Buettner: the last two years were a ‘perfect storm’
A“perfect storm” — as the eponymous book and 2000 movie starring George Clooney so aptly described — can, and did, occur when two or more weather systems meld meteorologically and combine their energy to create an apocalyptic event.
Acting City Manager Jeff Buettner understandably hesitates to characterize the circumstances and events in and around City Hall over the past two years in such terms. But the analogy, sans the apocalyptic gravity, works, in no small way, as an explanation of the situation in which Winchester now finds itself — seeking once again the services of a city manager.
As Mr. Buettner, by implication as well as statement, told us during a lengthy interview Thursday, City Council was the central energy force in this drama. When longtime City Manager Ed Daley left Winchester for Hopewell in June 2007, council rushed to fill the void created by his departure and, at the same time, embarked on a mission to find someone with a different leadership style than Mr. Daley.
This proved an uneven fusion of roles and goals, largely because Mr. Daley had long been the conduit of ideas to the city’s staff. When council assumed that role, it found itself dealing with a staff with which it had previous little interaction, and then perhaps exacerbated the situation by over-compensating. It started to micro-manage, and thus lost sight of the city’s “big picture.”
At the same time, in searching for a new city manager, council members, Mr. Buettner said, “dwelled on things Ed didn’t do well instead of what he did do well,” such as overseeing the budget and having a detailed knowledge of each and every city project. They looked for someone with a more “hands-off” approach, one who would let the various city departments develop and implement their own ideas.
But, as council sought this alternative to Mr. Daley, its members continued to get more involved in the day-to-day workings of the city. “We were all trying to find our roles,” Mr. Buettner said, “and we got into micro-managing too much.”
Thus, when council finally hired the different sort of city manager it thought it wanted — J. Brannon Godfrey Jr., who came on board 61/2 months after Mr. Daley’s departure — the ground was not cleared for his coming. Or, as Mr. Buettner said, “Brannon was so different from Ed, but it was hard for staff to change . . . and it was hard for us (on council) to pull back.”
The result: Man and moment did not align. The city was not, in truth, ready for an alternative style of leadership.
“The timing was all wrong,” Mr. Buettner said. “Brannon did not do anything wrong. It was just the wrong leadership style at that time.”
Finally, 10 months into Mr. Godfrey’s tenure, the complexion of council radically changed. Six members, representing 55 years of experience, left office as council reduced its ranks from 11 to nine. As the new year began, six of the nine councilors were first-termers; only three veterans remained. The learning curve was steep.
“They were told they had to hit the ground running,” Mr. Buettner said. “It was not like when I started (on council). I had a good group of councilors” — he cited the likes of Harry Smith and John Schroth — “who, when I said something stupid, told me to slow down. We didn’t have this luxury . . . It was a learning process, and, at times, a rocky one.”
This situation, coupled with a new city manager seeking his sea legs, prompted Mr. Buettner to consider the “perfect storm” analogy.
“It was not a ‘perfect storm,’” he said. “I don’t want to use that term, but that’s what we faced.”
Now the question is: With Mr. Godfrey having resigned, what does the future portend? Mr. Buettner knows what he would like to see once he returns to his more familiar post as council president — namely for council to “pull back” and a sense of “equilibrium” to return For that to happen, he says, the city must find a “strong person” to fill the shoes of city manager.
On Monday: What Winchester wants in a new city manager.
. . . To the next city manager
Edwin C. Daley presided over Winchester’s governmental affairs for so long — 21 years, to be exact — that when the time came to replace him as city manager in the summer of 2007 no one on City Council, save Mayor Elizabeth Minor, had any working knowledge, experience, or memory of such a hiring process.
But now, in the wake of J. Brannon Godfrey Jr.’s abbreviated tenure as Mr. Daley’s successor — less than 18 months — a majority of the membership, leavened by that experience, boast a decidedly firmer grip on what council wants, and doesn’t want, in a city manager.
Significant as well, so states council President (and Acting City Manager) Jeff Buettner, is how a council compelled by circumstance — at least in its view — to “micro-manage” the city in the fluid and volatile days since Mr. Daley’s departure now sees itself vis-a-vis the city manager’s office.
“We want to find a strong person who will stand up for the position of city manager and let us pull back,” Mr. Buettner informed us during an extended interview Thursday at his tire distributorship.
“As we see it, we (council) will create the vision, and the city manager will create the implementation strategies to get it done.”
And then, as if to further hammer home the point, Mr. Buettner added, “We don’t want a paradigm shift here, that we feel we should be running the city. We had to do so for a time . . . But we want to pull back. We have to, to let the city manager establish his own leadership style.”
So then, what, precisely, is council looking for in a new city manager? Mr. Buettner cited five key qualities that would, if found in one package, constitute the “perfect candidate.” To wit:
* A “strong leader,” he said, is “paramount.”
* Critical as well is an ability to “develop vision within the departments . . . and then delegate to bring it to fruition.”
* The new city manager must also be “fiscally responsible” and “keep the budget under control.”
* Council, added Mr. Buettner, wants the city’s top administrator to be a civic leader “visible” in the community.
* Finally, he or she should exhibit a familiarity with the concepts of the “new urbanism” council favors. These concepts include “walkable communities,” “town centers,” and the strategic redevelopment of existing space. While increased density is a goal of the “new urbanism” approach, so, too, is a heightened median income within the city and an improved quality of life.
The “national search” for such a candidate commenced Friday. The city, Mr. Buettner said, will accept applications through Aug. 9. By Aug. 24, council hopes to have the mass of applicants whittled down to a core group of top candidates — less than 10 but “preferably four or five.”
The time frame for personal interviews is the second week of September, with an offer to be made by Sept. 22. Council’s aim is to have a city manager “on board” by Oct. 22.
Mr. Buettner realizes that questions pertinent to Mr. Godfrey’s resignation after less than 18 months on the job will certainly arise during this process. But, upon conversing with the folks at Springsted Consulting Services, the Minneapolis-based firm assisting in the search, Mr. Buettner does not envision Winchester’s recent unsteadiness — or Mr. Godfrey’s short tenure — being a “deal-breaker.” For one thing, Springsted’s consultants have stated that administrators following longtime predecessors tend to stay for significantly shorter periods.
“We’ll just have to explain what happened,” Mr. Buettner said. “Anyone who has spent any length of time in government will understand that sometimes the fit isn’t there. So, the question is: Do we dwell on those 18 months or on our tradition of longevity in Winchester?”
That would mean emphasizing Mr. Daley’s 21 years of service, not to mention the 19 years turned in by his predecessor, Wendell Seldon. That sort of longevity is what the city is seeking, in addition to those five aforementioned qualities.
“That is the perfect candidate,” Mr. Buettner said. “It may be a little like Dr. Pangloss (the optimist in Voltaire’s “Candide”) looking for the perfect world. But, that is the plan.”
What about the former Director of Administration who was forced to resign?
Friday, July 10th The Winchester Star:
City administrator is forced to resign
Council won’t discuss Gromling’s ouster
By Eric Beidel
The Winchester Star
A 30-year city employee has resigned under pressure following a disagreement with members of the City Council.
A city press release issued Thursday announced Administration Director Sharen Gromling’s retirement.
The announcement came a week after Gromling was escorted from Rouss City Hall by a City Council member and had her computer confiscated, according to eight sources familiar with the incident.
Council members will not discuss the matter, calling it a personnel issue.
Gromling also did not respond to The Star’s efforts to reach her for comment Thursday.
The city press release issued by Assistant City Manager Anne Lewis states that Gromling’s retirement will take effect Aug. 1.
However, she has not been at work for several days, sources said.
Council President Jeffrey B. Buettner said her resignation, which he received Wednesday night, is effective immediately, but that her state retirement benefits will not begin until Aug. 1.
Gromling came under scrutiny from council members for her recent handling of an internal investigation into an alleged improper relationship between two other city employees, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the issue.
In reference to the former Director of Administration's resignation from one of my impeccable sources ...
Not sure who their "eight sources" were but I can think of at least a few people in city government I'll never believe again.