Friday, January 21, 2011

Try It Before You Buy It - The NBV City Manager

Bob Pushkin stepped into a mess. Last April, Rey Trujillo, George Kane, and Dr. Paul Vogel voted to fire Matt Schwartz in order to punish Schwartz for doing his job with the police department. The message sent to the city was ominous and strong - no matter what else is going on, the commission will not risk unpopularity with its core supporters.

Pushkin came in as acting city manager and from the beginning made clear to the commission that he was planning to work part time and temporarily to hold down the fort while the city made the necessary moves to bring in a city manager who could perform all the duties. Something changed, I don't know what, and now there is an effort on the part of Vice Mayor Connie Kreps to jump over the selection process and even the discussion and summarily contract Bob Pushkin as the permanent city manager.

This is a bad move for many reasons. The city is in the worst financial crisis in history and the budget restructuring has been disorganized, anemic in its scope and laden with political expediency rather than real fixes. Virtually no cuts were made to anyone but the Sanitation group, and even that outsourcing has been poorly managed and greatly delayed by the ineptitude of the administration.

North Bay Village has in place an ambitious plan to develop our economic base so that we are less dependent on residential property taxes and have a wider, stronger more diverse economic base to help us survive the hard times. That plan is to be mostly financed by bonds, taxes on ourselves, that we voted on in more flush times. Circumstances in this deep recession are such that much of what we intend to do is exactly what Congress had in mind in the stimulus package and under Schwartz, we quickly took advantage of this once in a generation opportunity to get what we needed built with federal rather than local money.

That process is dead. We are not seeking any grants at this point and it seems that even those grants we had started have died for lack of attention.

The new commission was put in place precisely to right the course and in a weak commission, strong city manager government the selection of the City Manager is the most important function of the commission. We expect the commission to operate in sunshine, discuss the goals of the city, realistically assess the current situation and move the city forward.

To be fair to Bob Pushkin, he never claimed to have the expertise, education or experience that the position requires, although his willingness to go along with the resolution for a contract now seem to indicate differently. By his own admission, he's not a numbers guy. To be fair to the residents of North Bay Village, we need more than someone to hold down the fort. We need someone who can build the fort.

On Tuesday, the City Commission will take up two items.

The first is a detailed criteria for a city manager search, enumerating the goals of the city, specifying the demonstrated experience a candidate is expected to have and laying out the process of making the decision.

The second item is a resolution to just say no to open process and contract Bob Pushkin.

Ask yourself, are you happy with the direction of the city? Do you feel that the administration is being open and clear on the issues? Do you believe that the right processes are in place for recovery? Are you willing to believe that millage rates needed to rise while garbage services are cut? Are you comfortable that the claim of a $500,000 annual savings will be achieved by outsourcing sanitation even though the approved budget does not show that savings? Are you comfortable with a city manager and a police chief who do not provide even basic status reports to the commission to the residents?

If the answer is no, then come Tuesday. Help the commission see the need for open discussion to define the city manager role. It's our money.

Kevin Vericker
January 21, 2011

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