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Pavlov’s dogs, Manteca City Council & hiring consultants

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POSTED April 6, 2017 12:56 a.m.

It takes people making $260,000 in taxable purchases within Manteca’s city limits to raise $13,000 via the half cent public safety tax.
That’s the equivalent of 11,818 50-pound sacks of Pedigree dog food or 15 Ford Focuses.
In less than four minutes on Tuesday the majority of the Manteca City Council squandered away 2½  years of Target sales of 50-pound bags of Pedigree dog food and a perhaps a month of Manteca Ford sales involving 2017 Ford Focuses.
But hey, it isn’t real money. Besides $13,000 is a drop in the bucket.
If that irks you as a taxpayer who has to watch every dime you spend to keep your financial ship in order so you can cover things such as housing, food, gas, PG&E and higher city garbage bills, take some comfort in knowing that Mayor Steve DeBrum and Councilman Gary Singh really do feel your pain.
They voted against spending the $13,000 to hire what is essentially a consultant to do something that staff readily admits can be done in house for about $6,000 but “may not be as good.”
Talk about a lob ball.
The $13,000 in question is to hire Donnoe & Associates to conduct a national recruitment search for a fire battalion chief. From the discussion at Tuesday’s City Council meeting staff inferred there might be one or two qualified in-house candidates and possibly more if others would move if they got the job so they would be within the required 15-minute response time to Manteca.
Based on staff’s assertion, spending $7,000 more for a consultant will have better results. Maybe someone might want to remind them about the “better results” they got when the city hired a firm to conduct a national search for the current city manager that is walking out the door in eight days with a nice fat final check.
Singh and DeBrum both zeroed in on the burning question that could be summed up this way: You mean to tell us with three dozen or so career firefighters that cut their teeth protecting the people of Manteca and who 76,000 taxpayers essentially trust with their lives and property that there is no one that city management would be confident enough about to be a battalion fire chief?
And when staff danced around answering that one, Singh asked the obvious question about whether the city lacked training to home grow their own leaders within municipal departments.
This begs the observation that a primary part of a firefighters’ job is to constantly train. You see firefighters doing that every day practically to keep them sharp and flawless as possible when it comes to teamwork in situations where seconds count. One would think the leadership training needed to pave the way to step up to battalion chief eventually would be gleaned from the process if not directly included.
Besides irksome questions about the much ballyhooed goal of succession planning, accelerated employee training to develop a more effective work force and to grow future city department leaders, and boosting general staff morale, there is the little detail of consultants.
Or more precisely the city’s consultant policy — if there is indeed one besides just hiring without thinking — that has been under fire since the days when Carlon Perry was mayor and staff was less than thrilled with five hour marathon council meetings as he sought to get answers to spending questions.
The answer to DeBrum’s straightforward question about whether the city was capable of doing what they want to contract out was telling. They could. But instead of saving taxpayers $7,000 and making full use of the human resources department that costs a pretty penny year in and year in salary and benefits, the council majority hired a consultant.
It brings to mind Pavlov’s dogs. The council tends to salivate whenever they hear the word “consultant.”
Even though each and every one of them questions the need for consultants from time to time, they are still wired to vote yes.
Understand there are an array of consultants that make sense to hire.
Consultants with specialized expertise the city lacks. Consultants to do engineering to move vital public works projects forward that can’t be handled by a staff kept fairy lean. Consultants to bridge gaps until it is determined hiring a fulltime position — such as a building inspector — can be justified with a consistent workload before you take on other costs such as benefits and retirement fund payments.
But hiring consultants to do the obvious, to do work that staff is already in place to do and can squeeze in, and to provide a punching bag for when the general public doesn’t like a city decision allowing elected officials to blame the consultant is a colossal waste of money.
Essentially staff admitted that was the case with spending $13,000 on a consultant to do the national search for the next fire battalion chief.
The council is so conditioned to hiring consultants that when the opportunity came up to actually follow through on their protests against what they perceive is the excessive use of consultants, the council majority goes ahead and hires the consultant anyway.
Perhaps the only solution that will work is for Target to sell 23,636 bags of 50-pound Pedigree dog food over 2½ years and for Manteca Ford to try and sell 30 Focuses a month.
Why spend tax dollars wisely when money keeps rolling in or you can ask for more?

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