Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By David Ganezer
Observer Staff Writer 

Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole Resigns Over Budget Cuts Amids Covid19 Emergency

A small beach city couldn't build its way out of promising 10,000 pensioners six figure pensions.

 

April 22, 2020

A UC Santa Cruz shuttle bus in 1979.

City Manager Rick Cole has offered his resignation to the City Council. In recent meetings, dramatic budget cuts due to Covid-19 have been discussed, but never formalized.

His letter is articulate, but my take on it is the City budget is a train wreck and Rick Cole wants to get out of the way of it. Covid-19 and Coronavirus only hastened what was in the cards anyway. A small beach city couldn't build its way out of promising 10,000 pensioners six figure pensions. Not to mention employing 2000 people full time, including a Community Forrester and a Wellness Officer, and paying each of them well over $100,000.

Parenthood taught me that you can't ask others to do what you aren't willing to do yourself. I have profound confidence in the team we have assembled and it breaks my heart that we will not be able to complete the journey together. So I am offering to step aside now to facilitate the restructuring that must take place, knowing we will need to make reductions in staff at every level of the organization – literally from the top to the bottom (or as I have always preferred to think of it, from the spoke of the wheel all the way outward to where the rubber meets the road). The capable staff that remain will carry on the mission and pursue the vision of a city that works for everyone.

The global pandemic has drastically changed our prospects. The challenges before us are starkly different: how to retool to deliver essential services; how to mitigate the disastrous economic impact on our residents and businesses; how to jumpstart a robust recovery; and how to cope with a dire fiscal emergency on top of the public health crisis.

Cole was City Manager from 2015 to 2020. Santa Monica City managers, police and fire chiefs generally stay about 5 years, then resign. At that point, their pension vests. Just saying.

Rick Cole's resignation letter may be seen at https://mailchi.mp/smgov/a-message-from-rick-552869?fbclid=IwAR1G42tvqwpJVT8I5jLXVaWdN0ngnoVyEwLtGfX5T73rHN3Pa9t4Sk-YvuU

The entire message, excluding a quote from JFK, reads: I have delivered this letter today directly to the Mayor and Councilmembers:

Honorable Mayor, Councilmembers & Fellow City Staff:

It has truly been my honor and privilege to serve this community as City Manager for the last five years. In that time we have recorded some historic achievements: the culmination of a three-decade long battle to finally win local control of the Santa Monica Airport; the adoption of a landmark Climate Action and Adaptation Plan; and tangible progress toward a new model of mobility. You ratified a blueprint for a housing first Downtown Community Plan; shepherded more than half a billion dollars of capital investment in the city's future; and created a unique program for keeping vulnerable senior citizens secure in their homes. Voters overwhelmingly approved a tax measure devoted to affordable housing and public education. We confronted and made measurable progress on the regional crisis in homelessness and reversed an uptick in crime. We pioneered a broad and inclusive approach to community wellbeing. All this and much more made Santa Monica a leader in creating a model for 21st Century government.

It was never easy. Diverse interests and opinions often stoked controversy. Rising fiscal challenges impinged on our capacity to achieve visionary goals. Yet before the public health emergency engulfed us, we were looking ahead toward even more ambitious goals, including water self-sufficiency, carbon neutrality, electrifying our bus fleet, meeting far higher regional housing allocations and revitalizing the Promenade.

The global pandemic has drastically changed our prospects. The challenges before us are starkly different: how to retool to deliver essential services; how to mitigate the disastrous economic impact on our residents and businesses; how to jumpstart a robust recovery; and how to cope with a dire fiscal emergency on top of the public health crisis.

All this has forced us to consider dire and immediate budget reductions. That prospect has spawned understandable fear and anger among our workforce and in the community. Never one to turn my back on a challenge, I was prepared to persevere in the face of this daunting battle and lead our organization through this crisis.

On reflection, however, there comes a time to recognize one's limits. The push to put in place a plan to pay down our massive pension obligations had already imposed unpopular fiscal constraints. The protracted struggle over pension reform has eroded the good will I previously enjoyed with our unions. The crushing demands of serving as Emergency Service Director over the past five weeks has put me squarely in the line of fire for anyone dissatisfied with any aspect of the City's response to the emergency. Most importantly, the need to deal with a projected $300 million dollar shortfall over the next 26 months puts us all in a nearly impossible situation. It almost certainly will result in personnel reductions that will be devastating to the livelihoods of colleagues I've been proud to lead -- and devastating to community services I've been committed to enhancing.

Parenthood taught me that you can't ask others to do what you aren't willing to do yourself. I have profound confidence in the team we have assembled and it breaks my heart that we will not be able to complete the journey together. So I am offering to step aside now to facilitate the restructuring that must take place, knowing we will need to make reductions in staff at every level of the organization – literally from the top to the bottom (or as I have always preferred to think of it, from the spoke of the wheel all the way outward to where the rubber meets the road). The capable staff that remain will carry on the mission and pursue the vision of a city that works for everyone.

I'm convinced that Santa Monica has a bright future and guided by the values of accountability, equity, inclusion, innovation, safety and stewardship, our city can emerge sooner and stronger from this crisis than the vast majority of communities. It will be crucial that residents, as well as community and business leaders, recognize the value of the resource represented by their City government. It will be equally vital that City government pursue an expanded partnership with the community to jointly deliver the outcomes and services that matter most.

Thank you for your trust, support and collaboration over the past five years. My best wishes to you and all the incredible staff who have made these past five years so productive and rewarding.

In service,

Rick Cole

Santa Monica City Manager (2015-2020)

 
 

Reader Comments
(1)

DC3 writes:

The second paragraph of this article says it all. Outrageous government waste, but what to you expect from a city that pays lifeguards six figure salaries plus benefits. I get it that they save a life every once in a great while, but come on. All this is going on while the city will try to stuff 18,000 more people into the 9,300 new apartments that are going up everywhere. The former city manager is not correct. The future doesn't look bright for Santa Monica. Time to bite the bullet--hard.

 
 
 

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