This week Mayor Dan Wolk and Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis put out a piece that laid out six months of accomplishments, and when they get to employee morale, they write, “With the addition of our new city manager, a new City Council in place and the improving budget picture, employee morale is slowly improving. The council has set this as a goal for 2015 and beyond, and will work hard with the city manager to ensure that the heart of our city government — our employees — beats soundly.”
What they do not tell the public is that we have lost some rising stars in city government already, and we may be about to lose others in the coming weeks and months. I am talking about young, hard-working city employees that the city was relying on for key leadership in the coming years.
One such loss was Bicycle Coordinator Dave Kemp, often known as DK. The city of Davis strives to be the bicycling capital of the world and, in January 2012, it proudly announced the hiring of DK following a nationwide search – that truly was nationwide.
The city’s press release at the time noted that DK spent the last six years developing a comprehensive bicycle program for the City of Fort Collins, Colorado. Under DK’s leadership, the Fort Collins community rose from a silver level designation to a gold level Bicycle Friendly Community and is now poised to attain the platinum level status within the coming year.
The release said, “DK employs a comprehensive approach to bicycle and pedestrian planning, emphasizing a range of techniques to foster the growth of biking and walking for recreation as well as the foundation of a sustainable transportation system. In addition to the development of the traditional 5 E’s (Encouragement, Education, Enforcement, Engineering, and Evaluation), Economy & Community are parts of his strategic approach.”
“One of the key ingredients in planning for and promoting sustainable transportation and recreation options is derived from the strength of the community’s existing knowledge, desires, time, and ambition,” stated DK. He continued, “I will serve as a facilitator to develop the elements of a comprehensive program and bring to the table refined coordination skills and innovative planning techniques in order to meet the needs of the Davis community. I look forward to working with the community as it continues its progress toward becoming a ‘world class’ bicycle and pedestrian friendly city.”
As the League of American Bicyclists noted, “Bicycle and pedestrian program managers are common in U.S. cities and, along with other transportation planners and bicycling advocates, are a critical part of creating a bicycle-friendly community. Staff help communities plan for and respond to the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. An analysis of 40 of the largest U.S. cities shows that cities with bicycle and pedestrian staff have higher levels of bicycling than the cities without staff.”
They continued, “Bicycling program managers institutionalize the consideration of bicycling accommodations throughout transportation departments and other relevant areas of government. State bicycle program managers direct planning efforts, develop and implement projects, ensure design guidelines are followed, and improve bicycling-related policies.”
That very article noted that, in addition to large cities, there are many smaller communities that have bicycle and pedestrian program managers and they cite Davis as a prime example where the coordinator “works with their Bicycle Advisory Commission (BAC) — and the University of California, at Davis, has a campus bicycle coordinator.”
“Together they help make Davis the country’s Bicycling Capital,” they wrote.
On December 14, in his Sunday column, Bob Dunning, rather than lamenting the loss of DK, wrote a column. He wrote that he read about “an ad in this very newspaper a few days ago proclaiming that the city I love is offering $87,467.54 a year, plus benefits, for someone to take over as a “bicycle/pedestrian coordinator.””
The column, dripping with sarcasm, incited Davis resident David Baum to write, “After reading ‘The Wary I’ on Sunday, Dec. 14, stating that the city ‘is offering $87,467.54 a year, plus benefits,’ for someone to take over as a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator – Oops! That’s more like $87,467.52 at $7,288.96 per month (as Bob points out) – the middle finger of my right hand stood up straight and stiff. Hey, talk about digital dexterity, right? Anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth!”
The sad thing is there are probably a variety of reasons we are perhaps about to lose some of our rising stars. One of them is salary. The Vanguard, during the economic downtown, has led the way on pushing back against exploding employee compensation. At the same time, we know from the city manager search that Davis is on the low end of city manager compensation. It turns out the same is true across the board – the city of Davis pays less for a variety of management positions than comparable neighboring cities.
By itself, I think we could get away with that. Davis can be a fun place to live and work. We have an engaged citizenry. A community that cares. A community that has been willing to increase taxes to make sure that city services and school education continues at a high level.
At the same time, however, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, we are in need of a cultural change. No one wants to receive less pay to work twice as hard to get good initiatives passed. No one wants to take abuse in the form of emails, text messages and voice mail on a daily basis over their jobs.
We lost a great city employee, a rising star that was the envy of many communities, and all Bob Dunning can do is mock the amount of money he made and erroneously correct the math.
All David Baum can do is flip people off.
No wonder we’re losing our good employees who no longer are willing to take twice the abuse at less money. I’m happy to hold the line on employee salaries to some extent – though I do think we need to be flexible enough to sign our star employees much as a baseball team has to go over budget to sign key free agents. But to do so, we have to change our culture.
We are on the verge of doing some neat stuff in our community with bikes, economic development, and the like, but not if we keep running off good, young employees.
—David M. Greenwald reporting