HELP CITY MANAGER ON-BOARD NEW COUNCIL MEMBERS
Next month thousands of new City Council members and Board of Directors will be taking the oath of office and be sworn in as the powerful elected officials who will represent the millions of Americans at local communities across the United States of America.
Many of these Council members and Directors may be experienced politicians who are being elected to 2nd, 3rd, or more terms. These guys and gals are old pros. They don’t need much help with being “on-boarded” to take the reins at the dais. However, for many new City Council members, this is their first rodeo. They need all the help they can get to serve effectively as they represent their communities.
Whether you like or dislike the new City Council members just elected, the people have spoken. The community has said they want these individuals to represent them on the dais. Therefore, you as municipal employees have a duty to do everything in your power to support the City Manager in helping the new City Council to succeed in their fiduciary duty as stewards of their community.
Bottom line: The new City Council, both as individuals and as a governing body need to be as ready as possible to hit the ground running at their first Council meeting. You municipal employees must do everything in your power to support the City Manager to help the new City Council be EFFECTIVE as elected representatives of their community…The community that you serve with the same duty and loyalty as the new Council members.
In today’s CitySpeak we will discuss six main points that we municipal employees need to think about to “help our City Manager on-board the new Council members as follows:
1. Let’s support the City Manager even if he’s a “lame duck” executive who everyone knows will likely be fired soon by the new City Council.
2. City Managers, you can survive the new City council by taking your craft seriously.
3. City Managers provide good communication to keep the troops working with good morale.
4. Let us all adhere to professional public management protocols such as the ICMA Code of Ethics and Woodrow Wilson’s dichotomy of politics vs. administration.
5. Let’s all embrace change; this is a fact of life at City Hall.
6. We need to fully accept and support the new elected officials to respect the community and to uphold democracy and the constitution.
I – SUPPORT THE CITY MANAGER EVEN IF HE’S A “LAME DUCK” LEADER IN TRANSITION
During the 30 years I have worked at City Hall, I have seen many “lame duck” City Managers in action a few months before and after the swearing in of new City Council members. Most of these City Managers had employment contracts that stated that he/she could “not be fired within six (6) months of the new Council being sworn in”.
Nevertheless, City Managers get fired all the time.
The average tenure for City Managers was 4 years in the California Cities I worked at during my 30-year career as a City Finance Director. And most of the City Managers were fired within six (6) months of the prior November elections.
So if you are a City Manager or even a General Manager working at a Special District organization, chances are your job is on the chopping block by the new Council or Board majority.
Make no mistake, everybody knows who’s getting fired soon, and it’s usually the City Manager, and even some Directors. The grapevine at City Hall is very efficient. Somehow the rumor mill gets going and news spreads fast. So don’t be surprised if everybody already knows.
We don’t feel sorry for you Mr. or Madam City Manager. You all know the most important skill you professional public managers need to have is to “be able to count to 3”.
For those who don’t know what I mean by “count to 3”, 3 is a majority for a 5-member Council.
As long as you City Managers keep the support of a “majority” of the City Council, you get to keep your job. The opposite would be true if 3 of the 5 Council members no longer like you.
And as we have always said, “that’s why you all get paid the big bucks”!
Still, it is sad to watch how mean-spirited and vindictive some new Council members can be when they seek to fire you as our City Manager. Nobody likes getting fired, even though you all know this is a fact of life in the political environment we work with at City Hall.
Rest assured, we Department Directors and all our employees will continue to support you as our City Manager as long as you’re the official chief executive in charge of our organization.
All of us need to follow the Golden Rule and “treat others as you would like to be treated”.
We really do try to put ourselves in your place as the City Manager. We can imagine how we would feel and want to be treated while fighting to keep your job under the new
City Council majority.
So at this point, I want to remind you City Managers what you may sometimes forget when you’re under the gun and stress of mean and vindictive City Council members hungry to fire you: Fight for your job if you really want to continue to serve your community!
II – CITY MANAGERS SURVIVE THE NEW COUNCIL BY TAKING YOUR “CRAFT” SERIOUSLY
City Managers, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.
I’m speaking as one of your Department Directors, so I say this with all due respect: It takes finesse and substance to navigate the new Council to not get fired.
My dear City Managers, if you feel like you’re going to be fired, regardless of the reason, be PROACTIVE, take your craft seriously and fight for your job!
There’s so many things you can do to keep your job when new City Council members ran for office to “clean house”, and they’re hungry to fire you and other management employees of the City.
City Managers, you can hold one-on-one meetings with individual Council members as well as a group in closed session.
Don’t wait for the agenda to surprise you when the “City Manger Evaluation” item shows up in the Closed Session section of the Council agenda without your approval.
Meet with new Council members today.
Show humility and apologize to them if there is any reason to do so, especially if you made any mistakes that you acknowledge.
Remind them you care more about helping the Council as a whole to carry out their new vision for their community.
Also remind them if you made any executive decisions in the last few years, you were only following the “will of the previous Council majority”. That is your job of the City Manager. And as a City Manager, you cannot go against the Council majority. The City Manager does not have the same status as the City Council.
You would give them the same commitment to carry out their vision and priorities!
Also, remind them it is costly to pay you a severance and then go through the cost of replacing you and recruiting another City Manager. As a City Finance Director, I estimate it costs a City over $500,000 every time they replace their City Manager.
If you want to keep your job as City Manager, point this out to the new Council. They will think twice about wasting $500,000 of taxpayer money when they have you as an experienced City Manager candidate who is ready, willing, and able to carry out the will of the new Council majority.
Tell them flat out, “you say jump, I say how high”? I hope that’s not beneath you.
Don’t give up City Mangers. Fight for your job! Take your craft seriously.
I have not studied the literature in public administration to see the success rate of City Managers who “fight to keep their jobs” when a new City Council majority is voted in with the intention to “clean house”. However, I have seen too many City Managers give up quickly and immediately look to their severance packages rather than fighting for their jobs.
Now, by fighting for your jobs, I don’t mean to use your Jiu Jitsu skills or even your legal remedies under your contract.
No, what I’m saying is that rather than just giving up and counting your eggs from the “severance clause” of your City Manager employment contract, pray, meditate, and think how you can win over the trust of the new City Council majority, even if you know is determined to fire you.
The City Council members are just human, people who are “motivated” by the same things. You can find out what motivates the new Council members who may be wanting to fire you, and by finding out what motivates them, you may be able to overcome this insurmountable “monster” staring you in the face to take your job.
This reminds me of the 1999 movie “Galaxy Quest” where Commander Jason Nesmith (played by Tim Allen) is fighting the impossible fight against Gorignak the giant rock monster. When Commander Jason Nesmith is about to be TERMINATED, Sir Alexander Dane (played by Alan Rickman) tries to help the Commander to fight the giant rock monster:
Sir Alexander Dane: “You’re just going to have to figure out what it wants. What is its motivation”.
Commander Nesmith: “It’s a rock monster. It doesn’t have motivation”.
Sir Alexander Dane: “See, that’s your problem, Jason. You were never serious about your craft”.
Yes, your craft as a City Manager is a very challenging one. This is why I never wanted to be promoted beyond City Finance Director. The City Manager job was not for me!
Your job as City Manager may well have overwhelming challenges to overcome, like the one you may be facing today as new City Council members recently elected are seeking to terminate you just like Commander Jason Nesmith in the movie “Galaxy Quest”.
Yes, any of you City Managers facing firing by the new Council majority, get “serious about your craft” and repeat the mantra of Commander Jason Nesmith, “never give up, never surrender”!
Find out what is the “motivation” of the new City Council majority “monster” and see if you can figure out what makes them tick so they can work with you.
I have seen dozens of City Managers in this precarious situation, and although it is easy for me to say, I have never understood why so many City Managers just “given up or surrendered” their positions instead of fighting to keep their job.
A City Clerk friend of mine from a City where his City Manager is likely going to be fired, told me he wishes they would get all Council members together and get them acquainted with her and each other.
I agree. Even if you have to have a Brown Act (in California) public notice requirement, do whatever it takes to bring the new Council together soon. Get this done ASAP!
Try to get a meeting to meet and greet everybody, and bring them together to meet all your Directors and as many employees of the City as possible.
A meeting with the new Council members is an excellent opportunity for City staff to provide an update on the projects currently underway, as well as to allow them to interact with employees to the extent that this is possible.
If it’s not possible to hold this meeting in person, especially due to COVID, then try to hold a Zoom meeting with all employees and managers of the City. This can be done like any trade conference show where each Department Director can give a presentation and allow for questions and answers. Perhaps you can even allow line employees from all City Departments to speak.
And if none of this is possible, why not encourage your Department Directors to create videos where they can all talk about their priority projects and the initiatives underway and planned for the next budget year? It is so easy to create videos with just a smart phone or inexpensive web cam!
There’s so much that you City Managers can do to acquaint the new Council members with City Hall and show them that you as City Manager and the employees and Directors have been and will continue to work hard to carry out their vision for their City as well as improve the quality of life for the residents, businesses, and all stakeholders of your community.
Of course, there comes a time when you as City Manager know it’s time for you to go. Yet rest assured that all municipal employees are counting on you to succeed, so please do your best to provide good communication to facilitate a seamless transition for the new administration and City Council majority.
III – EXPECT GOOD COMMUNICATION FROM CITY MANAGER
Though you may be a short-timer City Manager who knows you’re about to be fired, work hard to gather all the troops to make the “painful” transition of the new administration and Council majority more “palatable”.
I know this may be hard for you, but you know the law of the jungle at City Hall.
With good weekly communication you will be able to keep all employees and Department Directors informed and keep better employee morale for your organization. And most importantly, this will foster greater cooperation for the most effective on-boarding of the new City Council members.
This communication is especially important to keep City employees from going rogue.
Make it clear and be candid when communicating to City employees who live in the City. They may be beholding to Council members they personally like and may forget their responsibility to remain 100% professional and stay out of the politics.
Remind these City employees to remain 100% professional. Call them out on it. They are NOT employees of the Council. Only the City Manager is an employee of the Council.
Employees need to remember their place as part of your administration, not as part of the City Council.
Granted, there are the presumptuous City employees who may be a part of the community’s “good old boy” network and they never seem to get fired, even though everybody knows they are breaking every rule in the Council-Manager form of government.
Everybody knows these rebel employees, though they may remain in their role because of the “powers that be”, they destroy the professional public management standards and ICMA Code of Ethics.
These guys are crafty and shrewd, and they end up retiring with big fat pensions just for having been a part of this “club”. They will get their justice someday, right? Well, maybe.
This made me think of the 1998 movie, “Almost Heroes”?
In this movie, Leslie Edwards (played by Matthew Perry) has a funny conversation about justice and fairness with Bidwell (played by David Packer) and Guy Fontenot (played by Eugene Levy) after Bidwell turns up a day after being dragged away by a large grizzly bear with his leg bitten off by the bear.
The scrip goes as follows:
Leslie Edwards: “Bidwell”.
Bidwell: “Sir, sir. I’ve been to hell and back”!
Leslie Edwards: “Yes, I can see that”!
Bidwell: “I suspect that now you’ll want to lead a hunting party, to slay the terrible beast”!
Leslie Edwards: “Well, yes, that thought did cross my mind. Briefly. But now I have a better idea”.
Bidwell: “Yes sir”?
Leslie Edwards: “I shall fashion for you the finest wooden leg you have ever seen”!
Bidwell: “Oh, but what about the bear”?
Leslie Edwards: “Rest assured, Bidwell, in twenty years or so, the ravishes of old age will deal with the bear, far more cruelly than we ever could have”.
Guy Fontenot: “Revenge is sweet sir”!
Yes, these municipal employees who get ignore their place and do not follow the chain of command at City Hall will eventually face the consequences, just like the bear in the movie “Almost Heroes”.
But all joking aside, politically-motivated municipal employees should be the exception, not the norm at City Hall.
I urge all you municipal employees to stay out of politics and adhere 100% to professional public management protocols. This is the best model for Council-Manager form of government in upholding democracy at City Hall.
IV – ADHERE 100% TO PROFESSIONAL PUBLIC MANAGEMENT PROTOCOLS
It is so easy for you municipal employees to be made to feel “important” when a new City Council member comes to you for information. Don’t do it! Don’t take the bait. Remember they are politicians.
You are not and you should follow the direction of the City Manager to stay out of trouble.
The City Manager and hopefully the City Attorney has already told you that the new Council members need to go the City Manager if they need information.
In highly politically-charged City Halls right now, new Council members will likely ignore the direction of the City Manager and professional public management protocols and go right to City employees for whatever they need.
If you find yourself with a newly elected Council member asking you for information, you will likely have to give it to them, especially if it is too awkward for you not to, or you feel stupid saying, “let me ask my supervisor”.
This is usually more of an issue for Department Directors who will definitely look stupid if they tell a new Council member they have to ask permission from the City Manager. Directors have the authority to make decisions about what information to give to the Council like any other member of the public.
Give them the information they are asking for if it is a public record, but also let them know this information you have given them will also be distributed to the rest of the Council that is the way we do things at City Hall, especially when we have new Council members.
And of course, always keep the City Manger and Department Directors in the loop whenever any City Council members ask for information.
NEVER allow the City Manager or Directors be “surprised” during a City Council meeting, either in closed or open session.
As we said previously, support the City Manager in carrying out an effective internal communication channel for the new City Council members.
Make sure to work with the City Clerk to keep an “accounting” of all requests for information from newly elected Council members. This will help the City Manager and
Department Directors to keep possible initiatives on their “radar”.
The City Clerk keeps an ongoing and updated “Agenda Planning Calendar” where all future Council items are tracked. The accounting of Council requests will help with planning future City Council agendas and the success of the City Manager and Department Directors.
And as we all know, there will likely be changes made by the new City Council majority.
V – EMBRACE CHANGE
We all need to embrace change as municipal employees working at City Hall. The City is a political organization, and politics and change is part and parcel of what we must embrace at City Hall.
Change can negatively impact employee “morale”, so it is imperative that all of you who have leadership skills or position of authority at City Hall, to keep the troops happy. Feed them information and let them know “everything will be ok” if they keep doing their jobs professionally.
There is no value to worrying. There is a poem I love to read in times of change: “God grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
Well, maybe this poem doesn’t always apply, but keep it in mind if it applies.
You will likely face a change in the vision of the community you serve when the new Council members come on board. Embrace change. Don’t fight it.
Hopefully your City Manager remains a part of the organization, but if he/she doesn’t, you still have to embrace the change and help the new administration to be effective in their leadership to realize the new vision.
The “old ways” are not any better than the “new ways” of the Council. The new City Council majority was elected by the people of your community. This is democracy and you must follow whatever they decide is the new vision for their community.
Remember the previous CitySpeak podcast? We reminded you that you’re just a municipal employee. You don’t have the status of the elected officials. Stay out of their “gorilla cage” or they will tear out your arms and beat you over the head with them!
So be ready to support the new vision for your community to be carried out through City Hall!
Some of the changes we will likely face at City Hall in 2020 includes the following:
• Public safety is priority #1 in all communities.
• The budget, revenue restructure, and long-term fiscal sustainability.
• Citizenship and participative governance.
• Greater transparency in law enforcement and police reform.
• Employee pension, benefits and labor relations.
• Demographics, diversity, and inclusiveness.
• Affordable housing and homeless (persistent violators) shelters.
• Economic development and budget enhancements.
• Use of social media and the 24/7 virtual City Hall.
There is so much work for all of us to do at City Hall. All of you municipal employees must work with the City Manager and the newly elected Council members to achieve all the work that has to be done.
Where you like them or not, you all must accept all newly elected officials. This is democracy and we are all hired to uphold the constitution at the local government level.
VI – ACCEPT ALL NEWLY ELECTED OFFICIALS: THIS IS DEMOCRACY
Yes, most of us as municipal government employees had to sign the “oath of office” for our appointed position. It is similar to the oath office taken by elected officials.
Regardless, the oath is important that we recognize we respect the Constitution, which includes respecting “all” newly elected officials who were voted in by a majority of the residents of the community you serve.
Click here to read a sample oath of office used in California: Oath of Office
Though today we live in the most divisive and polarized time in our modern history, we as municipal employees are charged with upholding the oath of the office of our position and stay out of politics, and accept and support all newly elected officials.
If you as a municipal employee choose to become a “politician”, resign your position and feel free to enter the next race for City Council. But make sure to resign your job as at City Hall as you cannot hold public office as an elected official and also a City employee.
Chose one or the other; you cannot have it both ways. Remember our previous CitySpeak podcast where we talked about how “Municipal Employees Stay Out of Politics”!
Let us respect our democracy and uphold the Constitution as municipal employees: Support our City Manager and accept all newly elected City Council members so they are effective in doing their job when they take the dais for the first time and every time during their term in office.
This is John Herrera from MuniTemps, thanking you for joining me for today’s CitySpeak blog, podcast, and video.
Don’t forget to subscribe to CitySpeak!
See you next time! Bye!