Rush to Misjudgement
You may wonder, what's the rush? Who is being considered for this high-paid, professional position? Why hasn't there been a well-publicized hunt for the best qualified person? Why has the process been conducted in secret? And why hasn't the community been consulted?
If Pam O'Connor and Bob Holbrook, the council members who have been charged with finding a new manager, believe that city hall-denizen Gordon Anderson is qualified to be city manager, as it is rumored they do, then surely they would find him capable of serving for a time as acting manager, while a responsible search is conducted.
The rush -- and the secrecy -- is almost certainly meant to head off growing concern in the community about the qualifications of the next manager. The last thing most people in this town want at city hall is more of the same -- more fiscal irresponsibility, more inefficiency, more insensitivity, more arbitrariness, more bureaucratic stasis.
We need a change. New blood. A new point of view.
It was a mistake to follow autocratic John Jillili with his understudy, Susan McCarthy, especially without enlisting the support of the citizenry. It will be a disaster to follow McCarthy with another insider, especially if rushed through without due attention to process. The McCarthy-Anderson regime turned a well-run municipality into a model of administrative mediocrity; they presided over a polity increasingly under the thumb of an unresponsive, arrogant and aggressive beadledom, an outside occupying force with little or no stake in the community it oppresses.
We need a deliberate, well-publicized campaign to recruit a new manager. And the process of selection must include extensive consultation with the community. To do otherwise is not only arrogant and irresponsible, but stupid. It will only lead to further trouble down the line.
At a recent council meeting, citizens described some of the qualities they'd like to see in a city manager. Ted Winterer from the Ocean Park neighborhood association said the new city manager should be “responsive and sensitive to community concerns and have a willingness to meet annually with neighborhood organizations and other local stakeholders.” Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights co-chair Denny Zane suggested the new manager should be “comfortable with a range of political philosophies, but at the same time share important community priorities.” He also argued that the new manager should “not see their career success as tied to planning some big development projects or tied to the fiscal health of the community but have a broader range of concerns.”
Winterer also insisted that the three or four finalists for the job should be asked to meet with the neighborhood organizations so that the latter could advise the council on which finalist should be hired.
An even better plan would be to require the candidates to meet with all the stakeholders in the community, not just the neighborhood groups. This could be accomplished efficiently by holding a public meeting with all the candidates present. From the dais, with the council members watching, the finalists could take questions from residents and representatives of organizations active in the community -- neighborhood associations, business districts, the Chamber of Commerce, the unions, parents of school age children, beach users, bus riders, the hospitals, Santa Monica College, Neighborhood Watch, Heal the Bay, service agencies like Step Up and Clare, Community Corp., in short anyone who comes into contact with city hall.
Is Candidate A committed to open government? Is Candidate B a sweet talker who slips past every question without touching it? Does Candidate C have a plan for creating more affordable housing? Is Candidate D an arrogant technocrat who can barely deign to look a citizen in the eye?
After seeing the candidates in action, council members would be in a much better position to make a judgement on what is arguably the most important decision of their incumbencies. And the candidates themselves would benefit from a crash course in the issues that are on the minds of the people they will be hired to serve.
In the meantime, there's still an slim chance to head off Gordon Anderson. His appointment would guarantee business as usual; instead, we need a change of direction: we need accountability; we need to replace obscurantism and manipulation with openness and sensitivity; we need a new ethic of service. Tell the council that Gordon Anderson is not acceptable. It's nothing personal. No one from within the current bureaucracy can be allowed to have this job.
It's not as though it isn't generally understood that something is amiss with the way Santa Monica governs itself. The council has a rare opportunity to start to do something about it. Let them know you'll support them if they act courageously on your behalf. And hold them accountable if they don't.
The council's collective email addresses are firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
You can leave phone messages at 310.458.8301. Faxes go to 310.458.1621.
The mailing address is Santa Monica City Council, P.O. Box 2200, Santa Monica, CA 9044407-2200.
Richard Bloom: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ken Genser: email@example.com
Bob Holbrook: firstname.lastname@example.org
Herb Katz: email@example.com
Kevin McKeown: firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam O'Connor: email@example.com
Bobby Shriver: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Imagining the Next City Manager" (Santa Monica Mirror)