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