The Men Who Would Be King
Finalists for Eugene city manager offer strengths, flaws
BY ALAN PITTMAN
The Eugene City Council has narrowed its choice down for the powerful city manager job to three candidates.
Daniel Hobbs reportedly left city manager positions in Fresno and Tracy, Calif., under pressure. Joseph Lessard has worked as a consultant with an interest in progressive planning since leaving an assistant manager job with the city of Austin, Texas a decade ago after some criticism. Jon Ruiz, a retired Army colonel, works as the assistant city manager of Fresno on controlling sprawl but was criticized for being too cozy with developers.
The city of Eugene plans to bring the finalists to Eugene for interviews with city executives, chosen citizens and the City Council on Feb. 2. Based on application materials, press reports and other online documents, here’s a rundown of each candidate:
On Oct. 18, 2007 Hobbs resigned as city manager of Tracy, Calif., just before a City Council meeting to discuss firing him, the Record newspaper reported.
Hobbs held the job for two and a half years. A year ago, an anonymous letter to the media accused Hobbs of “managing the city through a combination of intimidation and fear,” the Record reported. Hobbs denied the accusations, but the council began holding repeated performance reviews.
The Tracy Press reported: “By some accounts, Hobbs’ relations with city staff were tense. Five of eight department heads who reported directly to Hobbs were replaced during his tenure as city manager.” One former department head accused Hobbs of being a “micromanager.”
The Tracy Press also reported that Hobbs had “tense” relationships with council members, allegedly excluding some councilors from public events. The paper quoted a slow-growth advocate who accused him of trying to “consolidate power and control information.”
In 2005, Hobbs was “forced” to resign from his city manager job with the city of Fresno, Calif., the Record reported.
The Fresno Bee reported that the mayor praised his work but that Hobbs “clashed at times with unions and council members.” Allegations included that he “did not include the council in his decisions,” “no longer had the mayor’s ear,” was a “micromanager who was difficult to deal with,” and forced out good managers, creating “upheaval at City Hall.”
Hobbs previously worked one- to five-year stints as city manager at a series of smaller cities including West Covina, Calif., Farmington Hills, Mich., Greenbelt, Md., and Kileen, Texas.
Hobbs’ application said he would encourage the Eugene City Council to introduce “high performance” training for city employees. The Tracy Press reported that the city paid the Seattle-based Pacific Institute a total of $166,000 for four-day seminars for every Tracy employee.
In his application, Hobbs said he would offer the city organization “a sense of continuity, not upheaval or upset.”
Lessard has worked as a consultant to governments and developers since leaving an assistant city manager job with the City of Austin, Texas, in 1998.
Lessard’s recent consulting work has focused on clustering urban development to allow for protection of natural areas and open space while limiting polluting sprawl, according to news reports. “Advocates of conservation development in Austin and nationwide tend to be passionate about saving not just one tract of land, but the Earth,” the alternative newsweekly Austin Chronicle reported positively on the program last year.
Lessard’s résumé lists membership in two progressive planning groups. The Congress for the New Urbanism describes itself as “the leading organization promoting walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl.” The Urban Land Institute’s mission is “to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”
The Austin Chronicle explained the end of Lessard’s decade as an assistant city manager with the city of Austin this way: “Lessard was reassigned in early 1997, following what apparently was perceived as a breakdown in his abilities overseeing the police, but instead of being fired, he was put on the slow train to China by being assigned the sole stewardship of the airport —a job that didn’t exist until [city manager] Garza decided to create such a position. According to some, there was never enough for Lessard to do once his other duties were taken away and then, following the very public Paradies scandal, the final nail was put in his career’s coffin.”
The Chronicle said the Paradies scandal involved Lessard and other staff failing to inform councilors that a bidder for an airport concession contract had been previously convicted of fraud. “The City Council was livid over the public embarrassment.”
Lessard’s “proudest accomplishment was the creation of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve, a unique land conservation model that began on his desk,” the Chronicle reported. “Lessard also headed up the Austin Police Department” after its police chief resigned amid controversy. Lessard was “once regarded as a potential candidate” for the top Austin city manager job, the paper reported. After resigning, Lessard elected to stay in Austin and look for other work rather than seeking a city manager job in another city because a recent marriage “will likely keep him Austin-bound,” the paper reported.
Lessard’s application stresses a collaborative, unbiased management style. He said he would not assume that “the city organization necessarily needs me to immediately alter or ‘fix’ how it does business.”
Lessard is also one of eight finalists for the city manager job in Fort Worth, Texas, the Austin American-Statesman reported Nov. 26.
Ruiz has worked as an assistant city manager of Fresno, Calif., since 2004. In Fresno, Ruiz was involved in a controversy over raising street fees for developers, the Fresno Bee reported. A 2006 Bee editorial blog stated: “City staff has been allowing the development community to run the show. The fees have not been raised for nearly 15 years. But now even the developers want the fees to increase, but the city can’t figure out how to get it done in a timely manner.”
Ruiz defended his work to make developers pay their fair share of growth costs, but the editorial questioned, “What have these people been doing?” The paper called the delay “one more example of the city being cozy with the building community. This won’t get done until the developers say it’s OK. They call the tune at City Hall.”
Ruiz’s work in Fresno has also involved trying to revive Fresno’s Fulton Mall, one of the first downtown pedestrian malls in the nation. The work included transit-oriented development around an electric streetcar, according to his résumé.
Ruiz worked on reining in Fresno sprawl with a “2025 General Plan.” He hired Peter Calthorpe, a pioneer in using progressive planning to control urban sprawl, as a consultant to help with the project. The plan also included increasing the city organization’s sustainability through solar energy, recycling, water conservation and green building.
Before Fresno, Ruiz worked as public works director for Ogden, Utah. There he helped redevelop a former military base as a business park and worked on public transportation for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
Ruiz served in the U.S. Army from 1980 to 1986 and focused on tactical communications. He continued to serve as a reserve/National Guard Colonel until 2006 and received a masters of strategic studies from the U.S. Army War College in 2000.
In his application, Ruiz states that “working as a Team continues to be very important to me.” He writes that he has a “positive, collaborative and can-do approach” and will have an “open relationship” with the mayor and council. According to Ruiz, the city government’s “culture must thrive on the proactive and aggressive engagement of all points of view.”