerns and also the culture surrounding the city.

As we have noted time and again, the community at large seems unaware of the fiscal crisis. We’ve cited the Godbe Research Poll that the city financed, but the Mace Innovation Park Poll found that 65 percent of the respondents felt that the city was moving in the right direction compared to only 22 percent who thought it was moving in the wrong direction.

But there is a very real fiscal crisis, despite the work that has happened in the last four years. The challenge for the city manager will be to find the funding that we need to keep the programs, services and amenities that we have.

It is this budgetary reality that leads us to believe that the city council and city manager will not have the fiscal latitude to move in the wrong direction, even if they had the inclination to do so.

The city has a tough task ahead of it. It must build community consensus to first pass a parcel tax to fund road repairs, parks, pools and other needs. It must then forge community consensus to push through economic development projects like the innovation parks – while early polling shows promising support, we also know that once the campaign begins, things will get more dicey.

The role of the community now is to back the council and to help keep them focused on the critical tasks ahead. This is going to be a serious challenge, for the city to be able to move forward.

The council has tasked Dirk Brazil to be the administrator that will help push these changes through. We wish him the best of luck and hope he is highly successful.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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  1. SODA

    I agree with your comments. I have met Dirk and he seems competent, engaged and very personable. I am concerned however, as a strong supporter of Robb Davis, as to why he abstained from the vote. Personally I am hoping that will become clear soon.

  2. Barack Palin

    David, as was implied in several comments yesterday is Dirk Brazil the firefighter’s pick that you were sounding the alarm on in the past few weeks?

    1. David Greenwald

      At this point, as the tone of my article indicates, we should focus on the task at hand and if the situation arises that needs further attention, you can be assured that the Vanguard will be watching things closely. Yes, I dodged your question.

      1. hpierce

        Methinks you have answered the question, by ‘dodging’ it, but you are leaving yourself an out if you were premature in your “concerns”. Nice gamesmanship.  I applaud.

  3. Anon

    The City Manager has been chosen and should be given the benefit of the doubt.  It is important for citizens to actively support him and the City Council into bringing this city into a more healthy fiscal condition.  That should be the focus.  So two things should be on everyone’s radar screen: 1) parcel tax to get us through the next 10 years of fiscal crisis to address the deplorable road/bike path conditions and poor maintenance of buildings/pools; 2) development of innovation parks as a long term strategy for fiscal sustainability that will pass a Measure R vote, and will fit with the core values of the city.   If any citizens disagree with 1 & 2, it is time for those individuals to start coming up with reasonable ideas on how to get this city out of its fiscal mess.  Personally, I have no patience with the folks that continually cast criticisms at every idea for fiscal solvency, but refuse to pose reasonable solutions of their own.  Digging out of a financial pit will be difficult, but it can be done, and Davis has the assets and talent to do it.

    1. Davis Progressive

      so we all have to fall in line.  it’s going to be harder to dig out of the mess when you’re in bed with the people that created the mess in the first place.

  4. Davis Progressive

    barack: you and i are in agreement.  david is clearly being political here.  the vanguard previously attacked first and second and worried about repercussions later.  that said, i have no doubt there will be a sharp and pointy stick waiting for anyone who veers of course.

    1. Barack Palin

      D.P, the Vanguard has changed as I’ve stated before.  This should be a huge point of contention right now if the firefighters truly did get their candidate.  It was David who sounded the alarm about this through his anonymous contacts.  Now that it looks like what he alarmed us about has come to fruition he is attempting to wash his hands of it. The CM will have a huge roll in public union contracts and it looks like the unions got their man if you read between the lines.  We knew Pinkerton would work towards reining in public employee costs because he had a history of doing so and that was huge a reason he got the job.  I started reading the Vanguard because it wasn’t afraid to take on the man, now in my opinion when I see articles like this where David capitulates and the list of donors to a recent Vanguard event in my opinion it’s now getting in bed with the man.

      1. Davis Progressive

        ” This should be a huge point of contention right now if the firefighters truly did get their candidate.  It was David who sounded the alarm about this through his anonymous contacts.  Now that it looks like what he alarmed us about has come to fruition he is attempting to wash his hands of it. ”

        that’s a concern.  or maybe he sounded the alarm so we watch out for it, but figures right now it won’t help things to pound on the new city manager.  i don’t think he’s going to hold back if something happens.  still… i think we need a more in depth report on the new city manager.

        1. Davis Progressive

          not backing off a bit.  very alarmed by the hire. very alarmed that brett and rochelle went along with it.  but what good does it do to pound him now rather than waiting…  that’s all

        2. Matt Williams

          still… i think we need a more in depth report on the new city manager.

          DP, I’m not sure that any “report” we might get will be of any value to us at this point. What I think will truly be of value is a few quick “wins” delivered in his initial weeks on the job.

  5. Sam

    Why is it that we are all expected to fall in line when the City council just picked the Fire unions choice as City Manager? We are going to be the ones holding the bag after the favors are handed out and the current City Council members have higher offices and the highest paid firefighters in the State are having another party at Uncle Vito’s.

    The City Manager and the Council need to put a large parcel tax on the ballot to repair the roads and decide between cutting expenses to the current revenue or increasing revenues to match expenses. What I don’t want to see is them continuously overcompensating City employees and then coming back crying poor saying they need more money for basic services that should already be provided.  How many days were Yolo County offices closed and how many positions were cut over the past several years due to lack of funding?


    1. hpierce

      Sam… do you have independent knowledge of Dirk being the “Fire unions choice”?  David is not disclosing whether his “prophecy” is fulfilled, and CC member Davis remains silent.  Unless you do have independent information that you are willing to document, I’ll cut the new CM some slack, but still reserve judgement, and still excoriate David for not ‘manning up’ to his earlier “concerns”.  If David (or Davis) believes this is the ‘anti-christ’ he was concerned about, he could man up, say so, and STILL give the CM a chance to prove himself one way or the other.  I doubt that either of the D’s will step to the plate and explain themselves.

      1. Tia Will

        The Davis one of the D’s has an ethical reason for not “explaining” his decision to us as he has explained in his post.

        Closed session deliberations are exactly that “closed”. This means that it is unethical to leak, or explain, or be coy about items that are discussed in “closed session”. I have know Robb long enough to know that what ever decision he has made is because he genuinely thought it was in the best interest of the city. This has zero to do with whether or not I would agree with that decision. Robb was elected presumably because the majority of those who voted felt that he was honest, hard working, thoughtful and would act in the best interests of the community. I strongly believe that this remains the case.


        1. hpierce

          Please EXCUSE ME for not having the benefit of Mr Davis’ explanation when I posted.

          IF I had that benefit, my post would have been different.    I sincerely apologize for NOT having precognition nor omniscience.

          I voted for Mr Davis, and contributed to his campaign.  I can see where as he was not a part of the search criteria, the early rounds of interviews(?), nor the vote to ‘sweeten the pot’, where he would conscientiously choose to abstain, even if not ‘required to’.

          Tia, I stand humbled by your righteous and well deserved criticism.

  6. Frankly

    The sensitive remain sensitized to the potential sensitivity from others that they are not sensitive enough.

    Hence things like “abstain”, “dodge”, “have an out”….

    It is only impressive from a political gamesmanship perspective.  But otherwise it is worthy of scorn.

    1. Barack Palin

      Frankly, you know I’m with you on the need for innovation parks.  I’m also with you on keeping public pay under control if not make large further cuts.  We could’ve hired a tough CM who we know would take on the unions head on and who would also promote business parks.  Did we get this now, in my opinion no if you read between the lines.

      1. Frankly

        BP, I completely agree.  Davis does not do “tough” very well.   We all walk on eggshells trying to to offend anyone, or more importantly, certain groups.

      2. Matt Williams

        Did we get this now, in my opinion no if you read between the lines.

        BP, my experience with Dirk Brazil is limited, but I can honestly say that I haven’t had a bad experience, so my suggestion is that we should not pre-judge him.

        I also know that the experiences I have had with him have not included budget details or union negotiations. I am hoping that he is just as tough in those areas as he is diplomatic … with the diplomatic side of him being what I have seen in my experiences to-date.

        1. Davis Progressive

          you are raising the key point.  that is – everyone has good experiences with the man.  he’s a nice guy.  but that’s not the measure of him.  budget and union negotiations will be.  that’s where i worry with people who try to please everyone all the time.  can he be a bastard if and when he needs to be?

        2. Barack Palin

          Who actually gets the job is of the utmost importance.  To say we’ll keep an eye on them or come down hard if they give in to the unions will all be after the fact, the damage will have been done.  Getting the right person in there to begin with was the battle, and if I’m to believe all the innuendo I’ve been reading on the Vanguard that didn’t happen.

          1. Matt Williams

            I understand BP, but in this case the bell has been rung. It isn’t going to be unrung, so belaboring the woulda, coulda, shoulda that is now part of history won’t change the decision. Further, the innuendo you’ve been hearing is just that … innuendo. It never got to the proof stage.

            So, the page has turned. Let’s focus on making what is written on the new page as positive as possible.

          1. Matt Williams

            BP, I have never revisited a completed water decision. When new decisions were in the offing I have never been bashful, but crying over spilt milk has never been my modus operendi.

            The water page never actually turned until the new rates were ratified by the ratepayers and the plaintiffs agreed not to proceed with another suit/initiative/referendum. At that point, the page truly did turn.

            Further, BP if your reference is to the Lovenburg/Allen letter to the editor in the Enterprise, the page they were looking to turn with that advice to the community was still being actively written on by the various players. In this case, the Council’s action on Monday completed the selection cycle. There is no more selecting that remains to be done.

            With that said, there is another difference between the Lovenburg/Allen “get over it” and this one. Their advice to the readers was to have the whole issue miraculously evaporate into thin air, never to be heard from again. They were looking for “an end.” In this case, the hiring decision represents “a beginning” of what will be a many chapter book of events where City Manager Brazil plays a lead role an/or a supporting role. So it is much less of a “get over it” message, but rather a “turn the page” message. There are lots more chapters to come.

        3. Frankly

          Here is 1.5 things helping me be more optimistic about the choice for CM.

          Brett voted for him.

          And Rochelle voted for him.

          But I am bothered that Robb didn’t vote for him… but frankly (because I am), I’m not 100% sure where Robb lines up at this point.  I think he is a fiscal conservative and likely to turn tail from anyone that is a friend of the firefighters union… but I’m just not sure yet.

        4. Frankly

          1 for Brett because he has demonstrated he will stand against the majority, and .05 for Rochelle because she has come close to standing against the majority, and 0 for Robb because I don’t know why he abstained.

          1. Matt Williams

            Robb, has issued a statement explaining his abstention.

            On this issue I give Rochelle a 1.0 as well.

        5. Barack Palin

          I read the article about the abstention.  I must have missed the reason, Matt can you please tell me what I missed?  What I got out of the article was he has a reason but can’t tell us.

  7. Gunrocik

    Pretty much everyone commenting on this post today is a long term follower of the Vanguard.  Amazingly very few of you are able to connect the dots.  You now have a Lois Wolk/Helen Thompson protege running the City of Davis.  While a staffer, he also worked closely with Supervisors Provenza and Saylor.  Who were the signatories on the letter criticizing the City/UCD Fire Merger?  All of those folks plus Yamada.  Who decided to personally attack our new Fire Chief in a blatant pandering to Bobby Weist last winter?  Our Mayor Dan Wolk… and who along with Dan opposed the Fire Merger.  Don Saylor’s protege – Lucas Frerichs.

    I seriously doubt any of the other candidates came from the same pro-fire pedigree–so it is pretty obvious that Boss Weist was supportive of Mr. Brazil’s appointment and it sounds like David has other information to back that up.

    While I am not aware of Mr. Brazil ever making a public statement regarding the Fire Merger, you can bet he will be under tremendous pressure from his political supporters to make Boss Weist happy.

    And this is very disappointing — his power base derives from the folks who at both the local and state level have created our financial mess.

    And I am done giving these self serving narcissists the benefit of the doubt.  They are systemically destroying this City for their own personal gain and thirst for power.  The more you embrace them, the more they will destroy you.  Come on, you’ve got eight years worth of documentation right here on the Vanguard.  The Fire Contracts, the enhanced retirements, the unfunded liabilities — Saylor took the lead, but I bet a lot of it started back in Lois’ days on the Council — Bobby was around back then as well.  And Helen et al made sure the same unsustainable initiatives took place at the County as well.

    I would have at least hoped that the Fleemans, Rikins and Franklys would take a more jaundiced eye at what just transpired.  You’ve been getting taken by these folks for decades and our community is on the brink of a permanent decline that is going to cost you and I a lot more than it will any of them!

    There is too much evidence to even consider giving Dan and his cronies the benefit of the doubt on this one.  Since we weren’t privy to the interview process, I think it is only fair that we in the community get a shot at this before they approve his contract.  Before the Council approves the contract, I think David should ask Dirk to go on the record regarding his professional assessment of the following:  The Fire Merger, Fire Staffing, Employee Compensation, the current status of our roadways, and the competing Innovation Park Proposals.

    Given that he doesn’t appear to have any experience in any of these areas, it would be great to hear what he said behind closed doors to convince the Council he was the best candidate.

    1. Aggie

      I completely agree with the dots you are connecting, but disagree with your narrative that Wolk orchestrated the hiring of Brazil at the behest of Weist.

      Wolk only has one vote.  The hiring subcommittee was comprised of Frerichs and Swanson. If you are upset that we had 80 applicants and wound up with an overpaid Davis political insider with dubious credentials, then your wrath would be more appropriately directed at the two council members that guided the process.

      Moreover, your concern about the final selection of Brazil presupposes that the council passed over better finalists.  My assessment is that in the end we wound up in a “least worst” situation, and the bulk of the blame lies with poor execution of the recruitment process under the direction of the council subcommittee.

      Swanson, Lee, and Davis are not part of the Wolk machine.  Frerichs is a wannabe at best.  The idea that the Mayor orchestrated this outcome from the minority under the direction of union allies just doesn’t ring true.

  8. Mark West

    I believe that Mr. Brazil deserves the support of the community and that he should be given the benefit of the doubt that he will be able to succeed in the position.  I truly hope that he is successful.

    I do not believe however that the City Council deserves the same consideration.

    Hiring the new City Manager was the critical decision of this term.  The Council needed to hire someone with impeccable credentials and experience to give the community confidence that we are in a strong position to control the growth in employee compensation, and get us back on track to fiscal sustainability. Unfortunately, they started the process by declaring that they needed to raise the compensation level to get qualified candidates, and then hired a candidate who on the surface appears to have better political connections than pertinent work experience.

    We will be faced with many difficult decisions in the next few years as we struggle to bring the City back to fiscal sustainability.  We need a strong negotiating team to get that accomplished, and perhaps more importantly, the community needs to believe that the Council has the will to make the difficult decisions.  To use a baseball analogy, the score is tied in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and we needed a ‘home run’ hire.  What we got instead is a base runner at first on an error.  The game is still going on, and Mr. Brazil may yet come around to score the winning run, but at this point that doesn’t seem very likely.  Instead I suspect we will find that his compensation package is the foreshadow of what we can expect in the next round of contract negotiations.

    With this hire the City Council had the opportunity to demonstrate to the community that they are serious about solving our fiscal crisis.  In my opinion, they failed.

      1. Gunrocik

        While we can’t ask the Council to reveal the identities of the other candidates, I don’t think the sanctity of closed session would be breached if we asked the Council whether or not any well qualified sitting city managers were interviewed for the position?  Also would be nice to know if the Council as a whole interviewed the finalists and how many they interviewed as a group.  I would think the public has the right to know if there was an actual process or just a single pre determined candidate.

    1. Frankly

      Well said Mark West.

      I would alter the last sentence a bit to say that the CC failed in addressing the need to use the CM hiring process to help bolster confidence that city leadership is strongly capable and committed to moving us to fiscal sustainability.  But the larger question about their ultimate failure or success to hire the right man/woman for the job is a chapter that has not been written yet.

      1. Gunrocik

        If the Council wants us to trust them to responsibly spend a parcel tax, wouldn’t it have been smarter to be a little more open about the CM recruitment?  They don’t have to tell us names, but they could be a little more forthright about why they chose the favorite son instead of someone with actual experience.

  9. Don Shor

    People who know Dirk Brazil seem to be saying that his personality and temperament are great, which can certainly be an asset in the job he’s taking. Others see the benefit of his being a local guy, Davis resident, saying that will give him insight into the way Davis does things that may have been lacking in recent city managers.

    I asked earlier whether any of his previous jobs involved budget expertise. I don’t know the answer. It seems to me that with respect to the two most important things he and the council will be facing — budget issues and labor contracts — his temperament, lack of background in those areas, and even the fact that he is local could all become liabilities. If he knows everybody who’s involved in local politics, everybody’s got his ear.

    I expect this will raise the profile and portfolio of the Finance and Budget Commission, which will need to give greater public attention to budget issues. Maintaining the budget cuts implemented by CM Pinkerton will be paramount. I am concerned that the focus on revenue enhancements (parcel taxes, business parks) may cause some to take their eyes off the third leg of the budget: the expense cuts. Anything that shows evidence of backsliding toward higher employee costs, higher expenses (such as the fire staffing issue), IMO jeopardizes — and should jeopardize — any push toward revenue increases.

    The city residents and taxpayers should not be asked to pay more to fund pay increases. I hope the new city manager sees that, and I hope there is a council majority that will stick to it.

    1. hpierce

      Don… do I understand that you want to see zero increase in costs for employee compensation?  “…backsliding toward higher employee costs, higher expenses (such as the fire staffing issue),”

      So, all employees should have salary, benefits frozen indefinitely as costs of living/medical insurance grow (and have the employees absorb those costs)?  If we add planners or other city employees, should other city employees take cuts to make up for the total compensation of additional employees?  If PERS increases the employer share of contributions, should the employees completely absorb that?

      Can you articulate what you recommend?  Do you mean that there should be no “enhancements” beyond the existing?

      1. Davis Progressive

        “So, all employees should have salary, benefits frozen indefinitely as costs of living/medical insurance grow (and have the employees absorb those costs)?”

        that would be a good way to slowly undo the impact of the salary and compensation increases from last decade.

        1. hpierce

          DP… thank you for a somewhat honest answer.  When you say “it would be a good way”, do you mean that you advocate that this should be the City’s policy?

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