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Looking Back on my First Two Years as City Manager

July 12, 2017 11:56 AM
by Rick Cole

Looking Back on my First Two Years as City Manager

The City Manager plays a unique role in our City government. "Serving at the pleasure of the City Council, the Manager is the chief executive officer and the head of the administrative branch of the City government,” according to our City Charter, approved by voters in 1947.

Last month marked the end of my first two years in the job. The anniversary calls to mind a Persian proverb a friend once shared with me about operating a family business: “the first hundred years are the hardest.”

I’ve learned so much about the community and the organization over these past two years and still have much to learn.  Yet I think this milestone represents an important transition, particularly since it coincides with the upcoming retirement of my indispensable partner since day one, Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek, who had served as interim City Manager since the retirement of my predecessor, Rod Gould.

At the outset, I promised the Council that I would spend my first few weeks on the job practicing the Japanese approach of “genchi genbutsu” – roughly translated “go look, go see.” 

When I was introduced to the organization and the community, I pledged to pursue Santa Monica’s commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice.  I told the Council, “The future success of Santa Monica will come from building strong partnership, with our citizens, with our community institutions and organizations, with our businesses, with our regional neighbors and partners, and with the public servants, who work on behalf of this community every day. That’s what I’d like to contribute to this process – building, enhancing and strengthening those partnerships to shape a more sustainable, equitable, prosperous, and livable Santa Monica, not only for the neighbors who have the privilege of living here but also for the many people who come to visit here, work here – a model for other communities.”
Given the scope of these aspirations, I would be the first to acknowledge that it hasn’t been easy.  Yet I think we have made real progress. 

  • The Council identified five Strategic Goals and on one of them – gaining local control of our Airport – we reached an historic agreement that will allow us to shorten the runway and close the airport at the end of 2028. 
  • We capitalized on the opening of Expo to promote an emerging new model of mobility with the Evolution of Blue, launch of Breeze Bike Share and the #GoSaMo campaign.
  • The City Council this week gave unanimous support to moving forward with a final version of the Downtown Community Plan. 
  • We proposed and voters approved a new tax measure to support affordable housing and our public schools. 
  • We’ve integrated the City’s work on wellbeing and sustainability and forged a new framework that is now embedded in our biannual budget process.  
  • We’re meeting the threat of future pension costs through advance payments and putting realistic restraints on the growth in personnel costs.
  • We’re committed to better using data and technology to improve our performance. 
  • We are stepping up our efforts on training, organizational development and equipping our workforce with the right facilities, tools and technology to deliver the results that matter most. 

We’ve done all this and much more while continuing to provide the vital services this community expects and demands.

In the weeks ahead, we will launch the new budget cycle and citywide framework; take the first steps to integrating SaMoStat performance management to our toughest challenges (beginning with homelessness); move towards the adoption and implementation of the Downtown Community Plan and Vision Zero (to eliminate traffic deaths and injuries); break ground on the new City Services Building; welcome a new City Attorney and select a new Assistant City Manager, Deputy City Manager and Police Chief. 

One of the most gratifying aspects of serving this diverse and dynamic community is working with an engaged citizenry where so many care so passionately about public affairs.  On my desk at City Hall is an engraving of my youthful hero, John F. Kennedy with a quote from an address he gave at Independence Hall in Philadelphia: “Others may confine themselves to debate, discussion, and that ultimate luxury-free advice. Our responsibility is one of decision--for to govern is to choose.”

In the end, it is the people of Santa Monica who govern.  They elect the City Council as their representatives and I never forget that in public service we work for the people.  The years ahead will be eventful and, I hope, productive and prosperous ones.  I am excited and optimistic about working with my 93,000 neighbors and our civic leadership to create a city that works for everyone.

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