By Bill Buchanan
Ojai will soon have a new city manager. John Baker, interim city manager, will be leaving the post after having served admirably in that role. Baker came into a difficult situation after the termination of previous city manager Jere Kersnar. With major projects in the works like the Skate Park and the Libbey Bowl construction, he had to hit the ground running. He did. We commend him on the job he has done. In particular, Baker acted swiftly and wisely in resolving a last-minute conflict concerning the concrete in the Skate Park. Baker called a meeting of the principals involved and a compromise was quickly ironed out so that the Skate Park, after many years of delays, was able to open as planned. That is the type of leadership the city needs, and Baker will be missed.
The City Council will soon take up the task of selecting Baker’s replacement. There are a couple of issues we think important for the new person to tackle right away, and for the city to look for in hiring the new person.
We would like to see the next city manager take a very hard and objective look at city finances. While the economy is improving, there is no denying these are difficult financial times for everyone. There are few if any businesses or individuals in this country, who have not been forced to take a very hard look at their financial situation and make changes to accommodate the economic slowdown. In many cases these changes have been substantial, even drastic, and often painful. But they were necessary. City finances should be no different. We need someone to come into the city manager’s office and take a fresh look at everything. There should be no sacred cows.
The new city manager will need to get up to speed quickly on the Libbey Bowl construction project. This is a large and important venture. It is easy on a project this size for things to get out of hand quickly. It needs to be managed as though the money being spent was the city manager’s personal money, and not just “someone else’s money.”
We would also like to see the city manager have a service-oriented outlook. In the city manager form of government, the position of city manager wields a lot of power. It is easy for that power to be misused or even abused. The city manager should remember that he or she works for the people of Ojai, not the other way around. We have heard unfortunate terms such as “the City of No” and “No-jai” used to describe our town, especially in regard to construction. The Skate Park, for instance, took many years to come to fruition. Local businesses such as Sea Fresh Seafood and Su Nido Inn have experienced great difficulties in getting various projects approved. It is very important to protect the visual integrity of the town. But within that framework, we need to find a way to help local businesses make improvements without lengthy and costly delays. That should be the mind-set going in.
That service-oriented outlook should also apply to the general public. We feel the city manager should take a hard look the current city employee work week. Many people find that City Hall being closed on Fridays is extremely inconvenient. We would urge the new person to see if there is a viable alternative schedule that would still be economically feasible, but would be more customer-oriented for the public.
In selecting and hiring the new city manager, we would hope the City Council will carefully consider and review the terms of the contract. The previous contract contained provisions that inflated the cost of the city manager’s compensation, and terms that made it very difficult for the council to dismiss him. We are not saying that the cheapest person is necessarily the best, but careful consideration of compensation and terms is needed.
The City Council has wisely encouraged local citizens to provide their input into the selection of the new city manager. In a news story in Wednesday’s edition of the Ojai Valley News, the council openly solicited input from the community, asking for opinions on “the attributes considered most important in making the selection.” It is important to note that people living in the immediate surrounding areas of the city limits are also greatly affected by decisions that are made by the city manager and council, and their input should be considered.
The Council is asking citizens to rate the following six characteristics to consider during the selection. They are:
• Responsive to community issues
• Is personable
• Active in the community
• Properly manages staff
• Is knowledgeable
• Gives straightforward answers
The public is asked to rank these characteristics one through six in priority order (one being the highest, six being the lowest) and to submit responses to the City Council at P.O. Box 1579, Ojai, CA, 93024 or via e-mail at email@example.com.
We commend the City Council for soliciting input, and urge the citizens of Ojai to let the council not only know what characteristics are important in the selection process, but to also let them know what issues you feel are important and need to be addressed.
The city manager’s job is an important one. Please let the council know how you feel.