Managing secrets

Managing secrets

Council keeps mum on most but Beck in city manager selection

By Andre Coleman 08/14/2008

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Nearly a year after the retirement of former City Manager Cynthia Kurtz, Pasadena may finally have a full-time chief executive in Riverside’s Michael Beck.

But the process of selecting Beck for the city’s top post in no way resembled how the City Council chose the past two chief executives. Nor was the process a model of transparency in how government agencies select top officers, with only two of the other 60 candidates for the city manager’s job — Interim City Manager Bernard Melekian and San Diego Chief Financial Officer and former Pasadena Director of Finance Jay Goldstone — ever being publicly identified.

Back in 1991, City Council members revealed the identities of some of the candidates — two of them highly qualified African-American men from North Carolina and Richmond, Calif. — being considered to replace retiring City Manager Don McIntyre, causing some public clamor over the subsequent selection of Phil Hawkey, who is white.

Nearly seven years later, Hawkey was replaced without fanfare by Kurtz, then the former director of Public Works and an assistant city manager. Hawkey left City Hall to serve as executive vice president of the University of LaVerne and Kurtz, who after 10 years following him at the helm announced her retirement in October.

This time around, though, the council played its cards close to the vest, refusing to publicly or privately reveal the identities of most of the other candidates before picking Beck, a 43-year-old assistant city manager for the city of Riverside.

“He is a bright, creative, innovative leader,” said City Councilwoman Margaret McAustin, who along with Council members Jacque Robinson and Sid Tyler traveled to Riverside in order to speak with Beck and research his background.

Although the terms of his contract with the city have not been finalized, Beck appeared thrilled to be picked for the post. When Kurtz took the job in 1998, her yearly salary was more than $186,000, rising to $214,000 by the time she left last year. In his last year on the job in December 1997, Hawkey was making $148,000 a year, excluding perks like use of a city-owned car, paid meals and travel and other amenities.

Although his salary upon signing was not immediately known, in Riverside Beck was making about $200,000 a year, according to a report in the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

“It is an honor to come to Pasadena,” Beck said after a special ceremony Monday at City Hall in which Mayor Bill Bogaard and council members announced his selection. When he and the city come to terms, Beck will be replacing Melekian on Sept. 1.

Melekian, who is also Pasadena’s chief of police, will return to that post soon after Beck takes over at City Hall, then stay on at least another year while serving as president of the California Police Chief’s Association.

“Pasadena is clearly renowned for its civic achievements,” Beck said. “Pasadena, like Riverside, has a historic nature, and in Riverside I had great successes in transportation. Both [Riverside and Pasadena] are growing, but the areas around them are growing faster because they are job centers and it is hard to retain the quality of a community that is growing as a job center.

Further, Beck continued, “I believe in open and honest government. Government should always be transparent.”

Transparency clearly was not a priority, however, in the city manager search, which began in January after Kurtz formally retired.

Although the council selected Melekian as the interim city manager soon after Kurtz left, the chief took his name out of the running for the full-time position in April.

“We had 120 comments online and one public meeting to discuss what the public wanted” from the new city manager, said Bogaard, who had nothing but praise for Beck. The council also held two closed sessions on the city manager selection, but took no formal action at either meeting.

“Michael Beck has demonstrated the experience, talent and judgment we have been looking for,” said Bogaard. “He has a strategic vision and strong management skills and is highly respected for his participative management style. He has established a strong presence in the Riverside community as a good listener and innovative problem-solver, consensus builder and a person who gets things done.”

Former Pasadena Mayor, now Ventura City Manager, Rick Cole told the Weekly that he was recruited for the position, but was never a candidate.

“I did not apply for it,” Cole said. However, he said, “I did have several conversations regarding the position. There was exploration of the process.”

Bogaard said Beck probably sealed the job in mid-July, after Robinson, McAustin and Tyler — or as Bogaard called them, the Riverside Caucus — visited Riverside.

“We worked him over pretty well during the site visit,” Tyler said at the press conference Monday. “Not just in person, but through the people who know him. He’s not only good for Pasadena now, but he is good for Pasadena’s future. He’s always thinking about how he can improve things.”

Robinson, who is African-American, said Beck was very forthcoming about his background and abilities and that he received high marks from Riverside’s residents of color.

Bogaard said secrecy by the council was essential to picking the best possible candidate.
“We do want to promote public participation, but the capable leaders are currently employed,” Bogaard pointed out. “They are not prepared to expose their interest prematurely in something that could hurt them in their current position. I don’t know if that was the case 17 years ago.”

Editor Kevin Uhrich contributed to this story.

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