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Monday, January 26, 2009

Commentary: City Manager Bill Emlen's New Contract

For those that like to criticize the Vanguard for picking favorites, something that indeed occurs, here is a deviant case. In general, the Vanguard has been supportive of the efforts of DJUSD Associate Superintendent and Chief Budget Officer Bruce Colby. He has helped cleaned up to a substantial degree the mess left behind by his corrupt predecessor Tahir Ahad.

The Vanguard to a large degree credits the efforts of Bruce Colby for keeping the district afloat last year financially and putting the district in position to be able to possibly ride out the next year and a half without a slew of pink slips. In fact, if you look at the article below, without the efforts of Mr. Colby, we would likely be telling a very different story.

On the other hand, the Vanguard has been in general, particularly critical of Davis City Manager Bill Emlen. We can look at his recent handling of the Grand Jury report investigation into the fire department as an example of clear mismanagement. The list can go on and on from there.

However, the Vanguard does indeed need to give Mr. Emlen relative praise compared to Mr. Colby in terms of the handling of their own contract extensions.

Bruce Colby has already drawn criticism from this blog for his taking what amounts to a 5% COLA increase on an ongoing basis during a time when his teachers will once again get zero cola, and during a time when the district will once again have to tighten its budget.

Moreover it seems that district felt that if they did not raise his salary, Mr. Colby would be looking elsewhere and the district may find itself doing a CBO search during these economic times. The district is already without a full budget office staff, to have to find a replacement CBO at this stage would be devastating.

So it seems we can support the job effort but not the approach of Mr. Colby. I write that as one who genuinely likes the guy and thinks he does a very good job.

The bottom line here is principle not the money itself. A 5% pay increase is not going to make or break the district's budget. But the principle of the matter is important as is the loss of flexibility. Essentially, Mr. Colby's raise requires his own office to operate unstaffed in order to accommodate increases in his salary. In short, he's doing more work for the additional pay, the question is whether the district will regret the loss of flexibility in the future.

On Tuesday night, by contrast, we have City Manager Bill Emlen taking the opposite approach. Mr. Emlen is basically saying what we believe Bruce Colby should have said, in light of the current fiscal crisis, Mr. Emlen is forgoing a cost of living adjustment and a merit increase. Mr. Emlen will receive the same base salary as he did last year.

Not that he is going to the poor house with his $158,000 salary. However, on a comparative level, Mr. Emlen is making considerably less than many of his counterparts and certainly than his counterpart with the school district, Dr. James Hammond (let alone Mr. Colby).

We do take some issue with the city council however. Mr. Emlen once again has had the time frame extended by which he would have to relocate to Davis from Vacaville. He now has until June 30, 2012 unless the city modifies the city code requirement for the city manager to reside within the City.

Mr. Emlen has now been city manager for two and a half years. The current claim is the drop in the price of the housing market and therefore the loss of money. However, that is of course a recent excuse. Frankly, this is not the people of Davis' problem.

It was suggested in the Davis Enterprise article that Davis has not suffered from a loss of service based on the fact that Mr. Emlen does not reside in the city. First of all, how was that study performed and quantified? Second and most importantly, this is a matter of principle and following the current laws on the book.

Nevertheless, this is largely a side issue. The city manager has set the tone at least for now, that he is not going to be asking for more money during tough economic times.

The larger question though goes well beyond the tens of thousands in dollars in the midst of a budget deficit that will extend into the millions that the city manager saved the city. The larger question is whether Mr. Emlen can deliver for the city good strong employee contracts that will lead to a sustainable budget into the future. The larger question is whether Mr. Emlen can do a better job of handling crises that arise such as the Fire Department Grand Jury investigation.

The bottom line here is that while we applaud one single aspect of Mr. Emlen's conduct, namely his professionalism with regards to his own contract, we have to question and somewhat harshly the overall job he has done.

At the same time we applaud the job that Mr. Colby has done, we question his priorities when it comes to his own contract situation.

---David M. Greenwald reporting