A posting on the City of Manteca’s website may assure the community’s 85,000 residents it is business as usual but the people who really need reassuring may be the 400 plus municipal rank and file employees.
Whether what is taking place at 1001 West Center Street when things are all said and done can be characterized as a “house cleaning” or something else, it is clear it is making city employees nervous that municipal leaders may not want to make nervous.
Though departed Community Development Director Greg Showermnan has too much class to say otherwise, there are more than a few municipal employees with most of them not working in the department who believe that he was targeted unfairly for criticism of everything he did by Mayor Ben Cantu at council meetings.
It may surprise council members but there apparently are a large number of city workers watching council meetings either by livestreaming or recordings that have zeroed in on how city staff is treated when they appear before the council.
One perception circulating for weeks is how Cantu appeared to be making Showerman look as if he could no right with his repeated lecturing — some call it arguing, others call it debating — with him over planning rules and state laws governing community development. Cantu does constantly make points drawing upon the 30 years he worked in that department prior to retiring more than a decade ago. Whether it was Cantu’s intent to slam Showerman, that is how it came across to more than a few people.
Most city employees that do their jobs should have no concerns about their employment.
The problem is those in mid-management as well as newer hires that are low on the totem pole are getting nervous.
Before you automatically assume everyone should be nervous because “the city can run better”, the reality is the city in most instances is running pretty well. If key employees who aren’t department heads are nervous about their jobs because of heads rolling above even if they aren’t perceived in any manner as being part of the “problem”, they will start thinking about job security and start looking elsewhere.
In this economy they likely won’t have to look too long. Showerman, who was snapped up by the City of Modesto, is a prime example.
The most important line in the city’s posting once you get past the promise to make sure outside investigations of complaints against City Manager Tim Ogden, Finance Director Jeri Tejeda, and Police Chief Jodie Estarziau will be “fair” and “impartial” is the vow for the effort to be “conducted with a sense of urgency.”
If you think that employee morale that could trigger an exodus of people that the City Council may not want to see leave, keep in mind how unusual what is going on right now is.
Only once in the past 40 plus years has there ever been more than two senior management team members “depart” within a close time frame. That was back in the mid-1990s when then City Manager Dave Jinkens and the council at the time decided to part ways. That was followed a short time later by Finance Director Lettie Espinoza.
With all but a third of the nine member senior staff — for now anyway — either out the door or appear to be heading that way, what is happening now is clearly unprecedented.
The danger now is getting the ship in order before people start abandoning it.
Politically if things don’t work out well and in a relatively short order it may make the next year’s election when the council seats held by Gary Singh and Debby Moorhead are up for grabs extremely interesting.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org