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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Professional City Management

For John, BLUFA simple yes or no answer requires agreement on what the words in the question mean.  Nothing to see here; just move along.

On City Life this morning, (Dave Leferriere and Jack Mitchell as co-host and guest) Host George Anthes tried to pin down what "Professional City Management" is and tried to force the dividing line as being whether the person is a politician or a lawyer, on the one hand, or someone with a degree in "city management" and experience in that area.

I believe George's characterization misses the point, at least as I understand it.  I believe the concept turns on the question of "a fair shake".  It is the difference in how you get City Services.  Do you get them because of who you know, because of your political connections, because of your party affiliation, or do you get them because a clerk treats you just like every other member of the community, with courtesy and fairness.

This is different from competent and incompetent (or to add the Curtis E LeMay spin, fortunate or unfortunate).

What a Bernie Lynch brings to the job is an assumption that he will be a-political in his administration of the City.  It may not be a fact, but it is an assumption.  The flip side of this would be a belief that Rep Kevin Murphy would bring to the job a preference for the Highlands section of Lowell over the rest of the sections.  I don't think that would be the case, but the "always lived in the Highlands" assertion came up on City Life this morning.

As Host George Anthes might note, there is no specific path to being an Air Force Base Commander (when he was on active duty a JAG, like George, could be the Base Commander).  What was expected was leadership and integrity.  The Base Commander couldn't be an expert in everything.  The Air Police and the Base Civil Engineers reported to him.  The Services people, like the base feeding facilities, and the personnel office and financial services reported to him, and his reach included the Post Office and the Supply Squadron.  The Base Theater and the Commissary were under his purview, as was the Base Library.

My experience was that the Base Commander was a crew dog who had made colonel as a navigator.  Until toward the end of my career, navigators didn't command combat flying units.  Thus, the colloguial term, Base Navigator.

The dividing line, not easy to discern, is the leadership style of the individual.  Do all citizens get an even-steven break?  Or, does croneyism reign?  Worse, if possible, nepotism.

Which is not to say that City Government doesn't operate, internally, due to a little bit of cumshaw.  Let's be realistic here.

Another way to look at it is the assertion by the late Robert S McNamara that management is a skill and a good manager can manage just about anything.  Is Kevin Murphy a good manager?  Better than the other 20 people applying for the job?  Yes, there is the fact that he "knows the territory", knows the people and personalities.  The flip side is if he has ever experienced life outside of the Highlands (and Beacon Hill) and thus can bring diverse ideas to the job.

Picking the City Manager will probably be the most important task the City Council undertakes this year.  I hope they are open to all of the candidates, not prejudging any, and in the end picking the best man or woman for the position.  At this point I have no recommendations.

Regards  —  Cliff

  Strangely, because he was an aviator, he was the titular authority for cross-country flights to fly.
  I am not sure George was doing my any favors by trying to drag me into the on-air discussion.  More dividing than unifying.


Craig H said...

I'm fully with George on this one. If the job responsibilities included surgery, you'd surely insist upon having a board certified doctor in the seat, as opposed to someone who was only good at ensuring a fair waiting line for the operating room.

Yes, surely, we need fairness. But, see, the City Manager's bosses are the City Councillors, and I would argue it's their job to make sure the CM has his priorities in order when serving city residents. But the amount and quality of those services to be delivered on a fixed budget is by no means an even comparison between someone studied and experienced in the craft of effective municipal management, as opposed to someone whose primary job experience is in trading favors.

The fact that so few people in this city seem to be able to grasp that simple distinction is astounding, and truly chilling. I surely hope that we don't make a colossal mistake and hire a Pol for a Professional's job.

Craig H said...
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