Monday, April 11, 2011

State pulls funding for 9th grade technical classes

Paula gets into the weeds on the budget numbers, but the most important information in this story is missing: a clear explanation of the effects of the cuts.

She references "technical classes" for 9th-graders. What is that? Woodshop? Beautician training? Basic physics? No idea. How does this alter a kid's career path or employment opportunities? No comment. What are the follow-on effects for the community. Eh?

A core reason why many people are so blithe about cutting public spending is that they just don't realize how it will affect them, their neighbors or their families. Here was an opportunity missed.

City manager: What makes "the best" candidate?

In today's "Council direction on city manager search expected at Tuesday meeting," Cindy quotes Laurie Hadley saying that locals "thought it was important to go out there and really search (for the best candidate)" for city manager, and that spending money on a headhunter would accomplish that. To me this clearly illustrates the aridity of the terms of this debate and a generalized lack of both vision and logic at City Hall.

Nowhere in the discussion have I seen any reference to our criteria for hiring the most powerful person in our local government. What exactly makes a good city manager, and how will we find the right fit for Prescott?

In the past these searches have apparently been based entirely on whether the person has previously managed another city of comparable size, and whether he (always he so far) has done an adequate job. In my experience this has led to a succession of generally competent but dully conservative occupants for the office, and unremitting mediocrity in the results.

In my 17 years as a resident, Prescott has failed to progress in any positive way, and has clearly lost some quality of life. We have more big-box shopping at the cost of smaller retailers, more mall space with fewer people shopping in it, fewer middle-income jobs relative to population, more official attention on traffic and less on scenic or neighborhood beauty, and still no sustainable water plan. Our infrastructure spending is at best barely keeping up with maintenance needs. Our economic development department is now focused on tourism. Quality-of-life improvements like the trails network or the YMCA have been exclusively private and nonprofit initiatives. We seriously have to ask ourselves whether this is how we want to continue going about things.

In our form of city government, the Council is equivalent to a board of directors, and the manager to a corporate president. S/he not only carries out the policy requirements set by Council, but s/he also generates many initiatives from staff experience and input. S/he remains in the job as Council members move in and out, and holds the keys to institutional memory and vision. S/he must be both politician and technician, a leader to staff and a servant-leader to Council. Having been involved in City process and observed closely for many years, I'm convinced that the manager has far greater influence on policy and how it's exercised than any elected official can.

So if we're to get off the dime, join the 21st century and have a shot at having Prescott live up to its potential as a great place to live, beyond ordinary managerial skills, the person we pick for that chair must have visionary goals and a chess-player's mind for achieving them. That person is not likely to be out of a job and showing up on every headhunter's list. I think we have to be the headhunter.

Rather than look for the best person available, we should be looking closely at the most successful towns our size across the country and discover what they're doing and how. Then we look for who's making those efforts happen, and when we find a fit, make an offer to attract someone who's already happy in the job.

Will it take a search firm to do that? Probably, but success demands clear direction from us about how to look. I tend to doubt we can find the qualities we need for 20,000 clams. Look what it's got us up to now.