Friday, August 31, 2012

Happenings: The Striplin Decision

For details on the 4-1 vote to select Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin as the man to replace City Manager Ken Pulskamp upon his retirement, read SCVNews coverage here.

There is one word for this evening’s hasty, closed-door city council vote to select Ken Striplin as the next city manager: Enderic[1].  By that, I mean it’s like Laurie Ender’s approach to library privatization: it may be a logical thing to consider, and it may even be the right decision, but when you rush onward with no apparent need for rushing, it raises suspicion and ruffles feathers.  It is August, after all, and City Manager Ken Pulskamp will not be retiring until the very end of December, some four months from now.  Naming our next city manager this far out can’t exactly be called urgent[2].  Why couldn’t there be an item at the public meeting Tuesday after next to discuss the selection process and listen to comments from everyday Claritans?  Councilmember TimBen Boydston asked for that very thing.  Instead, it appears that Striplin was the only person given full consideration.  We may solicit competitive bids for landscaping firms and garbage haulers, but when the council looks for the next person to manage the third-largest city in Los Angeles, its 300+ employees, and its nearly $200M budget, making the decision at a special meeting days after the issue is raised seems adequate.  Enderic, indeed. 

The decision was shades of the library debacle in other ways, too.  Striplin was selected with Boydston's dissenting vote in favor of a more thorough selection process; on the library vote, of course, it was Bob Kellar who dissented on the same grounds of prudence.  In another parallel, Berta Gonzalez-Harper gave her blessing for both the library privatization and the as-then-unannounced selection of Striplin (she said the Council should “shop local” and hire him when she spoke at the CC meeting earlier this week).  It seems like the recipe for accomplishing really big things in Santa Clarita is mixing together a hyped sense of urgency, a sole dissenting voice, and the Blessing of Berta. 

You get the point, I know.  The decision was unduly rushed and can be deemed opaque, arrogant, and hasty even if it is, ultimately, the right decision.  That means we can move onto the more complex question: who is Striplin and was he indeed the right choice to manage Clarita? 

One crude caricature of Ken Striplin is that he’s just another Ken Pulskamp…only better looking.  The two have worked very closely for over a decade, so it doesn’t seem an entirely illogical assessment.  Just think about what dramatic changes you'd expect to see in the Striplin versus Pulskamp's tricky.  Striplin doesn’t talk at council meetings or get quotes in The Signal nearly as often as Pulskamp, and probably not even as often as the deputy city manager.  He's just not the most public of public figures.  Therfore, in an effort to learn more about him, I watched a half-hour interview on Leon Worden’s Newsmakers series from SCVTV[3].  Worden, bless his heart, has a lot to say about the State, redevelopment, and Newhall, so he didn’t give Striplin much time to shine (“I'm sorry for talking so much, but…” Worden says 20 minutes in).  I was, however, able to glean these facts from Striplin's interview on the topic of enterprise zones and redevelopment:

*He likes notes for security, bringing a stack of papers with him to the interview.
*Striplin speaks relatively quickly but softly, and he occasionally has awkward phrasing like, “we have outreached to so many businesses.” He is generally articulate, though.
*He exhibits skillful use of rhetorical chuckling and affirmations while Worden continues to talk and talk and talk. His sincere desire to establish a rapport with Worden using verbal and non-verbal social skills indicates that he is probably not a sociopath.
*Striplin can confirm and recite some key economic figures without hesitation.
*His answers to questions about budget changes, business outlooks, and so on aren't particularly bold or daring but rather in-line with City Hall's typical messages. 

In short, I still don’t really know a lot about Ken Striplin, but I hope he’s the right guy for the job and I assume that his work at City Hall has acted as a long, thorough, honest interview in and of itself.  Even if his promotion was a foregone conclusion, going through the motions of outlining a selection process, seeking public comment, and acting with purpose rather than haste would have made this decision less, well, Enderic.  

[1]Maybe more than one word as here, I think "Ferryic" would be more apt...just harder to say.  I don't mean to vilify former Mayor Laurie Ender since other council members were willing to move hastily right alongside her...but again, that's an idea that is not tidily summed up in one word, better relegated to a footnote.
[2]I mean hell, Mitt Romney was just officially named the Republican Candidate for President of the United States, and that election happens two months before we need to bother replacing Pulskamp! 
[3]Here's the interview from SCVTV.  Worden might do well to consider shorter furniture than this pub-style stuff.  He has a habit of distracted foot shuffling.


Alan Ferdman said...

This issue is more about how decisions are made in Santa Clarita, than anything else. You want to fill one of the most important positions in City government, the City Manager gives 4 months notice and you interview only one person and make a decision in less than one week?

I anticipated Ken Striplin would get the job, but I also thought it would be after the City conducted a thorough candidate search and interview process. Actions that take place this fast, behind closed doors, certainly make you wonder why.

Anonymous said...

The rapid decision was certainly a way for the City Council to avoid the unpleasantness of rejecting the applications of City employees with more years of service who happen to be women, Latino or gay. The practical question is, however, whether the rapid decision, with no opportunity of other candidates to be heard or considered, violates California's employment discrimination laws.