My View: Changing of the Guard

Wolk-Dan-headshot-2014
Mayor Dan Wolk

One might be tempted to believe that there was not going to be much difference between the last council and the current council. After all, the only change in make up was the exit of Joe Krovoza and the arrival of Robb Davis, as mayor pro tem. One could figure that Joe Krovoza and Robb Davis were not that far apart on the issues.

Even leaving aside the fact that the city is running with an interim city manager, the difference has been stunningly stark. For all of the notions that a weak mayoral system, in which the mayor position goes to the first place finisher rather than having a separate election, would produce little power, the ability for the mayor to set the agenda and control it is underrated.

Under Mayor Joe Krovoza, the city was able to push through a series of fiscal reforms, really starting with the 2011 budget vote and culminating last fall when the council imposed its last, best and final offers on DCEA and fire, while on 3-2 votes approving fire staffing cuts and shared management of the UC Davis and City of Davis fire departments.

Joe Krovoza’s style was often criticized. Indeed, when he went head to head with Dan Wolk in the Assembly race, their three colleagues sided with Mr. Wolk. On the other hand, at least the Davis voters sided with Joe Krovoza. One reason for that might have been the perception that Mr. Krovoza got things done, whereas Mr. Wolk tried to be friends with everyone.

As Dan Wolk took over as mayor in July, having fallen short on his bid for the State Assembly, the question was what kind of mayor would he be. The answer is that he is still trying to be friends to all. As we have seen, sometimes that serves both Mr. Wolk and the community well.

One of the more critical moments in the water debate was in December 2011, when Dan Wolk and Rochelle Swanson cut a deal to rescind the water rates and eventually place the water issue on the ballot – but only after the community was allowed to weigh in on the process. That was Dan Wolk at his best and we have already seen a glimpse of that in this round.

The water issue had not ended. The opponents had filed a lawsuit and lost early this year. But they put the rates on the ballot and Measure P prevailed at the polls, rescinding the rates. There was a long, drawn out, and contentious battle over what rates to put on the ballot.

Dan Wolk seized the moment, working behind the scenes to cut a deal with the opponents on the 87-13 plan, and just when it seemed like the opponents could lock up the city in a battle forever, he helped cut a deal with the opponents to settle the lawsuit, paying out nearly $200,000 but precluding the opponents from future lawsuits or even putting new rates on the ballot.

To be sure, this was a city council deal, not just a Dan Wolk deal, but such a move seemed unlikely under previous regimes. That was Dan Wolk at his best, being able to forge a deal that would satisfy most parties for the most part.

The downside here is that Dan Wolk desperately wants to go to Sacramento. His first path became blocked when he and his team were unable to persuade Joe Krovoza not to get into the Assembly race, splitting votes in Yolo and elsewhere, so that Dan Wolk finished third and out of the runoff for Assembly. The fact of the matter is that, one-on-one against Bill Dodd, Mr. Wolk probably wouldn’t win anyway, but the fact that he never got that chance does not sit well, at least in some circles in Davis.

With Mr. Dodd likely to be elected next month and potentially locking down the Assembly seat for the next 12 years, the next path for Dan Wolk could be the State Senate, his mother’s seat which opens in 2014.

Already, Mariko Yamada and at least one other candidate have thrown their hat in the race. Ms. Yamada, who is termed out of the Assembly after six years following the November elections, would be a rather formidable opponent, heavily backed by the same unions with which Mr. Wolk has been trying to curry favor. She is a big enough hurdle that some have suggested that Mr. Wolk is better off, perhaps, waiting to see if Congressman John Garamendi wants to retire from Congress in the near future.

In June 2011, Dan Wolk cast a huge vote that turned out to be the deciding vote on the budget. It was to cut about $2.5 million from employee compensation and use it to shore up roads and infrastructure as well as to buffer the city from expected future costs on pensions.

While those cuts were never implemented, the vote became a critical sign that times were changing in City Hall. However, as Dan Wolk’s apparent ambition turned toward Sacramento, he took steps to cozy-up with the unions, including opposing staffing cut changes and flipping his vote on shared management.

Early this year, he signaled his new position when he brashly took on the fire chief and city manager on fire staffing cuts. Last November, he and Councilmember Frerichs attempted to oust then-City Manager Steve Pinkerton at the behest of the firefighters’ union president, Bobby Weist.

While that effort proved unsuccessful when they failed to secure a third vote, Mr. Pinkerton in February announced he was leaving for a job in Incline Village, Nevada. On Mr. Pinkerton’s last day, it was Dan Wolk and Lucas Frerichs who were among the elected officials who went to Uncle Vito’s for the celebration by firefighters and other city employees of Mr. Pinkerton’s departure.

Did Mr. Wolk know the purpose of the event? Hard to know.

In the meantime, the city of Davis faces a critical decision on city manager. The word leaking out is that the council has made a decision and that Dan Wolk, heavily influenced now by Bobby Weist, is about to get his way for the next city manager.

The city stands at a critical crossroads trying to get itself back on sound fiscal footing and now seems poised to put someone in control of city hall that will reopen the door to the firefighters’ union.

For the previous three years, since Joe Krovoza took over as mayor and Dan Wolk replaced Don Saylor, the firefighters’ union had been locked out of power. The mayor not only refused to take money from the union or accept their endorsement, but he was instrumental in bringing in Steve Pinkerton and pushing through a series of reforms that went against the desires of the most powerful union in the city: boundary drop, response time changes, four on an engine, shared management, and impasse.

Now Mr. Weist, who loudly triumphed over Steve Pinkerton in the end and is loudly bragging about influencing the current process, will have the access that he desperately craves.

The city has moved into a good position fiscally but has remaining challenges, both in terms of infrastructure needs and in terms of revenue. But if the city goes back in time, opens the doors of the city manager’s office and the mayor’s office to union influence, it is difficult to see how we move forward.

It is a scary time. While it will be difficult for the city to move back on fire staffing and joint management, the next round of MOUs that start soon will be critical, as will the ability for the city to get a parcel tax passed and eventually get innovation parks built.

There are lots of concerns going forward, and those will be magnified in the coming weeks. For much of the last four years, the council climate has improved, but in the last few months we have heard increasing concerns coming out of the city, and we could be facing these new challenges with a whole new slate of department heads and senior staffers.

The book on Dan Wolk has yet to be written, but this will be a critical phase in his career, both from the standpoint of his mayoral legacy and also from the standpoint of his future electoral chances.

—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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21 Comments

  1. SODA

    Interesting op-ed by Dan Wolk in the Chronicle yesterday about the MRAP decision. Reinforces your points about him focused on Sacramento or beyond.

    I certainly hope that you are not correct about the choice of CM.

      1. jeff

        Don,

        I don’t have all of the exact numbers in front of me right now but we peaked at about 464 FTE’s I believe 5 years back with a total employee comp of approximately $49 mil. At the end of last year we were down to around 365 FTE’s with total comp of around $51 mil. I think we were down another 5 to 7 FTE’s this year and a comp of $52 mil budgeted. I do not believe this incorporates some minor changes that external actuarial consultant has recently submitted to staff. I have been told it does incorporate the additional payments required to address the $50 to $60 mil in unfunded pension and OPEB liabilities, paid out over the next 10 years. That said, I have not seen the numbers/calculations on this though. FYI, the consultant will be making a presentation at our F&BC meeting on Nov 3.

        Jeff

        1. Don Shor

          Thanks, this is a great starting point. Hard to believe that total compensation has gone up after a reduction in work force of more than 20%, so getting the followup numbers will be useful.

  2. Frankly

    There are two types of political ambition: one – to further a political career or a personal legacy or personal finances; two – to achieve great things for humanity.  Some will say that both are often present.  While I generally agree, the problem is both are often in direct conflict… and one would dominate the other.

    But even though the motivating drivers of political pursuit might differ, the personalities of varying political ambition project similarly.  They all seem to walk and talk like the same duck.  It is the accumulative actions of the politician that speak loudly in contrast.  Over time the inventory of past decisions influenced by the the number one ambition (career, legacy and greed), can calculate as a great deficit to humanity.

    But I don’t so much blame the individual politician motivated by the number one ambition.

    I blame the system.

    I blame the voters.

    I blame the press and media.

    And mostly I blame the press and media.

    The general problem is our collective ignorance or acceptance of politics, or government service in general, as a lucrative pursuit.  Yes society has grown more complex.  But the design of representative democracy… the only system of social governance that has proven to work while providing adequate freedom for those governed… has been corrupted.  The design of By the People For the People is one where career pursuits are outside of politics, and participation in politics is motivated only by a sense of duty to serve humanity.

    The history of American democratic politics has always been fraught with a percentage of politicians motivated by the number one ambition… and at times, and in places, they have dominated the political system.  But like a rodent infestation, they are eventually exterminated by the will of the voters and true servants are elected to help clean up the mess.

    The city has been hammered by the history of poor decisions made previous city council.  The Krovoza era demonstrated some attempt to clean up the mess.  The current council under Dan Wolk is supposed to be a further step in that direction… a council of servants committed to clean up the mess.

    But I am concerned.  I am concerned because I think Dan and Lucas are both primarily motivated by the number one ambition.  But more specifically, I am concerned because only Brett seems to demonstrate the backbone to go against them.

    The performance of this council really comes down to Brett, Rochelle and Robb.  Are they going to join in solidarity in primary ambition to do the right things, or are they going to allow Dan and Lucas to use their Davis CC positions as launching pads for their career pursuits?

  3. Tia Will

    “The city has moved into a good position fiscally but has remaining challenges”

    Now this is quite an interesting sentence in juxtaposition to the idea that the city is in imminent crisis> I totally agree that the city has remaining challenges. I believe that without prudent action that bankruptcy would be a possibility. However, I believe as the above quote would seem to imply that the city is moving in appropriate directions. This leads me to believe that we do have some time for reflection and consideration of all of the proposals that are currently being put forward without being stampeded by “crisis” to accept any or all, especially if they turn out to be mediocre.

    “The performance of this council really comes down to Brett, Rochelle and Robb.  Are they going to join in solidarity in primary ambition to do the right things,”

    This would imply that the author believes that he knows what the “right things” are 100% of the time. I take a more nuanced view. I have agreed with the above three on some issues, and disagreed on others. To me, this is how it should be since it implies that there is some degree of independent thought taking place. I do not buy into the assertion being put forth that we will all necessarily interpret the “right things” in the same way.

     

    1. Frankly

      I am primarily referring to fiscal matters… or matter that affect the economy or our immediate and long-term financial well-being.

      And in no way was I inferring that Dan and Lucas are 100% on the wrong side of right.  But they are and will be more often.   And if any of the other three lose their backbone to oppose them, we residents will end up the subordinate consideration to the number one ambition… and we will be harmed yet again.

      Just note that state Democrats are still in bed with the public labor unions.   So even a union-political-connection-is-bad-for-us enlightened Democrat city council member would be required to frog-march in the same line if he/she is motivated to pursue a career in Democrat state politics.

    2. David Greenwald

      I don’t know why I wrote the city is good position fiscally, what I meant to write that the city made some critical changes fiscally put itself in better position, but obviously with a sales tax and a need parcel tax, a good position fiscally is not an accurate description.

  4. Michael Harrington

    I think this is going to be all about Dan.  Set the city straight on sound fiscal ground or suck up for union money for the next level.  Tough choice but one to make.

  5. Aggie

    “The word leaking out is that the council has made a decision and that Dan Wolk, heavily influenced now by Bobby Weist, is about to get his way for the next city manager.” David Greenwald

    Have you considered that the individuals whispering in your ear may also have a personal stake (financial, professional, political, etc.) in the outcome?  Just release the names of the two finalists and let the public decide if there is a problem.

  6. Davis Progressive

    i guess a saturday article isn’t going to generate the comments, but to me this was a very accurate and damning piece.  dan wants to be everyone’s friend.  leadership calls for making tough decisions.  what tough decision has dan wolk ever made?

  7. Michael Harrington

    He led the resolution of the Fall 2011 water rates repeal.

     

    He led the resolution of the 2014 water rates, and global settlement.

     

    He led some 3/2 votes to cut city employee costs.

     

     

    1. Davis Progressive

      now i get it, he put $200,000 in your pocket.  he led one 3-2 vote on employee costs (three years ago) but opposed most of the recent ones and is about to get his guy as city manager, former aid to helen thomson.

    1. Frankly

      Not significant pushback… significant demand to return it from a minority of angry and loud people.  And there is no way he could take a record of voting to keep the MRAP to his liberal progressive Democrat political cocktail parties and fund raising events.  To any ambitious Democrat politician on the go, the risk of needlessly harmed or killed Davis police officers, or a few harmed or killed citizens, is worth it to ensure there are no embarrassing non-liberal decisions on the record.

      1. Don Shor

        significant demand to return it from a minority of angry and loud people.

        You have no evidence that it was a “minority” viewpoint in Davis. Based on the volume and intensity expressed in public, I’d say the overwhelming sentiment was to return the thing.

        the risk of needlessly harmed or killed Davis police officers, or a few harmed or killed citizens, is worth it

        This kind of rhetoric is beneath you. Do you really think Robb, Lucas, and Dan don’t care about the safety of Davis police officers?

      2. Tia Will

        Again there are those who insist on ignoring that these decisions were made prior to the City Council meeting prior to the testimonials of the “loud and angry” demands to return it barring any significant evidence to the contrary. If you do not believe this please discuss this personally with the council members. I have. And if you have not, you are merely repeating the same tired nasty rumors with no more than your preconceived philosophical beliefs to inform you.

  8. Tia Will

    Frankly

     

    “To any ambitious Democrat politician on the go, the risk of needlessly harmed or killed Davis police officers, or a few harmed or killed citizens, is worth it to ensure there are no embarrassing non-liberal decisions on the record.”

    I have seen you make some very nasty comments. But having met you, I would never have believed that you had it in you to make such a nasty and completely unfounded comment under cover of anonymity.

    1. Frankly

      You know, you are right.  I was wrong about this.  I think that Dan and Lucas and Robb actually don’t think there is any risk, otherwise my comment would be accurate.  And giving this more thought, I know all three are good people and there is no way that they would vote for anything they thought would risk police or anyone else harm.

      Thinking it through, my beef is simply a difference assessment of risk.  If these three assessed the risk like I do, I’m sure they would have voted to keep the MRAP.

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