Who’s running this popsicle stand?
If you live in Volusia County chances are your little slice of paradise is administered by the council-manager form of government – a system in which the elected council or commission hires a professional manager who essentially serves as the chief executive officer – responsible for the day-to-day operations of all city or county departments and employees through a staff of experienced department heads.
Depending upon who you talk to, there are myriad reasons why most communities that provide comprehensive public services have adopted this form of governance, but the bottom line is it takes the inefficiencies of petty politics out of the equation.
At least that’s the working theory. . .
As I have said before, We, The People elect the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker to serve on a council or commission – like a corporate board of directors – who appoint a manager with ostensibly strong administrative and organizational skills to run the operations of the county or municipal government, enact the public policy decisions of the elected body, and provide information to assist the legislative function.
To that end, the manager is given extraordinary powers over every aspect of government operations and services.
For instance, the executive has complete autonomy to hire and fire employees, set internal policies, personally direct the operations of all departments and services of the government and administrate all financial and budgetary processes.
It also means that no one elected official has more ‘power’ than any of the others – meaning the mayor or council chair are typically relegated to refereeing public meetings and acting in a ceremonial role, cutting ribbons at the grand opening of the latest Dollar Mart, or presenting a proclamation recognizing Mavis Bracegirdle as she turns “100-years young!” . . .
The ‘system’ also insulates career civil servants, the professionals who provide essential governmental services to the community, from the often politically motivated meddling of elected officials.
Most managers do a fine job, serving multiple masters while bringing economic and civic progress to their communities.
Others? Not so much. . .
The role requires a strategic mind – the ability to stay ahead of the game and just above the political fray – with the dexterity to communicate the important details of complex civic issues to the elected officials then guide them toward reasonable consensus.
It can be tough to find the ‘right fit.’
In my experience, problems arise when communities mistake a good ‘project manager’ for someone with the comprehensive skills needed to oversee the multifaceted operations, administration, and budgeting of a county or municipality.
Many candidates for city manager positions cut their teeth as department heads or senior administrators, responsible for one slice of a much larger pie, with expertise in public works or city planning, but without the broad range of experience operating what is a large and unwieldy piece of machinery while keeping 5 to 7 hyper-critical politicians happy.
For instance, if asked to paint City Hall – the project manager could request proposals, administer the bid process, hire the contractor, select the grade and color of paint, set a budget for the project, supervise the minor details of the job, and see the work completed in a reasonable period within the financial parameters.
Just don’t ask them to see that the building’s roof receives proper preventive maintenance, the lawn is mowed, and landscaping maintained, the parking lot is properly paved and striped according to regulations, the irrigation system remains operational, the air conditioning system is functional, the physical plant is safe and secure for public use, etc., etc.
This inexperience and ineptitude often breeds inner turmoil as the manager begins blaming others for their own incompetence, a practice that always results in expensive turnover, the loss of institutional knowledge, low morale, and the confusion and second-guessing that come when the chief executive starts circling the wagons. . . (For more details, see: City of Deltona)
There is an old joke that being a city manager is like riding a bike – except the bike is on fire. You are on fire. The fire is on fire. Everything is on fire. . .
Just over one year ago, Daytona Beach City Manager Jim Chisholm began his long goodbye.
And I do mean long.
A process that should have taken a few months to get right drug on. And on. And on.
A clumsy nationwide search by a highly paid out-of-state headhunter garnered a relatively few applicants (for a Florida resort town with the best weather in the nation and a reputation for lavishing its chief executive with an exorbitant salary and benefits package?) which everyone agreed failed to produce the depth of talent, civic vision, and professional experience everyone hoped for.
So, here we are.
After winnowing the field to the final three using a tired, run-of-the-mill, wholly uninspired selection process, on Saturday, the Daytona Beach City Commission will hold one-on-one meetings with the candidates followed by a special City Commission meeting to discuss and select the top candidate.
If you live or do business in the City of Daytona Beach, you might want to be there for that. . .
This is without doubt the most important decision this iteration of the City Commission will make during their tenure – and Mr. Chisholm’s brogans will be big shoes to fill.
In my view – like it or not – Jim Chisholm epitomized raw political power – it was always his show – and whoever was elected to office was just visiting.
Whomever is ultimately selected to fill this important role will need superhuman skills to bring this fractured community together – to mend fences with marginalized citizens who have been effectively shutout of their government – rebuild the deteriorating core tourist area, curb beachside blight, reestablish trust and communications, get a grip on the malignant growth in the piney woods west of I-95, prepare for the exsanguination of our aquifer, establish priorities beyond funneling public funds to the wants and whims of influential insiders (who offer the attractive prospect of political insulation in exchange for loyalty), then have the courage to open the doors and windows at City Hall and let the disinfecting power of sunshine into that dank and cloistered environment so desperately in need of change.
Photo Credit: The Daytona Beach News-Journal