This Time for Sure
Tustin is looking for a new city manager and they want your help. Monday we got a Tweet from the City of Tustin saying that they are looking for citizen input for the qualities they would like to see in a city manager. The Tweet referred us to the city page and then on to a survey they had set up. It asks two simple questions: 1. What leadership qualities and characteristics are most important for Tustin to look for in selecting a new City Manager; 2. What priorities would you like the new City Manager to address during his/her first year on the job?
While we appreciate the opportunity to be able to have some input into the hiring process, the process itself remains hidden behind closed doors. At this point, there will be no open discussion of candidates at special or city council meetings. There will be no guarantee that the survey is not just a smoke and mirrors trick to fool the public into thinking that Boss Tweed Amante and his henchmen Nielsen and Murray are being open about the process. In other words, what is to stop the council and its committee, of which Nielsen is a member, from just hiring whomever they please? In the charged atmosphere that has become the City Council chambers this is a serious question.
This is probably one of the most important issues facing the city. The City Manager runs the city on a day-to-day basis. Although major issue may go before the City Council, many decisions are made by the CM that affect the lives of each and every one of us without Council concern or knowledge. This is as it should be. But, that makes it all the more important that the City Council hire the right person for the job. And, this council does not have a good track record for doing that.
For nearly 30 years, Bill Huston was City Manager.By all accounts, he was a skilled and able manager who was well-liked by the staff and the citizens of Tustin in general. He retired in July 2010 and a new City Manager, David Biggs was hired to replace him. Biggs was also an experienced manager, coming from Redondo Beach where he was the Assistant City Manger. Redondo Beach is about the size of Tustin, although the business and residential makeup is a bit different. Still, it seemed a good fit and everyone seemed happy with Biggs. That is, until March of this year when, without much warning, the City Council decided to terminate Biggs’ contract, with Mayor Amante saying that the relationship between the City Council and the city manager had been unsatisfactory. No further comment, no other reason given. Suddenly, a City Manger who beat out over 50 other candidates for the job and who had extensive experience running a city our size, was out of a job. And, we were without a City Manager. That is, until the city council decided to rehire former manager and recent retiree, Bill Huston. Well, all is calm in the realm, at least temporarily. But, did anyone notice the salary the new/old manager was going to be paid? Quick calculations have it come out to $343,200 per year. That’s a whopping $93,000 more than what Biggs was making for the same position.
To be fair, Huston is only working part-time. But, that is because he has to. He cannot take a full-time government position without affecting his retirement. He says he will only work 25-27 hours a week and, at $165 an hour, that would amount to nearly as much as Biggs was making full-time. There is no mention of a car allowance or health benefits. In a statement to the OC Register, Huston stated that he would be working 2 days a week in the office and the rest would be spent at home answering phone calls and emails. That is about as part-time as you can get. Did he get a city vehicle to drive back and forth to work those two days? Did he get enhance health benefits or other perks for coming back? Who knows?
This takes us back to the present. And, we have an idea that would further the Council’s efforts to be open about the hiring process and allow the council majority to mend some fences. How about, after the committee culls the candidates down from that 6-10 they hope to get, to a manageable “final four”, they open the interview process to the public? We are not saying question and answer time, although that would be a great option. Just open the entire interview, at least the final interviews, to the public so we can see what we are getting. That way, when Boss Tweed Amante wants to fire another City Manager without warning, we will know it was just a personality clash.