On Tuesday, Aug. 4, the city council had a special meeting to give the recruiter (in attendance) community input. Five questions from the online survey were asked. The city’s online WebEx tools are awkward to use and unreliable and as a result fewer than 20 residents participated. The results were very disappointing. More significantly, two important process issues were not touched upon. The first is how the recruiter’s specifications for the search were determined, and second, the most important single quality required of our next city manager was not front and center.
The recruiter interviewed council members to elicit their criteria. He did not interview department directors. The public has no idea of what council members think will make an “ideal” city manager for Healdsburg. The online public survey was available for a week. One hundred and twenty-five people responded to the English version and four to the Spanish version. The five questions produced 700 responses and filled 41 pages of text. There was no analysis of those responses to help the council as they consider candidates. It suggests there was no real interest in identifying the community’s top issues. As a way to take the pulse of the community it was a stunning failure. More disturbing is the fact that the five council members who set the criteria and instructions for the recruiter will not be the five council members who will work with a new city manager. One is already gone. Two lame ducks will be gone in December. If the one incumbent fails to keep his seat, there will only be one council member left who set the guidelines for the new hire. This is a terrible pattern and demonstrates the council’s poor judgement.
If this is concerning to you, it is urgent to ask the council to postpone the selection of a new city manager until the new council is seated. Email your city council immediately before they complete such a flawed process! [firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org]
The second issue is the emphasis on previous city manager experience in the job description. While there is no need to diminish the value of experience, a far more important and essential quality is leadership. We need a leader comfortable with citizen engagement, strong directors, and the capacity to listen and respond to the community. In the past, employees and residents were frustrated by a top-down executive. The council must rely on the city manager. And while they depend upon that guidance, it must not be the default roadmap for the city. It is easy for the council to become passive. Staff reports can be several hundred pages long, available just three days beforehand. For a volunteer council, it is understandable to follow the city manager.
A further example of how our city government has paid lip service to the voices of the community is the AIA SDAT Final Report, which reflected participation of over 700 residents. It was never taken up and discussed by the Council! In 1982 the R/UDAT, a similar consultancy from the AIA, turned Healdsburg toward tourism. Our Council of 2018 never welcomed nor discussed the recommendations of the 7 AIA experts. Another example of sidelining citizen participation was the draft strategic plan prepared by Healdsburg 2040. It was derived from the recommendations of the SDAT team. The city never formally accepted those possible directions.
What Healdsburg needs is leadership. A servant leader that will nurture the enthusiasm and creativity of 135 FT employees, engage with residents concerned about the future of the city and focus on aggressively shifting the city’s attention to more than wine and tourism. We do not need someone to replicate the cultural patterns of the past. Our community is gifted with an incredible cadre of talented employees who have stepped up in response to multiple major disasters over the last three years. We need a leader with the confidence and openness to capitalize on those qualities of staff and move Healdsburg into the middle of the 21st century. The pandemic demands flexibility and creativity that no quantity of past experience would provide. Servant leadership is the model we need in these times to address and support the Healdsburg community in its entirety.
Richard Burg is a resident of Healdsburg.