Since the beginning of the month we have witnessed newly elected officials taking the oath of office at all levels of government; and now is the time to begin the work of the people. In San Bernardino however, it seems city leaders are running out of time. After the failure to pass charter reform in November and without a clear plan to emerge from bankruptcy after 28 months, the pressure to produce results is exposing some potential weaknesses in leadership.
First, the San Bernardino City Council rejected Mayor Carey Davis’ request to extend the contract of his Chief of Staff Michael McKinney that expires at the end of the year. The $125,000 contract with McKinney’s public relations firm MICA PR, instead of McKinney as an individual, was viewed by some as a potential conflict of interest.
Shortly after that, Mayor Davis called for the resignation of City Manager Allen Parker, who refused the request. Critics claim that the timing of the request was suspicious. According to Mr. Parker the mayor had asked him to advocate for Mr. McKinney and Mr. Parker refused. It could be retaliation, it could be bad timing, or it could be due to the mayor’s political inexperience. Or possibly all three.
Then a special meeting of the City Council was called to discuss Mr. Parker’s performance. Although the mayor requested the resignation, only the City Council can dismiss the city manager by a two-thirds vote.
On the city website Mayor Davis lists “restoring fiscal sanity…emerging the city from its current fiscal condition, creating economic opportunities… and increasing the quality of life” for residents as the agenda for his first term. He is also identified as a “newcomer to public service and municipal politics” and it shows. His lack of political savvy is obvious in this recent series of missteps, as well as in his failure to generate the needed support to defeat the public safety union’s campaign to destroy the charter reform initiative.
Councilman Rikke Van Johnson told me that the city couldn’t afford any “sideshows” as it progresses through the bankruptcy process. The time to change city managers was when the mayor first took office, Councilman Johnson added, this is the wrong time, referring to the bankruptcy process. He also believes the mayor is not working to build coalitions, to educate the City Council on his vision, or build relationships to move the city forward.
Someone recently suggested to me that Mayor Davis is like the guy you date right after the big messy break-up but before you find the one you want to spend the rest of your life with. He’s adequate and sufficient for the moment. Yes, he helped you clean up the mess you made of your life, but he isn’t the one you believe you can’t live without. He was the right person at the right time to get the wrong person out of your life, but you’re not sure that he’s the right person to take you into your future.
San Bernardino has had its heart broken for too many years now and needs more that just a transitional guy to help it recover…let’s see just who Mayor Davis turns out to be.
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