(This may be a new regular column. My weekend commentaries “My View” and “Sunday Commentary” often wrap up the week. This one, if it catches on, may pose some thoughts at the beginning of the week).
Davis is set to hire a new city manager. Along with the resignation of former City Manager Steve Pinkerton, effective on April 23, as well as the new June council elections, this concludes the formation of the new governance team.
There was an intriguing commentary in today’s PublicCEO, “What is successful government?” Patrick Ibarra writes, “It’s not easy to determine what constitutes quality public-sector performance. Finding the answers to some crucial questions is the most important step toward a disciplined approach to high-performance government.”
As we begin a new era in Davis, my question is even more basic – what would be a successful two years in Davis City government?
One problem we face is that the community seems to be rather unaware of the problems that the community faces. From the Godbe Research poll, as we have noted, nearly 65 percent 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.
In the poll conducted for Ramco and Mace Ranch Innovation Park, 65 percent of city residents believe that the city is headed in the right direction. Only 22 percent believe it is headed in the wrong direction. As a whole, the city council has a 48 percent favorable rating, compared to 31 percent unfavorable.
The California State Legislature has the worst approval rating, at 40-37, DJUSD has a 50-32 approval rating, while Dan Wolk – at least in April – had a 50-12 approval rating and UC Davis a stunning 81-9 favorable rating.
What do we take from all of that? Well first of all, as most of us suspect, the voters – in this case likely voters – are not paying a whole lot of attention. That is no surprise – most of the people we spoke to a week ago were unaware of the impending innovation park discussion.
At the same time, while there is a bit of a negative sense in the electorate, the views may give the new council and city staff needed room to maneuver.
The active and engaged sector of the community, and certainly the Vanguard readership, is much more aware, engaged and cynical than the electorate as a whole.
We have our challenges ahead. We have already had to pass a sales tax. We have to make a decision on a parcel tax. The city, contrary to the views of many, is not in fiscal health and needs to take a number of clear steps to further improve its fiscal standing.
The next year will focus us on the parcel tax, economic development, innovation parks and another round of MOUs.
But we come back to the question at hand. We know what governmental failure looks like. What does success at the local level look like? What should our expectations be?
To put it another way, we know what we are up against. We have already seen a glimpse of what an emerging anti-innovation park stance would look like – with questions about revenue generated, traffic impacts, and changes to the character of our community.
At the same time, as we have laid out previously, staying the course means change, as well. It means cuts to employees and staffing, curtailing city services, or higher costs for service.
It is easy to be against stuff. One of the biggest findings in the polling was the 75-15 favorability of Measure R. That largely mirrors the actual vote that took place in 2010. Those who believe there is a chance to get rid of Measure R – absorb the polling numbers for a time, bolstered by the fact that there is nearly a two-thirds’ awareness of Measure R.
On the other hand, being for Measure R could be said to be for a negative – opposing the ability of annexing and developing farmland into the city without a vote of the people.
So, I would argue that in order to know what success looks like, we need to know what we are in favor of, what our vision for the future of Davis looks like, and then and only then can we understand whether there was success or failure in achieving those goals and that vision.
If our goal is fiscal sustainability, then the question becomes how do we get there? There are multiple paths, some more inviting than others. We can cut services, outsource employees, raise taxes, grow the revenue base through economic development, or some combination thereof.
Or is it our goal to keep Davis the small and engaging college town/vibrant community that it is? Even there, we have questions. Does that mean we limit all growth and attempt to keep Davis in its current configurations? Some would argue that, while trying to preserve the community this way, we end up stifling it.
These are all critical questions and, now that we have the team in place that will lead the city, it is time to start discussing where we want this team to take us.
—David M. Greenwald reporting