I have heard this said in a few different ways since I was a teenager. Knute Rockne put it like this, “Hire the player, not the position.” Basically, find the right person for the job and teach them how to do it. In Culinary School a common adage among the chef instructors was, “Don’t hire the expensive experienced chef; hire the hungry sous chef who will work hard to prove himself.” Both of these sayings have been going through my mind ever since the Mayor recently asked us to share our thoughts on hiring a new City Manager.
Like me, many of you have noticed the changes that came about with the beginning of our former CM’s tenure. First, there was an expensive rebuild of our Council Chambers so that the CM could sit up on the dais. Second came the laws of decorum that kept any commissioner or Councilperson from speaking with a member of the public who addressed the body. Next came the control of the agenda that shifted from the appointed and elected officials to staff. Finally, the emergency declaration which the last CM used to renegotiate with our friends on Mare Island. Each step systematically cutting out the voice of the public; whether it be first person or through our elected Councilmembers. The pandemic must have seemed like a gift to our former CM. Meetings moved to Zoom and shortly thereafter only written comments would be accepted to be read quietly by the members. A rule which has literally silenced our voices.
To be honest, I have missed writing to you but I felt that I needed to develop some perspective on what was happening in our City government. My experience on the Planning Commission left me confused. I was appointed by the City Council yet everything about the process was directed by the CM and staff. Training, and most noticeably the-lack-there-of, was the responsibility of staff. Much to my surprise, I was not even given a Welcome packet. Anything that might explain our particular governing process. I admittedly stubbed my toes many times . . . publicly. I do not believe this to be an oversight. The process as it stands is being manipulated to limit public input both from citizens as well as Commissioners. And it is legal. It is legal because there are no rules to the contrary. Rules that can only be changed by the City Council. Question: How can the City Council even consider a rule change when the CM has control over the agenda?
Back to the start. It is my opinion that we need a City Manager who is the right person for the job, here in Vallejo. We are a very active and intelligent group of people who take seriously our role in the governing of our town. It is said that our outspoken nature which stopped the LNG plant and Orcem are keeping developers away. I think it is keeping the opportunists who wish to exploit Vallejo away with bad development. To my knowledge we have never had a publicly open discussion with property developers who see Vallejo as we do. (This might be an interesting topic for the Economic Viability Commission to study, should staff ever let them meet again.)
What we need to do is to hire a less seasoned City Manager. One who is hungry to prove themselves. One who is willing to take his lead from the Council and include public opinion in Public Policy. Let us face it, Vallejo does not have enough money to keep hiring expensive CM’s who are able to negotiate large golden parachutes. We just do not. What we need is someone who is willing to let the Commissions and the Council do their job. What we need is a City Manager who is willing to realize that they do not hold all the answers. One who does not believe that they alone know how to fix our problems. One who will not openly, or even privately, say, “They trust us.”
I urge you to write to the City Council with your opinions about this matter. Tell them if you agree with me or not. Let them see both sides of the argument and then decide from an informed position. In any event, we cannot afford another Nyhoff. We need a new CM who is willing to build their reputation with ours. What we need is an underdog, like us.
Until next time,