Fiscal watchdog Dean Andal writes:
“The reason the City Manager doesn’t show up at unfavorable forums or explain himself on large issues (pensions, water, Measure A police hiring) is because he doesn’t have to and it is effective public relations strategy.
“He actually had good answers for the City’s water position (which I agree with), but didn’t think it was a favorable forum for him and so he maintained his usual strategy of stiffing the press and public and riding it out. On other issues like pensions and police hiring, his positions are indefensible (and sometimes mathematically incorrect) – so he rightly calculates that he should insist that everything is swell and not respond to any information requests that would prove otherwise.
“In the end, the City Manager is winning the PR struggle against the people of Stockton. Public pension costs are, as predicted, exploding as a percentage of the city’s budget. Police hiring, as predicted, is not honoring the City’s Measure A commitment. The savings from not hiring the police officers is covering the increased pension costs, again as predicted, not putting net new police officers on the streets of Stockton. He does this to prolong the inevitable return to bankruptcy – which would be the only thing that would tarnish his career.
“In the meantime, because of all of this dishonesty, Stockton has more crime, less libraries, unsafe parks and public places, and among the highest taxes in all of California. Most newspapers would react in horror to this governmental abuse of its citizens, but here it is given ho hum treatment to chase the latest escapade of some council-member that has no meaning to your readers.
“Newspapers should hold the powerful government accountable to the public interest – not try to protect government officials from those who criticize them. I don’t believe that is the norm in Stockton. The powerful person in Stockton’s government is the City Manager – not the Mayor/Council. I think you have done an ombudsman job of trying to educate the public about these issues, but the Record has been a disaster – and the City Manager is simply exploiting that for his own benefit.”
I agree that the City Manager is at a remove greater than any I have seen.
Andal’s view that Stockton is headed toward a second bankruptcy is controversial. Stockton is headed for some rough financial years as a decade or so of bulging pension costs eat into the General Fund. But 80% of the city’s costs are public employee costs and Wilson has stood up to the public employee unions and firmly adhered to the 2% raises budgeted in the Long Range Financial Plan.
I guess one’s view of Wilson depends to a large extent on one’s perception of the city’s fiscal health. If, like Andal, you believe the city is washing towards the rocks again, Wilson’s reticence is a threat to the body politic. My own view is that Wilson, while regrettably aloof, is competent — in other words the exact opposite of Mayor Anthony Silva, who is accessible but utterly void of leadership and policy except for forums and stunts and liking people on Facebook. But, yes, everyone who covers City Hall ought to press for more from Wilson.