So after four months of searching the country for candidates to be Salem's next City Manager, the folks at City Hall came up with three middle-aged white guys.
My intuitive reaction when I saw the image below on Facebook was, Oh, no! And this is coming from an old white guy.
Look, I have nothing against middle-aged white guys. I can remember being one myself a mere couple of dozen years ago. It just seems wrong for city officials to conduct a nationwide search and end up with three candidates who don't reflect the vast majority of people in Salem.
Women and people of color, including a large and growing Latino population.
The broader issue here is whether the City Manager should be viewed as merely a bureaucrat who keeps the machinery of city government humming along as smoothly as possible, or that plus a dynamic leader committed to making Salem a vibrant cutting-edge 21st century city -- not just a backwater between the more rapidly flowing cities of Portland and Eugene.
I definitely favor the latter option, but I strongly suspect that city officials are looking for more of a beancounter City Manager than a shake-things-up City Manager.
They should keep in mind that the City Manager is by far the most powerful person in city government.
The unpaid Mayor is primarily a figurehead. The eight unpaid councilors, along with the Mayor, supposedly set policies via their City Council votes, but in practice they're powerless to do anything without the support of city staff, who are under the control of the City Manager. The Mayor and councilors have no staff of their own.
So it's ridiculous when I hear people say, "The City Manager is a non-partisan position." Not true.
If the new City Manager disagrees with a policy of the City Council he (it won't be a she) has many options to slow walk that policy into a semi-death, even while outwardly proclaiming to the Mayor and councilors that he's totally on board with the policy.
City staff are adept at manipulating the City Council to act in ways favored by staff. The City Manager is #1 in the city staff pecking order. So he is the #1 manipulator. Again, in a sneaky fashion, because no one becomes the Salem City Manager unless they've mastered the art of getting their way from elected officials while acting like a humble servant of those officials.
This is one reason I think an important criterion for selecting the next City Manager should be their personal political perspective.
Salem is a left-leaning city.
Currently there are seven progressives and two conservatives on the City Council. Salem has voted for the Democratic presidential candidate in the past three elections. We have a Salem Climate Action Plan. Diversity and inclusivity are core values expressed by the progressive City Council majority.
When a president of the United States is elected, we take it for granted that the president will choose cabinet heads and other top officials who share their political perspective. It would make no sense for a conservative president to have a cabinet full of liberal department heads, or for a liberal president to have a cabinet full of conservative department heads.
Likewise, Salem's liberal-leaning City Council should choose a City Manager who is comfortable with progressive policies, rather than a conservative City Manager who isn't big on reducing carbon emissions, building safe bike lanes, having many police calls handled by a mobile crisis unit, and other actions that appeal more to the left side of the political spectrum.
Let's stop pretending that the City Manager isn't a political position. It is, masquerading as a bureaucratic position.