Why would Sacto tap a failed leader?

Commentary

JULY 22, 2011

By STEVEN GREENHUT

The Sacramento Bee reported today that John Shirey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association, is the top candidate to be Sacramento’s next city manager. This choice only confirms the small-town mentality of Sacramento leaders and their enduring support for redevelopment schemes even as redevelopment is being phased out across California.

Under Shirey’s leadership, redevelopment agencies went from the king of the hill to an endangered species. He was at the helm as the redevelopment ship took on water. It hasn’t completely sunk yet, but the governor signed a law killing the agencies although a second law allowed the agencies to come back provided they pay significant sums to the state — something that many of these agencies cannot do. Under his charge, Shirey’s group is launching what appears to be a frivolous lawsuit trying to overturn these laws. I’m glad redevelopment is sinking and that Shirey’s leadership at CRA was an obvious failure, but why would Sacramento take this direction?

Mayor Kevin Johnson is completely right in his disappointment regarding the hiring process. “It’s the same process that has led to five city managers in less than six years,” he told the Bee. “It’s clear I have a different vision for the city and this position than the majority of the council.”

I haven’t been thrilled with the mayor’s past vision, which has also staked so much on the redevelopment process. But any process that leads to the selection of John Shirey as city manager is deeply flawed and sends disturbing signals about what Sacramento wants to be in the future. Shirey epitomizes a past era, a small-minded vision, an approach that’s heavy handed and not in touch with the city’s vibrant neighborhoods.

One ought to question Shirey’s ham-fisted political approach, as epitomized by his support for Prop. 22 — something designed to protect redevelopment cash, but which ended up being a key impetus for the end of redevelopment as we know it. Sacramento residents ought to be alarmed by Shirey’s hostility to property rights. His organization under his leadership has been the state’s biggest advocate for the idea that cities can take property at will from private owners and give it on the cheap to big developers.

With Shirey as city manager, Sacramento business owners and even homeowners have much to fear. But apparently Sacramento officials are enmeshed in their old-fashioned failed ideas, whereby new things happen only under the direction of City Hall bureaucrats who shower corporate welfare on favored developers. These officials believe that Sacramento will become world class by building a costly publicly funded stadium to keep an ill-performing basketball team in town. Talk about 1970s redux.

Here is my column from the Sacramento Bee regarding the futility of making Sacramento a world-class city. I like Sacramento and believe it is really nice place to live and work — but its strengths are found in its neighborhoods, its people, its small businesses, its quirkiness and originality. It’s not going to be found by building more of those Soviet-style big subsidized projects. It’s not going to be found by driving interesting small businesses off of their property so that big cookie-cutter bureaucratically planned developments can be put in their place. It won’t come because of multimillion-dollar subsidies to mermaid bars.

Sacramento desperately needs a spark of originality and life of the sort that comes from the bottom up, from entrepreneurship and fresh thinking. It needs to reduce regulations and adopt and a more freedom-friendly model. Instead it appears ready to hire a man who led an organization hostile to the very things that can make Sacramento an even better place.

Maybe it’s time for voters to elect new, fresh-thinking leaders if this is the best they can come up with.

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