The combination of a horrible economic situation and a community and a council that were divided on some issues made me realize that my time as manager was limited.
The mayor approached me in May and indicated that the council had decided not to renew my contract when it expired the following January.
I told my partner about the conversation, and we prepared a separation proposal. I met again with the mayor, who reviewed the proposal and indicated the council would agree to it. I trusted the mayor to deliver on our agreement.
When I announced my retirement would take place later that year, I had only that verbal agreement. The city attorney objected to virtually every aspect of it.
The council seized on his objections and rejected all of the verbal agreement, leaving me with no recourse. I concluded that it was not worth fighting over the serious error I had made in trusting the mayor and council to live up to their part of the agreement. The lesson: get it in writing and have it approved in public.
Southlake has an unusually high profile for a city of its size and an extremely active citizenry. From time to time, this has led to a high number of open-record requests that are handled primarily by the city secretary, an employee who reports directly to the city council but coordinates her work closely with my office.
At one point, a large wave of complicated requests was received, and although I was aware of them, I incorrectly assumed they could be handled, business as usual. I did not look beyond the organizational chart and realize the potential impact of the situation on the overall operation of the city. I wish I had taken time to more fully understand the toll these requests were taking on the secretary’s operation and the potential public criticism that she was facing.
Once the problem was identified, we used creative problem solving to fulfill our obligations under the law and relieve the workload pressure. We have since made changes to improve the process, and now I listen more carefully and act quickly.
Richton Park, Illinois
The management decision that I would take back involved communications to elected officials. When I was a city manager, a developer pledged funds to construct a new municipal building. The city had purchased property, hired an architectural firm, and started the process of designing a building when the developer wanted to meet.
The mayor, city attorney, community development director, and I attended the meeting. The developer announced that the company would not be able to honor its commitment to the project.
I decided to meet with the council in executive session to update them on this issue. That strategy backfired!
Councilmembers felt I wasn’t keeping them in the loop. In retrospect, I should have called a special meeting or, at a minimum, sent out an informational e-mail to the council. What I learned: in this profession, communication and trust are extremely important, and as managers we need to do a better job of communicating and building relationships with elected officials.
As I transitioned from the position of assistant to the position of city manager, I misread the council’s sense of urgency in increasing Colma’s economic development activities.
At the time, the town did not have a formal economic development program although the former manager had initiated an economic development project shortly before her retirement. When I became interim city manager, I did not make sure I understood what the council wanted in this area. As a result, the project floundered and, understandably, the council became frustrated.
Luckily, the council was willing to work with a first-time manager. I realized my mistake when I heard their disappointment, and I quickly adjusted priorities. The project got back on track, and the town’s first economic development strategy was adopted in May 2010.