During the Dark Age of Greek history, Waring Chiefs were required to hear the opinions of their followers. Agamemnon, the arrogantly self-important leader of the Greek army besieging Troy (c 1194-1184 BC), summoned his troops to announce his decision to prolong the war then in its 10th year. Thersites, an ordinary soldier, fiercely criticized Agamemnon for his greedy, self-righteous behavior. In response, Odysseus, another Chief, immediately rose to support Agamemnon, saying to Thersites, “If ever I find you being so foolish again may my head not remain on my body if I don’t strip you naked and send you back to your ship crying from the blows I give you. Odysseus thereupon hit Thersites with a blow to his back, which drew blood. (Iliad 2, lines 211-277).
Mesquite, NV. On Tuesday, the Mesquite City Council met to consider, among other things, the appointment of a new city manager.
As I listened to the discussion, the passage from Homer’s Iliad cited above came to mind. Mayor Al Litman took the role of Agamemnon. Councilman George Rapson acted as Odysseus, and Councilperson Sandra Ramaker took on the soldier’s role of Thersites.
More than two years ago, Litman (Agamemnon) publicly announced that his hand-picked replacement for the City Managers position when it became available was employee Aaron Baker. On Tuesday, Litman made the inglorious comment that after reviewing the applications he has decided to appoint Aaron Baker as the new city manager.
Ms. Ramaker, as Thersites told the assembled public that she knew that Baker was the heir apparent for the City Manager position. She said she liked Baker, but she felt a better qualified candidate had come forth. She went on to outline the candidate’s qualifications, which clearly put Baker in a distant second.
The other soldiers on the Council: George Gault, Brian Wursten, and George Rapson (Odysseus) fell in line with accolades about Baker and announced their support for Agamemnon’s (the Mayors) appointment. Councilperson Annie Black was absent and ingloriously avoided the issue.
The final comments on the appointment came from Rapson as Odysseus who verbally whipped Ms. Ramaker by making unfounded aspirations about her candidates’ qualification and arguing that her selection was not qualified. He said that he liked Baker because he (Baker) knew where the bones were buried.
The Mayor, Councilmen Gault, Wursten and Rapson want to keep the bones buried and benefit from the same city path they have been traveling on for the past decade just as Agamemnon wanted to continue benefiting from the Siege on Troy.
In a nutshell, that means advancing economic growth based upon a cyclical housing market, continuing line item budgets without considerations of performance outcomes, hiring an outside lobbyist to represent the city when a new city manager could do that job, and most importantly improving our relationship with the Spanish speaking community.
Its time for a fresh new look and Council lady Ramaker knows that. And she was correct in her support for a new city manager. Regardless, she has pledged to work with Baker but will hold him accountable for the promises he made to her during their interview.
Ms. Ramakers public statement during city council meeting:
"I care about hiring the best person for the job among qualified candidates. While I see the merit of hiring someone within the city who knows and understands our issues, I also see the advantage of bringing in a highly qualified person who can give us a fresh new look to our great accomplishments made under Andy Barton. I am requesting that the Mayor nominate Christian T. Clegg who is the Deputy City Manager of Stockton, California. I interviewed Aaron Baker and Christian Clegg, both are wonderful individuals, but Christian impressed me with his understanding of issues similar to those in our city, gained from his management experience in Stockton and Tacoma, Washington. I was also impressed by Christian’s dynamic attitude and the depth with which he answered my questions. Here are highlights from his resume that I think would benefit our city: While we are financially stable, financing a rapidly growing community can be challenging. Christian has worked through the toughest financial times in Stockton which was forced to declare bankruptcy. That experience is invaluable and the skills obtained as its city leadership worked through this issue and successfully exited from Chapter 9 bankruptcy is not only commendable, but gives me even more confidence in his ability in the area of finance. In addition, he implemented a comprehensive Internal Audit Plan to build city wide internal controls and policies. Christian analyzed and managed city council and department budgets and was involved in internal audit reviews. Since our city manager will be appointing our new financial director, I believe his ability in this area will serve us well. Christian developed and managed a balanced budget for over 7 years for City Council, the City Manager’s office and non-departmental budgets, totaling more than $14 million. He chaired the first Technology Oversight Committee and coordinated development of technology and performance based project management. Christian and I also discussed that Mesquite is a rapid growth city and the kind of changes that are likely to occur as a result. His experience in a diverse city like Stockton gives him a greater breadth of knowledge. It is a plus that Christian is fluent in Spanish. More than 25% of our citizens are Hispanic. He is an experienced interpreter/translator who was the constituent and media relations liaison to Stockton’s Spanish speaking community. Christian developed and carried out a city-wide violence prevention and intervention program which reduced crime. Christian has experience on substandard housing data and analysis – and we know that affordable housing is a critical issue in our community. I liked that Christian could tie together short term strategic planning with a long term 20 to 30 year strategic plan. He developed strategic works plans in Stockton. Because Stockton did not hire a lobbyist. Christian managed the city’s legislative platform and coordinated all legislative correspondence and advocacy for the city – which is more intense in a large state like California whereby the legislature is in session nearly year-round -- not bi-annually like Nevada. Both Aaron and Christian have been effective as liaisons, but what really stood out to me is Christian engagement with the Hispanic community, his legislative work at the state and federal level, his involvement with transportation issues, housing and crime prevention. I know that Aaron has worked hard since he started working in the City of Mesquite in 2006 …. …. and I would support Aaron for this position if another candidate of this caliber had not come forward from another city who shows such problem solving capabilities. Christian started his city management career in Tacoma, Washington in 2008, so he would bring a wealth of knowledge from two larger cities that can be applied to ours. He can re-evaluate some of our practices and add to areas where we are lacking. Mesquite is growing and moving forward and I think a city manager from the outside with broad experience in larger and more diverse cities is a better fit for Mesquite at this time. We have an obligation, as elected representatives, to do due diligence in hiring the best candidates for every job in the city. I am concerned about the perception that Aaron Baker has been designated as the successor to our current city manager. I first heard Mayor Litman imply that Aaron would be our next city manager when he was speaking at a Desert Dames luncheon two years ago. I don’t think that expectation has been fair to Aaron or the citizens of Mesquite. My support of Christian Clegg is not a reflection on the good work that Aaron has performed for the city. I would like to encourage my fellow city council members to be honest in their judgment and objective in the selection of our next city manager."