Saturday, February 09, 2013

Bonanza Column 271 - Is the Fix In at IVGID?

I was in St. Louis all last week on business and so couldn’t attend the IVGID Board meeting that was on Wednesday, so I made a point of talking with some of the 60 or so people who did make it. I was surprised at the number of times that words like “disarray,” “chaotic,” and “silly” came up in accounts of the meeting.
Then I read the recap of the meeting in last week’s Bonanza, and I started to understand.
In what universe does filling the job of General Manager with an amateur, locally focused search make sense? IVGID has a budget of over $35 million and over 550 full and part time positions on its staff (both according to the 2012 – 2013 Budget Book). These 550 people range from seasonal life guards and ski instructors to highly skilled craftspeople, engineers, and professionals. Despite unfounded allegations to the contrary, the IVGID staff are top notch at what they do – that’s why we’ve had great people recruited away by Reno, Truckee, Washoe County, and others. It takes a top General Manager to lead top people. A weak leader will see the best people leave and the worst rise to new levels of mediocrity. We have been fortunate to have had such an General Manager for 11 years, and unfortunate in his decision to retire.
The General Manager manages the entire operation under policy set by the Board. The skill set of a GM or CEO from one industry to another is not interchangeable. It takes a very different CEO to lead a retail chain than it does to lead a worldwide non-profit, and than it does to lead a hotel chain, a financial institution, or a high-tech firm. Most times when a CEO was hired under the misguided notion that a good executive can lead anything, the results have not been good – think of Carly Fiorina, and John Sculley to cite two well-known examples.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of firms in a variety of industries that went through CEO successions. In almost every case, internal candidates were considered, and in absolutely every case an expert search firm was employed from the writing of the job description and qualifications through hiring. There is a profession called Public Administration. Its "fundamental goal... is to advance management and policies so that government can function." (Handbook of Public Administration) Colleges and Universities offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in Public Administration. Why? Because it is a professional discipline, and any professional discipline starts with study and is advanced through experience. Translating policy into execution and services for a municipality of 9,000 residents with a budget and staff like ours is not a job for even a very talented amateur, and we can’t afford to have someone learn on the job.
This is not a comment on the three people who were mentioned in the Bonanza story – I know and have worked with Claudia Andersen, Mike Brown, and Lynn Gillette and hold them in the highest esteem, and knowing the Hyatt organization’s standards, I have no doubt that Fred Findlen is very good at what he does. There are two problems with all these good folks: first, they have jobs to which they are dedicated, and second, they are not trained or experienced in public administration.
There is a rumor going around that the fix is in on the whole GM search, that the job description will be tailored toward a particular individual and the “search” will be a sham. I pray this is not true – if it turns out to be true, we are headed for a level of cronyism and incompetence in the governance of IVGID that has not been seen in my 17 years here and probably not ever. The job description will be the Board’s first opportunity to dispel this rumor – if it calls for a professional, experienced public administrator, then the rumor is clearly not true; if it is vague in regard to the parameters of the job, does not require more than generic credentials and experience, then the Board will have to answer some tough questions. Now this Wednesday’s Board meeting has been cancelled because “There are no matters requiring action by the board,” even though it was clearly stated at the last meeting that the job description would be on the agenda. So we will have to wait at least another two weeks to find out which way the wind is blowing on this one.

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