A Winters Tale: And the survey says….

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If you are like me, you occasionally receive by email one of those goofy internet surveys.

I never take them, fearing that if I click on the page, my internet provider will be shut out, my computer will be redirected to a server in Romania, and my bank account will be drained.

I did however break my rule this week, to participate in the survey concerning the hiring of a new City Manager.

It was posted on the City’s web page, though I doubt many people took the time to look for it.

Those who did might have wondered how much of an effect participating would have on our City Council, which has the sole responsibility for hiring a successor to Auburn’s John Donlevy.

The survey was prepared by the executive search firm hired to recruit candidates for the job, Peckham & McKenney, the same firm which convinced a young man from Grand Terrace, California to apply for the Winters job 20 years ago.

As former City Manager Donlevy is fond of recounting, he was the only one who showed up for the interview.

Let’s hope Peckham & McKenney has a greater reach after two further decades in business (we are paying them nearly 30,000 dollars to find the next hire).

The survey seemed little more than a nod to the oft-cited need for “community engagement” which those of us in Winters always seem to demand.

In the end, one presumes our Council will meet with prospective candidates, grill them on their qualifications and visions for a special town like ours, and offer the job to the right man, or woman.

As for the survey, it began with simple questions: “Are you a resident?” “Are you a business owner in Winters?” and “Are you an employee of the City?”

Those were followed by three multiple choice questions, mostly generic, the kind of boilerplate choices which could have been prepared by a search firm anywhere, for a City Manager’s job anywhere, or a job of any kind anywhere.

Participants were asked to pick from a list the five most important issues you would like the City to address in the next three years.

“Financial stability,” “Public safety,” “Affordable housing,” “Transportation,” were among the choices.

Yes, these are all vital issues that any new manager should care about.

But from their list, my number one pick was: “Downtown business.”

This should be our absolute, top of the line, unquestioned priority.

If downtown fails to recover, there will be even darker days ahead for Winters.

“Select the top five personal attributes of the next City Manager that are most important to you,” continued the survey.

“Dynamic leadership skills,” “Strong manager of people and resources,” “Strong relations with the Council and staff,” were among the choices– all pretty obvious.

“Strong work ethic, integrity and discipline” was on the list, but would you ever hire someone you knew to be lazy and undisciplined?

The key section of the survey was entitled: “Select the type of career experience that you think is most important for the next City Manager to possess?” And therein were the choices which really matter. Among them: “Experience as City Manager,” “Experience as an Assistant City Manager or Deputy City Manager,” “Public Sector/Local Government experience,” “Track record of strong City Council relations,” and “Experience with California law, rules and regulations.”

I chose none of those. In fact, I placed “Experience as City Manager” last in my ranking.

Here were my selections from their list of choices: “Entrepreneurial mindset,” “Exceptional business skills,” “Excellent communicator,” “Innovative, creative and progressive.”

Those skills are inherent, instinctual. The rest can be learned. Duties can be delegated.

Our next City Manager will inherit a Police Chief, Fire Chief, and Public Works Director, who all know how to do their jobs, and do them well.

We have a pretty good Finance Director, too. (That $250,000 litigation fund disappeared like a magician’s rabbit.)

As for housing, should Measure A pass in November, the issue of how to develop the North Area will be well on its way to being settled, and publicly supported.

Chromium-6? The state must eventually ease its draconian regulations. Let’s not always cave in to Sacramento.

Spend hours applying for grants? Hire a professional grant writer. There are many.

To my mind, the next City Manager needs a nose for business, an iPhone filled with contacts, a knowledge of marketing, and a sense of adventure.

My advice to the new hire, for what it’s worth–do everything in your power to make Winters a town attractive to entrepreneurs.

Let the Council handle community relations.

And let your staff fill the potholes.

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