Healdsburg is facing a crisis unique to the economic engine that has brought us notoriety and acclaim. Most of the Transit Occupancy Tax (TOT) is the result of our success as a tourist destination, and, in the coming 12 to 18 months, a 67% shortfall of TOT is expected. In the midst of this calamity, our city manager has accepted a new position and will leave July 3. Finding a new city manager is job number one for our city council. What qualities should they be looking for?
First and foremost, Healdsburg needs a leader. Someone who knows our town and has proven that they can bring people together from all sectors of our community, to harness the energy and expertise that we have in abundance. The last thing we need and can afford is advice from paid, outside consultants. During the fires and flooding of the past three years, and again with the COVID-19 lockdown, the city depended on strong leaders among its directors. Therefore the city council doesn’t need to search far for able candidates. They are here and ready to step in now, when the crisis is the deepest.
The city unfortunately has experienced a high employee turnover rate in recent years, especially among experienced and respected leaders. Healdsburg can no longer afford this brain drain. It’s proven difficult to recruit at all levels, and that’s arguably not because of pay or housing. Culture is everything. The future city manager will need to harness staff and the entire community to envision a path out of what will be the most severe setback to what Healdsburg has succeeded at. One model for leading organizations is called “servant leadership.” It reflects the responsibility of leaders to be in service to those who report to them. Such a leader smooths the way for employees to perform at their best, removes obstacles, coaches them and allows everyone to bring their experience and creativity to their job. Working together 1+1+1 can actually equal five, when everyone is respected, trusted and encouraged.
The search for a city manager must be an inclusive selection process, where representatives of the business community, the service organizations and citizens’ groups work hand-in-hand with the city council and the department heads. Service groups are an important resource, because of their commitment to volunteerism and contribution. The business community needs to participate helping set the economic goals for our recovery. Retirees with high-powered careers behind them are happy to share their expertise pro bono. Citizen advisory boards can augment the skills and thinking of city staff. It isn’t about giving up authority, but about tapping into community assets for better results. Such boards can explore novel ways to solve problems that build on community participation.
Our response to the crisis will have a profound impact on the vitality of the Healdsburg we leave to our children. Envisioning this future for the next 20 years was the core theme of the SDAT report. Getting there is the goal of the citizen group Healdsburg 2040. In the face of the most significant challenges in 50 years, we encourage the city council to quickly nominate an experienced, well-respected and crisis-proven “servant-leader” to be our next city manager.
Healdsburg 2040 is a group of interested citizens advising the city on the implementation of the SDAT report.