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Qualities of a city manager

June 24, 2010|By Meg Monahan

[The following was addressed to Bob Murray of Bob Murray & Associates, the recruitment firm seeking candidates to replace retiring City Manager Ken Frank.]

Dear Mr. Murray:

I missed the public meeting to discuss the desired qualities for our new city manager. I hope it's not too late to add my two cents. I am a retired public administrator (MPA) and I have worked in several cities in south Orange County, including Laguna Beach. I've been a classified employee, city clerk appointed by the city manager, and finally a city clerk appointed by the city council.

I know you have successfully placed city managers throughout California and you know each community has its own personality. As a prominent coastal community, arts colony, tourist destination, a town subject to natural disasters, and a highly involved public — Laguna Beach is in a class of its own.

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My suggestions come from an insider's viewpoint. We know what the textbooks say but we also know that personality and politics shape management style. I have personally observed how management style promotes staff productivity, community trust and involvement in government, and strong working relationships with other agencies.

Please add these qualities to your list when searching for our new city manager:

Authoritative and assertive: The city manager walks a very fine line and must be tough enough to withstand the pressures created during apparent no-win situations or disasters while avoiding the tendency to become a policymaker. In short, the city manager works for the City Council (not the other way around) to implement the council's policy direction. (City council members also need to remember that staff works for the city manager.)

Delegate, delegate, delegate: City government thrives when city managers delegate responsibility to department directors who then manage their staff to produce results. In short, hire good people (Laguna Beach has an excellent staff) and let them work (resist micromanagement).

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