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They come and go and we're not so bad after all
May 20, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
We’ve been here before, and we’ll be here again, probably in about four years.
In a town where people got used to working for a couple of generations in a steel mill, the thought of changing leaders and jobs still seems unnerving, though we live in a post-steel era where jobs are not lifelong terms.
So it was that when the end came for the city manager’s term of Cathy Davison, I was not surprised, shocked, hurt, angry or ready to grab the torches and storm the government citadel. (I reserve that right for angry mobs in Washington.)
I personally find Mrs. Davison to be intelligent, quick-witted, smart and a decent, God-fearing, talented woman who probably is a great wife and mother. But relationships between city managers and city councils in Steubenville come and go, as they do everywhere.
It was Nick Mininni, who had been a longtime water department superintendent and who served in council for several years who told a young me that “They come and they go.” Nick said that in just about any situation involving people getting completely flabbergasted when the Next Big Person to Save Steubenville was either unsuccessful or left town.
It’s a little cynical, but it applies in terms of government presence. Indeed, politicians are only as good as what they did this morning. Yesterday is long forgotten. Ditto the hired hands of the politicians.
Reading all I did last week about Cathy took me back to about 1990 or so, with the end of Bruce Williams I. Bruce had come in as the city’s second manager (third manager if one counts Jim Lord who only was able to take office for a few days before it was found he didn’t meet the terms of employment set forth in the City Charter as it was back in 1984). It was as if Jack Kennedy himself had come in, shaken things up, spoke plainly, carried a big stick, balanced the budget, walked on water, paved the streets and led the way toward the bright light at the end of the tunnel.
Which, of course, turned out to be a train aimed straight at his office when the council at the time lost interest in his way of doing things. I had the pleasure of his exclusive media exit interview. Mr. Williams was in turn animated, hurt, angry, understanding and trying his best not to be bitter as he talked a lot about the future for the community in that “final” interview.
“Final” in quotes because we know now that the city went along for the ride with Bruce Williams II, his second time in the city manager’s office. He was here until he retired and was replaced by Mrs. Davison 38 months ago.
The city survived when the relationship of the council at the time soured with Gary DuFour, who became city manager after years as the urban projects director. He was and is a truly decent and good all around guy. But the council at the time ran him right over.
The council went through the entire term of its first (or second, if we count Mr. Lord) manager, Lawrence J. Moedt, who was intelligent and quiet and didn’t care much for public relations or external communications. He was a human suit of armor. He took a verbal and media beating like Rocky Balboa took punches from Apollo Creed, and when council tired of delivering weekly tirades, his agreement ended and he was replaced at the end of 1987 by Bruce G. Williams I. Mr. Moedt’s most memorable quote was “No comment.” Sorry to say Mr. Moedt died in 2005 in North Carolina at age 72. I would have liked someday to have a conversation with him as something other than reporter and city manager.
And there was Fred Hays, after DuFour and before Williams II, who served through a set of contract negotiations but who otherwise managed to be kind of unremarkable other than having really nice things to say about the city while he was here. And maybe that’s a really good thing because the professional executive probably should leave the headlines to the elected folks while efficiently and quietly doing his job. I cannot even remember why he left.
The point is, no one should feel any less for having sat in the manager’s office and having the relationship go sour. All those relationships had something that finally predicated the end, but end they did. And will as we go forward. It’s nothing personal.
Steubenville’s manager-council relationships do go sour more often than average but not by much. And when dealing with averages, some relationships are very long and some are very short. In 1989, according to the International City Manager’s Association, the average tenure of a city manager was 5.4 years. Our charter was five years old and we were on our second city manager.. meaning our tenure was 2.5 years or less than half the average term. As the charter approaches 30, the latest data from ICMA, from 2006, shows tenure for city managers on average had increased to 7.38 years. That’s still less on average than two four-year terms for political leaders.
If we consider an average, dividing 29 years under the charter by 5 managers (leaving out Mr.Lord and counting Bruce Williams once), Steubenville’s average term is 5.8 years, about 79 percent of the average. If we count Mr. Williams twice, the average drops to 4.84 years, or about 8 or 9 months longer than a single four-year elected office term. And that’s still 66 percent of the average.
We’re not the top. We’re not the worst.
Keep it in perspective, keep it separate from personalities.
And for the perennially morosel, you have the opportunity every four years to overturn part of the elected government. Sometimes, you actually do. Sometimes, you send back the same people.
And most of you don’t even bother to vote at all.
But complain you will. They are, take your pick, all corrupt/stupid/out for themselves/unable to lead/unwilling to lead/afraid of a little hard work/incapable of getting the weeds cut down.
The only thing sure other than death and taxes are that Steubenville will go through another city manager in about four to five years, and the populace will complain all the time.
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