Reprint of Article August 6, 2015
Novato City Manager Michael Frank’s August 5th resignation has been received locally with surprise and welcome relief. For the casually interested, it was a surprise. But for those who have closely followed the machinations of his administration, it was overdue.
Manager Frank’s odyssey to remake Novato’s city administration into what he felt represented a first class operation staffed with capable but expensive lieutenants in so called “core” positions came to grief when reality met the road. Novato’s financial bubble burst when a ½% temporary Measure F tax was not converted into a face-saving permanent tax that Frank’s personnel hiring actions required. For once, his uncompromising thumbs up or down ultimatum to the Council failed.
City Manager Frank was caught out having hired additional staff, the approval of which was previously rubber stamped by a City Council Majority known as the KLAM Bakers (Kellner, Lucan, Athas, MacLeamy). They are just as guilty as Manager Frank for placing Novato into the financial hole it now finds itself. The re-election of any of the KLAM Bakers is a vote of approval for the financial train wreck engendered by City Manager Frank and themselves.
Council member Lucan deserves credit for providing the critical vote against making the temporary Measure F tax permanent. He also deserves credit for helping to create the financial fiasco by voting with the KLAM during the previous five years.
The community should thank Pat Eklund, Pam Drew, and Al Dugan for not letting Manager Frank continue one of the most Machiavellian administrations in recent memory. It was all about me, Michael, what I want and “know should be done”. It was sneaky, crafty, deliberately misinformative, misleading, and in some political wonk’s eyes at times downright dishonest. White lies are still lies despite being political.
Council Member Eklund came under intense pressure from fellow Council Members MacLeamy, Kellner, and Athas to toe the line and to stop publically asking potentially embarrassing questions regarding Frank’s assertions and actions. Eklund did not fold. As the most experienced Council Member, Eklund actually knows how past important issues have been resolved at the local and county level. When the City Manager and the KLAM Bakers attempted to reinterpret history, Eklund could be counted on to say “not true”, this is what actually happened.
Caught in the act by the facts, the KLAM and their man decided to shoot the messenger Eklund by limiting her public comments during Council discussions on issues. To hamper Eklund’s efforts further, City Manager Frank delayed responses to Council Member Eklund’s written inquiries regarding apparent contradictions in actual facts and Manager Frank’s interpretation of these facts was indelibly aligned with the end he was trying to achieve, i.e. affordable housing quotas, PDA’s, unneeded major Regional Transit Hub creation at Grant and Redwood, etc. It became nasty, but the steadfast Eklund stayed the course.
Meanwhile, Al Dugan continued to use Freedom of Information Act inquiries to the regional, county and local agencies in order to break through the bureaucratic code of silence that was providing cover for these regulatory agencies not wanting public involvement. The agencies pushed back against Dugan’s requests, fearful of what might be revealed. Dugan increased the pressure for compliance by publically calling out the reluctant bureaucrats. They retreated into an uncooperative defensive mode.
City Manager Frank’s behind the scenes quasi-ethical agreements, communications, and negotiations between these furtive regulatory agencies began to see the light of day, and that light was becoming increasingly unfavorable.
The subtle intrusive hand of Supervisor Steve Kinsey into Novato’s politics became increasingly evident. Novato’s supine Supervisor Arnold allowed Supervisor Kinsey to effectively become the Supervisor for two districts. Arnold’s main contribution to Novato has been her absence. Supervisor Kinsey’s hypocritical ultra-progressive political machinations indirectly took control of Novato’s planning and community development with the compliance of the politically and administratively ambitious City Manager Frank. Kinsey became kingmaker and Frank a willing knave.
One can only smile when Arnold took the occasion of Frank’s resignation announcement to publically attack her old nemesis Eklund in the recent IJ article noting Frank’s impending departure. By using the platform of a resignation announcement to publically and personally attack an individual City Council Member Arnold revealed more about her own self than anything else. The fact that the incumbent Arnold barely scrapped by with a 215 vote majority in her last election victory over political rookie Toni Shroyer speaks for itself.
Not forgotten is City Manager Frank’s appearance in a last-minute video hit piece supporting Arnold’s campaign. Frank’s personally disparaging remarks towards Shroyer’s pseudo City campaign pamphlet had Santa Rosa politicos rolling in the aisles laughing because they had used a similar very public piece of campaign literature while Frank was working there. Frank’s claiming total surprise upon seeing the Shroyer campaign literature was too much for Santa Rosa politicos to keep a straight face.
Arnold ran a filthy campaign, mostly funded by outside special interests such as social housing developers and sycophant consultants. Frank willingly contributed to the dirt.
Typically, a city council makes policy and the City Manager carries out those policies. The laid back style of the KLAM Bakers incredibly handed City policy making over to Frank for five years, who alone ran Novato’s government from an operational and policy perspective.
Along with Al Dugan, Pam Drew continually fired away at City Manager Frank’s obvious complete control and management of the City Council KLAM Bakers. Unprincipled politicians and bureaucrats have a great fear of being videotaped and becoming publically accountable. Drew would arrange for taping of rogue committee meetings or she would actually tape them herself. She would edit them and post them on YouTube for public view. This was a frightful thing for insiders used to pre-arranged conclusions, charade charrettes, pre-programmed public stakeholder performances, etc.
The video-taping results were very effective. Political conspirators and the merely lazy found themselves in the crossfire of Eklund, Drew and Dugan. What was being revealed was ugly and the public began to pay attention, especially to a projected $4 million structural City operating deficit by 2020.
In 2010, a small projected operational deficit was to be eliminated by voters agreeing to a temporary sales tax known as Measure F. With Manager Frank’s increased rubber stamped administrative spending, the budget deficit grew larger. Many residents felt they had been fooled and they didn’t like it.
It was classic “bait and switch” manipulation of the public’s good will and many people became angry. They expected concrete results from Measure F but instead received City Manager Frank’s interpretation of Measure F as “backfill” for increasing administrative costs. Particularly galling to voters was City Manager Frank publically declaring that the financial mess created was because Novato residents didn’t tax themselves enough.
Hopefully, the coming November City Council elections will enable voters to effect needed change in the Novato City Council to right this ship. The historical no-chance-to-win candidates should withdraw for once and let the candidates with a realistic chance of success slug it out. For the greater good of Novato, the perennial candidates who have every right to run but whose end effect is to dissipate votes over a large field of candidates should give this election a miss. It’s just too important. For Novato’s future recovery they should contribute this bit. Having too many candidates just benefits incumbents who are frequently supported and funded by both inside and outside special interests and their “pay to play” expectations. Under these circumstances, the incumbents survive once again and nothing changes except the size of the deficit in the City budget.
The bottom line is that Michael Frank’s first foray as a city manager, to a large extent in many ways, ended in failure. The City was in financial trouble when he arrived. It is in financial trouble when he leaves. It will not look good on his resume’. He is leaving under a cloud, whether he admits it or not and however stages his exit. A pre-emptive resignation may have avoided having to answer the question “Why did you get us into this mess? You are supposed to be a financial expert?” But, the mess he left will follow him. Good managers do not leave a city in a financial hole. This will stick to his professional reputation.
Frank did some very good things and some very bad things. Working with the public is not his strong suit. Publically, he has been condescending towards those who disagree with him. At other times he appeared to take policy criticism as being personal. As long as he was safely protected by an unquestioning, dependable super majority on the Council he operated autonomously. Once that super majority was threatened and possibly lost, he bolted for the door.
Novato city employee Frank willingly became involved in the last local District’s County Supervisor race while serving as a City Manager. By publically giving his personal opinion on a Shroyer political mailer shortly before the election date he injected himself as a political player. On May 29th just days before the polls opened Frank’s remarks became part of a last minute hit piece video posted by “Novato Life” disparaging candidate Toni Shroyer. At that point private pre-election polls showed Shroyer was slightly ahead in her race with incumbent and unpopular Judy Arnold.
Frank’s involvement in the disparaging video hit piece may have convinced enough undecided potential Shroyer voters to stick with Arnold, providing the narrow margin of victory. No wonder Arnold worships Manager Frank (as she does fellow traveler Supervisor Steve Kinsey). Frank may have won the race for her.
The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) Code of Ethics refers to “…committed to equity, transparency, integrity, stewardship of public resources, political neutrality, and respect for the rights and responsibility of elected officials…” Tenet 7 – Refrain from all political activities which undermine public confidence in professional administrators. Refrain from participation in the election of the members of the employing legislative body.”
Technically, Manager Frank did not participate in “…the election of the members of the employing legislative body.” However, for a first-time City Manager to inject himself at the last minute into a close political race involving his supervisorial district, the winner of which will very definitely have a direct effect on his “employing legislative body”, i.e. the Novato City Council, is very questionable ethically, despite having every right to do so as a citizen.
This totally political ploy was a defining moment for Michael Frank in many ways. Any prior perception of him being a politically neutral City Manager was destroyed. He identified himself as just another political apparatchik.
Hopefully, Novato will quickly recover from Michael Frank’s administration. He is a very polarizing individual who creates an environment not conducive to achieving consensus. His future working as a City Manager is doubtful as a consensus building capability in that position is definitely preferred for long term success.
Novato can and will do better when City Manager Frank has departed. It’s up to the new City Council after the November election to get it right.