By BILLY MOORE
Former Mayor of San Marcos
San Marcos really needs to discuss some things right now. Like choosing city managers and the rationale and workings of land use commissioners. But first, perhaps, where I am “coming from.” First, my bona fides, for whatever they are worth:
When I retired from local public office, in 2000, after a couple of decades, it was… an Occasion. I gave over my crown and scepter to the next lucky victim and came home. I brought my load of plaques, trophies, certificates and mementos home, where they went in boxes in the garage, for my survivors to deal with. Burned the “King” suit, which people always said never fit very well and made me look … well, “common, like the odd lot of riff-raff one sees at the grocery.” I was not misty-eyed, just worn out. That job is hard work, if you even pretend to work at it.
About all I kept (and cherished, I blushingly confess) was the wide, rich, deep store of education, knowledge and experience the citizens had graciously (if unwittingly) allowed me to amass for myself. Those I have kept by my side. Alongside the perennial glass of water, which my physicians tell me I need to keep my system flooded so my heart doesn’t die. There is an odd parallel there, a great symbolism for me, since the experience and the water seem to have the same purpose, and both sort of reflect my community life. The show would go on, I knew, and in good hands, I trusted. It is, after all, the property and the will of the people, the folks who pay the bills. But since then, I have been uneasy about my simple faith. So I speak.
It worries me to see San Marcos looking for a city manager, for whatever reason. It’s not that in itself, but that we want one fast, and not necessarily one with any experience in municipal government. Threat level red!
A good city manager is an experienced, educated professional specialist in a complex and honored enterprise, with deep and special background. I don’t think we are looking for somebody best at “making a payroll.” Nor a person who specializes in marketing. Nor a sales manager. Nor a “kick-ass” personnel man. Nor a miserly bean counter. For a competent city manager, all those are in the mix, but are “givens.” The applied experience and professional education come first. The “ability to get along” is what one makes of it.
Land use commissioners, however you want to call them, are also a special breed. They are a ministerial body recognized in law and are treated that way in the courts. They can cost millions in lawsuits, and they can help make or avoid a catastrophic future for the city. Their piece of the holy-if-overlooked public trust is, in law, “the orderly subdivision and development of land.” In their advisory capacity, they have unusual power and unique discretion. They are far from other advisories, like “parks,” “arts,”,”tourism,” etc. They can’t afford — including personal liability — to take their responsibilities to the people in their homes as less than serious. Red alert!
Here in our town, right now, the land use folks are being subsumed into the general lot of citizens who volunteer for some board because it “looks kinda interesting,” or “it might be fun,” or “I might help out,” or “I’ll do it for my friend, Councilmember Muffy.” Those all have their place, and so does the less noble service motive of “maybe I can get in the power elite.”
These commissioners must be special people too. Their number must include, but they can’t all be, professionals in the field they regulate: many builder-developer-realtor “types” have only seen the city and its many complicated regulations as obstacles to be overcome, sadly. So they may not want ongoing quality of life for all, chosen by “all,” as much as speed, economy and ease of proceeding. Not an indictment, just facts.
Planning is not nearly the same as zoning — different rules, laws and authorities entirely. They are equally important. They have different perspectives, and their functions should not be crammed together in the interest of saving staff time, developer money, or council time. After all, we don’t want our own babies to grow up fast and cheap. The community is our collective “baby,” and needs careful, long, continuous nurturing if it is to grow up and make us proud.
I would suggest a revisiting of the way we are doing “bidness” as a city. These special “boards” really need to be chosen with care, not just from a cattle-call of 300 or 400 people. They need people with relevant professional knowledge and experience — surveyors, builders, bankers, developers, hospitality folks, conservationists, engineers, urban planners. These need to be leavened with “just” neighborhood activists, etc., including the lame and halt and the poor. Diverse humans. Then they can learn from and teach both each other and the citizenry, if they will listen to their professional staff and work things out, deliberately.
The business of creating and maintaining “civitas” is sweaty, hard labor. It is like maintaining life and health themselves, a matter of keeping balance –the hardest work there is. It is ultimately a source of riches, but never should be “about the money.” It goes on forever, with or without good stewardship, until death.
Billy G. Moore