DESPITE CALL FOR TRANSPARENCY, THE POWER OF CHOOSING SAN LEANDRO’S MOST IMPORTANT HIRE IS CONCENTRATED AMONG THREE PEOPLE
By Steven Tavares
Government transparency for San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy usually means recording city hearings for broadcast on the web. Increasingly, though, it is not what is occurring at these meetings that is worrying some city officials and employees, it’s what they are not privy to know, primarily, the details of the city’s crucial search for a new city manager.
At issue is the mayor’s push to relegate the canvassing for candidates to replace San Leandro City Manager Stephen Hollister—arguably the city’s most powerful post–to a select few. Instead, Cassidy, Vice Mayor Ursula Reed and Councilwoman Diana Souza will whittle down perspective candidates through a less visible form of a meeting known as an ad hoc committee where members and their discussion are not hindered by public disclosure of their deliberations like typical standing committees and council meetings.
Some worry Cassidy, who has grown a reputation for resisting comity and conciliation when confronted with opposing opinions, has made a power grab in steering a candidate of his own choosing.
“It’s not the process I would have went with,” said San Leandro Councilman Jim Prola, who was tersely shot down by Cassidy during discussion Monday night of the ad hoc committee’s process regarding screening prospective hires. “That’s not the way we’re going to do it,” Cassidy told him. Prola, instead, said he supported hiring a professional recruiting firm to perform the search.
Disclosure of the ad hoc committee’s decision to identify potential “red flags” among candidates through exhaustive web searches also garnered a few giggles among audience members.
While Cassidy has appeared to go out of his way to portend to include public comment in the search for a new city manager, all are attached to very little power in choosing Hollister’s replacement. An online questionnaire posted on the city’s web site allows the public to enter its preferences for certain traits in the next city manager, but Cassidy admitted Monday there is no formula to how much those questionnaires will count towards the final decision. The same goes for any potential input from city employees and their union leaders.
Cassidy said the ad hoc committee had discussed at length on how to give city department heads a chance to meet with the selected candidate, but they too would have little say in choosing the candidate. “We would make it clear to the candidate that this is not a prerequisite for this person,” said Cassidy. “It’s not based on their input. This is not their future boss they are getting approval from.”
The new mayor is not the most popular man at City Hall since he has pushed vigorously for employees to contribute more to the health care and pensions along with urging greater efficiency despite a 40 percent decrease in staff over the past few years. In addition, there is significant distrust among the city employee union leaders, including the Police Officers Association, towards Cassidy.
Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak, who has also appeared hesitant of the mayor’s intentions in hand-picking a new city manager, asked the committee to include union leaders in the discussion. Cassidy agreed, but those meetings would likely contain the same caveat as potential interviews by department leaders.
On two occasions Monday, Cassidy also stressed the need for council members to keep the identities of those applying for the job confidential. Having their names disclosed could jeopardize their careers, Cassidy said, or show a lack of loyalty to the cities currently employing them. “Sure, personnel issues are always confidential,” said one city employee, who asked not to be identified, “But, in this case, we also won’t know who else they could have picked.”