City Manager Pushes Back on Tax Issue, Claiming Staff Time Crunches

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City Manager Dirk Brazil
City Manager Dirk Brazil

It was a bit surprising, as council was sorting out how to approach a revenue measure, with the deadline of February to put it on the city ballot rapidly approaching and faced with four options, that City Manager Dirk Brazil suddenly began to complain that council was asking for too much work from staff.

City Manager Brazil noted that the staff was seeking direction, “what we’ve heard is not consensus on what it is you want to seek…” He said, “It is a workload issue. I realize that it’s a couple of months but if you look at our January meeting, you look at the size of the items that are on there, you’re asking us to do some really serious research on revenues with a lot of competing interests here, that’s huge.”

“This is a lot of workload in what you’re recommending we do,” he said.

After the council defeated a substitute motion by Dan Wolk and passed a motion that included consideration of the soda tax, a parcel tax, and a transit occupancy tax, the city manager sought more clarification from the council.

Dirk Brazil stated, “Can I just have a clear statement as to what you expect us to come up with on the sugary beverages in particular? What is it that you need to see and have to make a decision on that one?” He added, “Because I really don’t know.”

Councilmember Brett Lee explained, “We are told there’s a small business exemption – what amount is that?” He added, “I’m not completely clear on the tax on distributor.” He said that he expects that this should be invisible to the shopkeepers but he’s not clear as to how it all works.

“In terms of outreach, there are a variety of people who have made outreach levels to us and perhaps there is just an open session in terms of what it is, what it isn’t, what’s going on in Berkeley, is it the same, is it not the same,” he said.

Mr. Brazil asked, “Is the thought that all of this comes back as one agenda item at, I presume, our last January meeting or one of the on-call meetings we have to specifically talk about these three revenue items?”

For Brett Lee, the sugary beverage tax was “the mystery item,” which he thought could come back as a small item in mid to late January. He said, “What are the specific mechanics of the… sugar sweetened beverage tax?”

Dirk Brazil expressed concerned that this is something we haven’t dealt with before.

Brett Lee said, “If you come back and say we don’t really know, we’re not ready to go, we’ll take that on board.”

Mr. Brazil then backtracked, stating, “We’re not taking the position of whether we are for or against the sugary beverage tax, this is all about workload.” He added, “I have the same discussion about whether you’re going to have a parcel tax – that’s going to raise a significant amount of opposition, I would think, particularly if we’re going to talk about a general tax versus a specific.”

He asked, “Are we supposed to engage the community on that discussion?” Robb Davis responded, “No.” Mr. Brazil said, “I’m asking the same thing on TOT, because I think our hoteliers are probably going to have an issue with that. They have not been engaged. I would think that you’re going to expect us to engage them on that as well.”

Dirk Brazil continued, “We continually have the request from you to talk about workload. And I’m being very honest with what I can see as a significant amount of workload on a very tight timeframe.”

At this point Robb Davis stepped in.

He said, “So what, you don’t want to work on any of the taxes? I’m not really grasping it, why is this all of sudden become about the workload?”

Dirk Brazil responded, “I think all of the significant things that we’ve talked about at these meetings Robb (is) what can we do – and if we’re going to do these things what are we not going to do?”

Robb Davis responded, “Fiscal sustainability is one of our major objectives and the tax measure is part of that. So I’m happy with you coming back at the next meeting and say we’re going to push off the following things for the next three months – I’ve been agreed with that all along.”

As he pointed out, “We’ve known that we were going to have to deal with the tax measure by February if we were going to do something. If staff was really in a position of wanting to say we are expecting you to go in this direction… I would have expected to see that in the report tonight.”

He added, “I’m just trying to work around where the angst is here.” Robb Davis noted again the existing agreement that, if there’s too much workload, the city manager is to come back to council to discuss what stuff to move off. But the tax issue can’t be moved off because there is a February deadline.

The mayor pro tem said that they may end up doing nothing, though he doubts that.

The city manager responded, “I guess I’m just raising awareness and we’ll come back and probably have to tell you things that we can’t do. We’ll see what this is going to take.” He added, “We’ll see what we’re up against in terms of time and demands and what we think we can deliver.”

Mayor Wolk ended the discussion stating, “I’m totally respectful of staff’s time, being a public employee myself.”

Here is the first portion of his comments prior to the vote:

Here is the city manager’s exchange with Robb Davis and Brett Lee following the council vote:

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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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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31 thoughts on “City Manager Pushes Back on Tax Issue, Claiming Staff Time Crunches”

  1. Barack Palin

    The city staff already had a parcel tax to study, a UUT to study, a Tot to study so what does our council do, they cave to a few of our local activists and add a soda tax to now also study.  It reminds me of the city not sticking to the core issues and wasting time on plastic bag and smoke ordinances among other social engineering wastes of time.

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      You’re missing a lot here in being partisan on the soda tax issue. Council didn’t cave to local activists on the soda tax, they were part of the discussions of it for months. You’re missing who caved here and why. That’s far more important than the issue of the soda tax.

      1. Barack Palin

        Funny how a few of our activists, current and former politicians get up and speak before the council last week about a soda tax and all of a sudden it’s spearheaded through to a staff study.

        You’re missing a lot here in being partisan on the soda tax issue. 

        And I say you’re pushing the issue because you’re partisan about wanting a soda tax.

        You’re missing who caved here and why. That’s far more important than the issue of the soda tax.

        We already know who caved, what does that have to do with this article and the work load?

        Are you trying to infer something else without coming out and saying it?

        Are you hoping your commenters will take it there?

        YWTSBIDIFW

        1. David Greenwald Post author

          “And I say you’re pushing the issue because you’re partisan about wanting a soda tax.”

          I think you know me well enough at this point that regardless of my position on the issue, I’m troubled by the sudden about face of the mayor amid reports of threats from the beverage industry to fund his opponent.

        2. Miwok

          I thought all the activists had already made soda drinks go away from the schools? It seems Davis has several teams of them who decide to go all different directions at the same time? Maybe next they will decide to improve something rather than restrict it? Make our schools better?

    2. Tia Will

      BP

      t reminds me of the city not sticking to the core issues:”

      I am also a resident of Davis, and as I have stated several times, I consider community health to be he most important of “core issues”.

      Think of it this way for a moment. You have limited resources. You have a child with asthma who needs an expensive medication to keep it under control. It is not covered by your insurance. You also have a rut in your driveway. Which is going to be the “core issue” for you? Which are you going to take care of first ?

       

  2. Tia Will

    Like Brett Lee, I have a strong preference for a discretionary rather than an obligatory tax. I am fundamentally opposed to taxing items that people have to have to live. Luxury taxes, especially those targeted for specific purposes I will fully support.

    For some reason, I am unable to view the full exchange between the CM and Mayor Pro Tem but I do find it interesting that of the taxes that are up for consideration, the CM seemed to be singling out the soda tax as the item that was challenging their work load at a time when the Mayor has made what would seem to be a departure from his usual stand in favor of public health issues. Especially since Brett Lee had essentially said for him the UUT was off the table therefore seeming to me to lighten the staff load with regard to this proposal. That may be a false perception on my part, so if I am misreading, would someone more knowledgeable about the workings of city government please let me know.

    1. Barack Palin

      Especially since Brett Lee had essentially said for him the UUT was off the table therefore seeming to me to lighten the staff load with regard to this proposal.

      So Lee says the UUT is off the table for him so that should lighten staff load but when Wolk says a soda tax is off the table for him somehow that doesn’t have the same effect????????

      1. Matt Williams

        As an observer in the room on Tuesday night, the noticeable difference between the Lee and Wolk situations was that Brett Lee got no push back from his Council colleagues when he said that he believed the UUT was off the table, and Dan Wolk got substantial push back from his Council colleagues when he said that he believed the Soda Tax should be off the table.

    2. Barack Palin

       I do find it interesting that of the taxes that are up for consideration, the CM seemed to be singling out the soda tax as the item that was challenging their work load at a time when the Mayor has made what would seem to be a departure from his usual stand in favor of public health issues

      So what are you inferring?

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        That the city manager was acting as an agent of the mayor whose mother happened to be his former employer and who happens to be a candidate for assembly?

        1. hpierce

          The CM always needs to be able to “count to three”… as the mayor was 1/2 of a minority vote(s), that seems weird, David…  but, anything that “sells papers”, right?

        2. Davis Progressive

          it did seem weird hpierce precisely because the city manager seemed to be serving the one over the three.  that’s how it looked to me, do you see different?

        3. Mark West

          hpierce: “The CM always needs to be able to “count to three””

          When the CC votes the CM must follow the majority view, but at all other times, the only “three” he has to worry about is the potential for three votes to oust him from his job.  He clearly does not view that as a concern at present.

        4. Jim Frame

          Given the degree of disrespect shown by the CM to members Davis and Lee — he repeatedly talked over them — I looks to me like Dirk had his marching order to torpedo the soda tax and tried to use the workload issue as cover.

        5. Davis Progressive

          exactly mark.

          jim: hard to believe he would do that in public.  i’m surprised frankly that davis and lee were as professional and respectful as they were.

        6. hpierce

          ok… Mark captured what I thought/intended to say…

          Hard to fully understand who “spoke over” who… looked pretty mutual to me…  not a ‘finest moment’ for anyone involved… should be avoided, if at all possible…

          Corbett, Harrington, Greenwald, others did that to senior staff… big time.  Inappropriate, and am not defending the CM… but stuff happens.  Absent another ‘smoking gun’ I’ll not read too much in this.  The CC members are elected to represent “the people”… yet they have their “constituents”, who may not represent the entire community.  The CM is appointed to look out for the ENTIRE community, propose policy, follow CC direction, but one of the crucial tasks of a CM is to let CC know if they are about to do a “stupid”.  CC members are not gods.  Yet, they get the final say…

          I’ve always told my employees that the most disloyal thing they could do is NOT tell me if I was doing a “stupid”, or not getting ‘implications’…  when they did, and a few times I agreed, I had the benefit of not being televised, and having those discussions on the internet.

          The merits/demerits of the proposal aside,  I saw nothing alarming in the meeting… y’all feel very free to disagree.

           

  3. Tia Will

    BP

    So Lee says the UUT is off the table for him so that should lighten staff load but when Wolk says a soda tax is off the table for him somehow that doesn’t have the same effect????????”

    Sigh. No, BP. My point was that they have the same effect. If there are 4 items for consideration, and one is removed, the work load will be lightened regardless of which item is removed all things being equal.

    Now it may well be that all things are not equal and that one of these items may be considerably more time intensive than another. However, with only one other city using the soda tax at this time, it is a little difficult for me to believe that the research needed for this item would be much more burdensome than the others given that much of the work on those would seem to have already been done. If I am wrong on this point, someone who actually has knowledge on this issue please correct me.

     

    1. hpierce

      Tia… in your field, what takes more time and research to figure out what to do…. a ‘condition’ that occurs in one in a million events, only observed once, or a condition that has been frequently observed, affecting one in ten events?

      I was always taught that one “data point” was not good. On another subject (“night clubs”) you criticized analysis of data many data points, as being flawed…

    1. Davis Progressive

      i agree with david, you’re focus is on the issue rather than the conduct of two individuals – one being the mayor and the other the city manager.

  4. Sam

    During the next meeting Robb and Brett should ask Dirk to research a new pool and sports complex. Then we can see how quickly the “staffing availability issue” disappears.

    Good to know we have a CM willing to do what is best for the mayor to get elected to a better job. I just wish we could find one that was focused on improving the City of Davis. Maybe the fire department can make some suggestions.

    1. Miwok

      Why aren’t they paying more consultants like they usually do to do Staff work? They just hired another consultant, according to another story in the Vanguard to study the exact same thing to get a different result?

      How many of the 100 or more employees laid off were Staff? How many Staff have quit to go other places, leaving more research undone? It is inevitable that the CM will have to confront the CC with these limitations, no matter who he is beholden to?

      The CM does not have to get a lot done, just make it look good until Dan is elected.

  5. skeptical

    Sam is exactly right.  The council should have hired a capable City Manager.  This one demonstrated once again that he was ill prepared for the items on the agenda, and that he is disinclined to do the work of the council majority.  This guy has to go.  The most important question for council candidates must be, are you prepared to hire a City Manager?  Brett?  Lucas?  Matt?

  6. Matt Williams

    skeptical, the very first course I took at Wharton was on Organizational Behavior and the first case we studied was called Hawaii Best which was about a company experiencing challenges to its revenues and its costs.  Our class (individually and collectively) came up with a reorganization plan of the personnel that we were all proud of — and then the professor walked us through what happened to the actual Hawaii Best company when they simply changed their personnel.

    The seven members of the Finance and Budget Commission (FBC) have been lobbying hard for a Business Process Reengineering of all the City processes and structures.  Why?  Because we believe the City’s problems need to be fixed from the bottom-up just as much as they need to be fixed from the top-down.  The FBC has also advised that the absolutely necessary conversion of the City to a new information system needs to be predicated on completing the Business Process Reengineering engagement first.  That way we will be automating efficiency and effectiveness rather than the rather haphazard processes that have evolved in the City over the past two decades.

    I had hoped that the John Meyer study/evaluation that the city manager commissioned would be the first step in a full business process reengineering process, but for reasons that only the city manager knows, that has not happened.

  7. hpierce

    And, not necessarily on the tax evaluation scene, there is a significant loss in abilities and ‘corporate memory’ that has occurred in the last 6 months, is about to occur in the next two weeks.  Staffing is taking another hit, and it will be informative to see if/how that staff will be replaced.  Or, perhaps, we can just use “call centers” in other countries…

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