Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Regarding Political Theater

Public comment at the meeting on 3.19.24 mostly related to the recent Op-Ed in the Pioneer.  Of the few people who spoke, all were well known to the Council and speak at our meetings often.  These are the same people who's letters to the editor were published and often echo the comments of Councilmember Tillman and Cloven.

It’s interesting watching a manufactured narrative be propagated. The most recent is the amount of staff turnover at the City in an Op-Ed at our local paper. The Op-Ed asserts the City has turned over 8 City Managers, 7 Finance Directors, and 5 Community Development Directors in the last 5 years.

To be sure, there has been turnover at City Hall at a level that is undesirable. But it is not accurate to say that all turnover is for the same reasons. Some have left due to retirement, others seeking career growth, others for higher compensation, and others because the role may not have been a good fit. In some cases when a person separates, there are Non Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) or information subject to attorney-client privilege that is unable to be shared publicly. For example, if there were credible allegations of inappropriate treatment towards female subordinates, it would need to be addressed but that action would likely be taken in a way not able to be shared publicly. In short, trying to create a narrative that people are leaving for the same reason, and the reason is somehow known to an editorial author, is intentionally misleading and false.

Beyond misleading however, is inflating the number of people who have left to sensationalize a narrative. For example, the claim that in the past five years, the City has gone through eight City Managers. In reality, including the recent resignation of our current City Manager, the real number is four which is inclusive of the retirement of a person with 17 years of tenure. The only way that the figure comes to eight is if those serving in interim roles were counted. But this is intentionally misleading as these are different roles. There is a reason the title is “INTERIM City Manager”, and not simply “City Manager”. They are literally different roles - the difference in title is a pretty good clue of that. The author either didn’t understand this basic fact, or purposely conflated the difference to mislead readers.

Those who take on interim roles intend to only stay in the role as long as is needed to find a person on a permanent basis. In fact, many of the people who take on interim roles are retirees who are restricted from working over a certain number of hours. Similar discrepancies exist for the other positions mentioned as well.

Another intentionally misleading part of the Op Ed is that it blames the rate of turnover in the last 5 years on Mayor Diaz, myself, and Vice Mayor Trupiano. What it leaves out is that most of the inflated figures of people left while myself and Mayor Diaz were clearly in the minority on the Council, and Vice Mayor Trupiano hadn’t been elected. In fact, our current City Manager is the first in the role to leave while the group the Op Ed blames has been in the majority. To be clear, this is not to cast blame on other Councilmembers past or present– as I stated above people separate for a variety of reasons.

When someone intentionally misleads with exaggerations to push a narrative, it undermines their credibility. It is political theater and is also what Councilmember Tillman’s repeated badgering about having our City Attorney conduct an investigation into Councilmembers is all about.

To be clear, our City Attorney is able to take action independently if they have evidence or suspect any action that presents risk to the City. Without being prompted, our City Attorney has in the past offered counsel and advice unsolicited in areas they felt appropriate, and has given direction on other matters as well. Our City Manager has authority to engage a third party for up to $30K without any other approval from Council that could be used to engage a third party investigation should they so choose. Both of these roles exercise independent judgment and have not taken any action related to Councilmember Tillman’s requests for an investigation. The only reason to continually ask for an investigation is to engage in political theater and a sophomoric attempt to try and score political points. 

The City certainly has work ahead both in terms of staffing and in its finances. It’s unfortunate that rather than find ways to work together, there are those that would rather exaggerate and mislead in order to divide the community. As I have done throughout my tenure, I will continue to do what’s best for the City and this community.