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