The process of searching for a new City Manager is underway, and due to somewhat-recent history, that fact has me concerned.
Though it probably doesn’t feel like it very often to Council members, Culver City has a part-time council. The Council necessarily delegates a lot to the City Manager, who is effectively their surrogate, not just in policy matters, but also in matters of ethics and character.
For the hiring process, this “ethical surrogate” aspect takes things well beyond what happens in typical hiring contexts. When a Council member endorses a City Manager, he or she is effectively saying, “I am willing to have this person act on my behalf in matters of ethics and character, and I am willing to have their decisions, and their actions, be a part of my personal ethical scorecard.” This responsibility for the City Manager’s ethics is not just a formal acceptance, it is a core part of their duties. When citizens’ desires prompt the Council to act, it is the City Manager who is in a position to either follow through and make it happen, or to decide he or she can’t be bothered and to stick it in a drawer. A Council member may be someone viewed as responsive to the citizens, someone who goes to neighborhood meetings and says, “You’re right, something must be done” when approached with a complaint, but it’s all empty words if he has endorsed a City Manager who can’
t be bothered to follow through, or who chooses incompetent cronies for high level positions. (Incompetent people have the greatest incentive to be loyal, and loyalty is the highest priority for a City Manager who chooses to act unethically.) By contrast, if the City Manager is ethical and feels the responsibility to follow through, and creates an ethical atmosphere that attracts capable people to work here who can make that follow-through happen, then the Council, not just the City Manager, deserve their share of the praise in every sense. It is the Council performing those actions, through its choice of a surrogate.
My impression is that, leaving aside his early departure, the time with Mark Scott as City Manager was a breath of fresh air with regard to ethics and character. Though I’m sure not everyone agreed with all the decisions he made, I’ve never heard anyone say he’s not a person of good character. Council members who chose him should be pleased that Mr. Scott’s actions are justifiably credited in part to them. Unfortunately his presence lasted only a few months, and now he has departed.
By contrast, if you’re a worthy Council member, you do NOT want to have Jerry Fulwood creating the entries on your ethical scorecard. Such stains aren’t removed easily. I won’t record here the litany of Fulwood’s ethical and character failures as City Manager; I think they are fairly widely known around town by now. If a Council member endorses such a person, he is committing an unethical act, period. His responsiveness to voters is turned into empty words.
Despite somewhat-recent history, I trust the Council will choose wisely. Four of the five present Council members were not involved in hiring Jerry Fulwood; Fulwood supporters Alan Corlin and Steve Rose are gone now. Culver City is an attractive place that should attract top candidates. What I hope the Council will consider is that it’s not just a hiring decision, it’s an ethical one.