RIBAUDO: Rock Bottom
July 3, 2010
It is a sad commentary when a town hits rock bottom, but that is the situation the South Lake Tahoe City Council and city manager have created. The recently published El Dorado County Grand Jury report confirms what many already know: that the City Council and city manager are dysfunctional and have lost the confidence of the community. The grand jury report is sweeping and devastating in its criticism of both, criticism that simply cannot be ignored. It states that the City Council is “bush league” and is “incapable of maintaining confidences, operates in an atmosphere of intimidation and is frequently distracted from important city business by personal feuds.”
Several months ago in this column I wrote that the current City Council is dysfunctional. Individually each council member is a good and decent person, but together they fail to do the work of the community in a respectful way and, in the process, they make the town look bad. The grand jury report confirms this.
How did we get here? Is competence the issue? I would have to ask if the council and city manager are simply over their heads with the issues confronting the city today.
More likely, the pursuit of personal agendas is at the heart of this issue. According to the grand jury report, the personal agendas of all have gotten in the way of doing what is right for the town. The belief held by individual council members and the city manager that their individual agendas are the only right way, and their efforts to exert their personal control, no matter their behavior or cost, have been destructive to the city.
The problem is each member will say it’s the other person that is causing the problem. They have forgotten one simple measurement – to do what is best for the community as a whole, not what’s best for an individual council members or the council or the city manager or the employees. But that has not been the case and, as a result, the council and the city manager have besmirched the community. They have damaged the image of the town and, in doing so, they have devalued the community. Who does the community see about getting its good name back?
We have hit rock bottom, so where do we go from here? The community is at a fork in the road, and can either ignore what has happened or demand changes. First, the new city manager, Tony O’Rourke, must be a change agent who will create a new culture within the city that listens and reaches out, to build support with other organizations and the community at large. He must take an objective look at the city and what it needs to be over the next 10 years.
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Secondly, none of the current council members should stand for re-election when their term is up this November. Crawford has announced he will not run, and that is good. Birdwell is on the fence; he should not run, and Lovell, who has announced her intention to run, should reconsider. In two years, Hal Cole and Bruce Grego should step aside. We need a clean house.
Finally, the community must take responsibility for creating the kind of city government we want. They say you get the government you deserve, and if that’s the case, we all need to do some soul searching and ask ourselves, is this what we want? If it is not, the local community needs to get involved, new candidates need to step forward and community-based change needs to happen.
There is an old adage: “You either make change or change gets handed to you.” Two years ago, the previous City Council approved and allocated funding to bring in an outside consultant to review the city practices top to bottom and make recommendations for change. This process may have headed off a number of issues identified by the grand jury. The current City Council voted against it, and now change is being forced upon them. The council and the city manager should be held accountable. We’re at rock bottom.
– Carl Ribaudo is a contributing columnist to the Tahoe Daily Tribune. He is also a consultant, speaker and writer who lives at the South Shore. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read his full column and additional blog posts at http://www.tahoedailytribune.com/CarlRibaudo.