In the final part of a three-part interview with Deputy City Manager Weldon Rucker, who will begin a stint as interim city manager next week, Rucker speaks to the Daily Planet about how he plans to help the council streamline its workload.
Daily Planet: Does the city manager’s office play a role, or ought it to play a role, in organizing the City Council’s workload?
RUCKER: Well, that’s a major role the city manager’s office needs to play. I just think there’s been such an abundance of issues that have surfaced. As a result, I think the council agenda has become somewhat overwhelming and on overload. I think we’re going to have to work a little closer with the mayor and the council-majority leadership to focus on dealing with conducting the business of the council agenda and making the meetings more efficient.
DP: How would you do that?
RUCKER: One way to do that is we have to get to a realization that we can’t do everything. They just can’t place all the items on the agenda, every week and expect some type of work plan completion out of some of these ideas.
I think they’re going to have to be a little more diligent and strategic about their recommendations and start holding themselves to a similar standard that they hold the city staff to in preparation of items and the number of items. One thing that I intend to do is to try to get a lot of those items that have just been riding the agenda, off the agenda.
From that standpoint, I intend to meet – I’ve requested the city clerk to take a look at identifying all of the outstanding items on the agenda, who sponsored the item, and who had a concern with the item. And to try to facilitate a collaboration between those individual council members to see if we can arrive at: what is the problem? is there a simple solution to this? Is it possible to move the item forward?
If there is a need to have a tremendous debate over an item, well, that’s fine. But is it really worthy of a tremendous debate? needs to be determined.
I think a lot at it is an attempt to get them to have a dialogue on some of these issues, recognizing that the council has a responsibility to conduct the affairs of the meeting and the business affairs of the city in a way that is conducive and responsive to the public. They are going to have to figure out a way to start talking to one another and compromising on some of this behavior that has been demonstrative of the last several months.
DP: That’s pretty general. That’s what people say is needed, but...
RUCKER: But to actually sit down. Well, I intend to talk to them and say, look, would you mind having a meeting with me and Councilmember So and So, so we can discuss this item? I don’t know how more specific I can get. If they say no, I’d say, “Come on, we have to take care of some business here. We have to have some responsibility.”
DP: So, you’re going to work directly with the council.
RUCKER: Yes, I don’t think we can do it publicly. That’s when you get into difficulty. I think as I’m meeting with them and I see these issues as impediments to conducting the business, then we’re going to have to figure out a way to communicate and so trying to get them to focus. Really, I think they try to do too much.
On one level, it’s fine to say, yes, “we’re doing this and that,” but you’re not really doing it.
Let’s be strategic about helping to shape the agenda. That’s what I think is necessary, getting the leadership of the council – the mayor and the leadership from the other side – for me to sit down with them to help with the agenda.
Maybe I’m naive, maybe it’s a very simplistic approach. But I think that’s where we’re going to start? But I think that if people communicate and have dialog around any issue, then I think we can begin to arrive at some kind of solution of resolution. If we are behaving “Well, I can’t talk to you and you can’t talk to me,” well, that’s not really providing leadership in my opinion.
And I’ve witnessed some councilmembers of the past, they would have tremendous debates over issues that they would carry throughout the night over an issue and continue it to the next week. For the most part, there wasn’t the same level of intensity.
DP: You’re saying, before, there was one issue that they’d debate. Now it’s a lot more issues.
RUCKER: Yeah, there’s no differentiation between a pothole or a major million dollar expenditure. And there are some philosophical issues that divide the council. And that’s fine. That’s the beauty of democracy, but, you know, in any democratic forum they debate and discuss the issues in a way that people are very passionate about and they say what they have to say, then you vote it up or vote it down. And then you move on.
But all this other stuff. So again, I may be very naive. They may say, well, “One thing I agree on is I want you out of here.” That’s a possibility, I don’t know.
You know, I don’t have anything to lose. I feel I can be very honest with the council. I can take those kinds of risks. Going back to your earlier question, about how I feel being an “acting” or “interim” manager, or whatever I’m going to be, it really doesn’t matter to me, because I’m going to be myself. I’m going to be very direct and very honest.
And I’m also very respectful of them. They have a heck of a job. The problem is that they take on
I’m respectful of them. They do a lot of work. Most of them work way beyond what they are required to work. When you look at the charter, it’s really a part-time position.
But, some of them work seven days a week, 10-15-20 hours a day. I respect each and every one of them and the amount of energy they devote to this.
But the question is, collectively, how do we pull all this together.