Sunday, December 12, 2021

Richardson's Rush to Judgment

Richardson City Council agenda, December 13, 2021:

One week after long-time City Manager Dan Johnson announced his retirement, the Richardson City Council plans to appoint his successor. One week. It's the Richardson Way.

Let's dig into the archives. Nine years ago, we went through this exact process. My question then is still relevant today. "Why does state law consider it prudent to wait 21 days before making the hire of a school superintendent official, but one minute and seventeen seconds is long enough to wait before making the hire of a city manager official? What am I missing?"

Ironically, today's rush to judgment comes only a few weeks after the City Council adopted this strategy as one of the 2021-2023 Goals and Strategies: "Promote avenues for public engagement and input."

Do they ever even glance at these goals and strategies once they adopt them? Or is it all just political kabuki theater? Post them on the City's website, check the box done and forget them until next term? Don't answer that. It's a rhetorical question.

By the way, I find it enlightening to look back at how it went the last time the Richardson Way (a.k.a., a Rush to Judgment) was followed in making an appointment this important to the city's well-being. Then it was Dan Johnson being picked to succeed Bill Keffler. Johnson was the Deputy City Manager at the time, but he came to that job after his "abrupt resignation" from his job as City Manager for Carrollton. "Tumultuous and Divisive" is how Johnson's term there was described by the newly-elected incoming mayor who had come out of retirement to clean up after Johnson.

But Dan Johnson's experience in Richardson wasn't like that, right? Well, no, his hand on the tiller of Richardson government was tranquil and serene, if you don't count that time when the mayor was caught in a real estate development scandal that led to her conviction for bribery. That was maybe the most "tumultuous and divisive" period in Richardson's own history. Dan Johnson wasn't implicated in the bribery but the scandal happened on his watch. He didn't have the safeguards in place to deter it or detect it. He survived the subsequent investigation by his hand-picked investigator. Then the FBI stepped in and the rest is history. Now Dan Johnson rides off into the sunset, lauded for his illustrious term (again, if you ignore that one incident). And the City Council is about to repeat its rush to judgment, picking his successor without giving the public any chance to vet the pick and offer public input to the selection process. It's the Richardson Way.

By the way, don't take this post as criticism of any candidate for the new City Manager (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). I'm criticizing the process, not the person. I hope the new City Manager reforms the Richardson Way that the old City Manager ran with such skill.


Mark Steger said...

Check the agenda in the agenda packet. It's different from the agenda in the original announcement. Item 7, the appointment of the new City Manager, which I excerpted and included above, has been removed. Curious.

Mark Steger said...

Whether this agenda item is taken up December 13 or is postponed for a future meeting, it's been pointed out to me by an alert reader that there's something else wrong with this than just the timing. Why would the rest of the City Council delegate to the Mayor the power to "negotiate and execute the terms of employment"? Even if the Council is willing to let the mayor act as point in negotiations, they should at least be in the room, providing oversight and accountability. I assume they would never delegate to the Mayor the power to do a performance evaluation of the City Manager. Why should they delegate to the Mayor the power to set the terms by which the City Manager will be evaluated? The more I think of this, the less acceptable it appears to be.

Mark Steger said...

And it's back. The agenda in the agenda packet has been updated again, this time with a header notice (in red) stating: "This agenda packet has been updated to reflect the required posted agenda that was posted in compliance with state law on the web and the city hall bulletin board within the 72-hour posting requirement." Does that mean the appointment of a new City Manager will, in fact, happen tonight? Your guess is as good as mine. Transparency is not a sterling trait of this City management.

Mark Steger said...

The City Council, with no public input, no time for public input, no time to vet the pick, appointed Don Magner the next City Manager. Mr. Magner might be a good choice, but the process is an insult to promises to improve better engagement with the public. The Council is not infallible, but acts like it sometimes. It's the Richardson Way.

Eric Stengel said...

Thank you for your insightful post.