(Jim Clark) – News item: “Reno Mayor Bob Cashell and Washoe County Commission Chairman Bob Larkin were scheduled to meet to discuss the County’s contract with the City of Reno for coordination of firefighting services, which is faltering because of Reno’s generous contract with the firefighters’ union. Neither showed up.”
There was a substantial crowd at the Republican Men’s Club of Reno meeting at the Atlantis Hotel and Casino last Friday. lots of folks were interested in seeing what the guest speaker had to say—a gent named Phil Batchelor, acting city manager for the city of Vallejo, California, during its bankruptcy proceedings.
Who is Phil Batchelor? Well, he is to financially beleaguered municipalities what Carl Icahn is to troubled corporations . . . a bailout expert.
Batchelor served for many years as manager of Santa Clara County and then moved to Contra Costa County, where he served for another 17 years as county manager before retiring in 2002. He began to receive phone calls from troubled California cities for advice on how to fix their problems. In May, 2008, the City of Vallejo filed for bankruptcy, and even though that afforded some federal court protections against their creditors, the city struggled for over two years.
During that period, they laid off police and firefighters and tried other means to cut the red ink, but things just got worse. The crime rate soared because their law enforcement capabilities were decimated. They tried to contract with the Alameda County Sheriff for police protection, but he refused to get sucked into the morass. The median home value shrunk from $440,000 to $140,000, so property tax revenues fell.
Batchelor said that municipalities get in trouble when: (1) they mortgage their future by engaging in expensive capital improvement programs, (2) public employee unions “buy” council members with political contributions, and (3) the municipality loses its integrity because council members wrangle, resulting in embarrassment and poor morale.
Finally they offered Batchelor the interim city manager job at Vallejo. Having read about Vallejo’s struggles during the previous two years, he demanded in his contract that the city council members all agree to treat each other and their constituents with respect and begin to develop a reputation for integrity; to forego squabbling with each other and present a united front that exuded confidence that their promises would be kept. In short, there had to be a change of culture.
On November 1, 2010 Batchelor started as interim city manager. The city had $386 million in creditors’ claims and $6 million in the bank. He insisted that negotiations with unions be respectful. He demanded that council members stop pointing the finger at each other and work together to find compromises acceptable to all parties.
In November 2011, the City of Vallejo emerged from bankruptcy with its finances finally intact. The City of Stockton has Batchelor’s number on its Rolodex. So does San Diego.
Now the placement of the news item at the beginning of this column begins to make sense. We can see the direction local governments are going. Fortunately, there were several Reno City Council candidates, one county commission candidate plus former County Commissioner Jim Galloway in attendance.
I think they got the message.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)