San Leandro is about to appoint a new City Manager to lead the city, hopefully effectively and for many years to come. An ad hoc committee composed by Mayor Stephen Cassidy and Council members Reed and Souza narrowed the field of applicants from 30 to five. The Council won’t disclose their identities – ostensibly to protect the applicants’ current jobs – though hopefully demographic information on them will be forthcoming. Cassidy has not heeded my suggestion that he appoint a citizens ad hoc committee to give input on who among these candidates would work best for the city, but he is soliciting the community’s opinion albeit in a very limited manner.
For one, he set up an online questionnaire asking very general questions as to what San Leandrans want in a city manager. Cassidy has not explained how the information from these questionnaires will be put to use, however.
Cassidy will also be holding a Town Hall meeting (Sat., April 30, 9-11 a.m. Lecture Hall at Main Library) for citizen’s to provide their input on this issue. For that input to be useful, however, it is essential that the citizens attending be asked real questions concerning the particular characteristics of the five final candidates. For example, it would be of little use of citizens to tell the Mayor that they want a Latino or Asian city manager, if none of the five final candidates are of such ethnic origin. Similarly, if none of the candidates live or are willing to live in San Leandro, it won’t help the Mayor at this point to hear how important this issue is to the community. It is thus essential that Cassidy and his fellow Council members take a careful look at the characteristics of these five candidates and then ask the community specific questions about what qualities about them they would find more compelling. Would we rather have someone with more experience or with a commitment to stay in San Leandro for longer? Do we want someone who has worked in City government all his life, or would we prefer her to have business or non-profit experience? Do we want someone who is known for their financial skills – given our dismal budget situation – or someone with superior management skills? Only people with access to the candidates will know what the right questions to ask are.
The five candidates won’t be interviewed by the City Council until after the Town Hall meeting, so this is also a good opportunity for Cassidy to solicit community input about what sort of questions we want Cassidy to put to the candidates – and what types of answers would make us happiest. I will personally not be able to be at this Town Hall – it conflicts with the California Democrats Convention – but I hope that many people will attend, that the discussion will be relevant and useful and that the City Council will take the input it generates seriously.
The city of San Leandro will be hiring a new City Manager shortly. They’ve published a questionnaire online, asking San Leandro residents vague questions about what they want in a City Manager. No word as to what they will do with the information. One question that I think is particularly important is that of where the city manager should live. By law, the City cannot impose a residency requirement on the City Manager – but it can hire someone who lives in San Leandro or shows a strong inclination to move here. But should we care?
Last December San Leandro’s current City Manager, Steve Hollister submitted his resignation, stating that he would leave when his contract expired in June. The speculation was that his contract would not be renewed. Under Hollister, the City managed to deplete its financial reserves almost completely, a number of major companies moved out of town, it developed an anti-business reputation and quality of life in the City declined. Tony Santos took the blunt of the blame for this in November – losing a Mayoral race in a city that almost automatically votes for incumbents – but in San Leandro it’s the City Manager, not the Mayor, who is really in charge of (and to blame for) how the city is run.
With Hollister in the way out, San Leandro needs to hire a new City Manager. Last week, 3 months after Hollister’s announcement, the City finally got around to posting the job. Given the shoddy quality of the job posting brochure and the recycled verbiage, it couldn’t have taken that long to create. It’s not clear to me, then, why the search did not start sooner. Applicants have until April 18th, to submit their resumes/references, a relatively short window of time. The City has chosen not to hire a search firm.
This suggests to me that the “powers that be” have someone in mind for the position. I’ve heard rumors that neither our Assistant City Manager Lianne Marshall or Deputy City Manager Jacki Diaz are interested in the job – so it may very well be an external hire. In either case, I would hope it’s someone who agrees to move to San Leandro. We want to hire someone for the long haul, and that means someone who is willing to believe in San Leandro enough to make it his/her home. And I want someone who believes enough on his/her own abilities that he can trust he’ll be kept around for as long as s/he wants to be.
I am concerned, however, that the current City Manager hiring process has no space for public input. For one, while the City Council are the representatives of the public, they do not reflect at all the demographics of this city. Asians and Latinos make up 57% of the city’s population, and yet there isn’t even one Asian or Latino City Council member. Indeed, while whites only comprise 27% of the City’s population, 85% of the City Council is white. There should be a way for the City to solicit the imput of Asian and Latino and other San Leandro citizens in the City Manager hiring process.
What I propose is that the City form an advisory committee composed of 7 members. Each City Council member would appoint one representative, making an effort to appoint someone from a demographic group not represented in City Council (in addition to Asians and Latinos, this could mean gays, young people, non-Christians, etc.). This group would review the applications of the top City Manager choices, and either interview them or submit questions for their interviews (and then review their answers). They would then either individually or as a group, submit their recommendations and the grounds for these to the Council as a whole. The City Council, of course, would be free to make its own mind.Group members would be made to sign confidentiality agreements prohibiting them from discussing the matter. To expedite the process, City Council members could draw on their commissioners as possible members of this advisory group or tap community leaders.
I’ll send my proposal along to the City Council, let’s see what they do with it 🙂