Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Ted Gaebler was here; The Union facilitated his departure

Updated with responses from editor to questions. And you, reader - please report any errors, so they can be corrected.

The Union's current editor didn't arrive until early Sept. 2002.

Civic journalism it wasn't.

Ted Gaebler - co-author of Reinventing Government - was Nevada County's county administrator through Fall 2002, until the "old guard" - who, apparently, had made it clear* that they'd dump him if given the opportunity (a fact that The Union did not share with its readers, to my knowledge) - regained a majority on the Board of Supervisors and informed him that his services were no longer needed.

(From earlier post: This is the same "old guard" who wanted to look into spending Dryden Wilson's "open space" bequest for non-open-space purposes.)

Some background on Gaebler's tenets, from a May 1995 Inc Magazine article:
Government works better when it steers than when it rows. The steer-row metaphor comes from Reinventing Government (Addison-Wesley, 1992), by David Osborne and Ted Gaebler. They mean that as a general rule government should not focus -- or get bogged down in -- operations. "Steering," they say, "requires people who see the entire universe of issues and possibilities and can balance competing demands for resources. Rowing requires people who focus intently on one mission and perform it well. Steering organizations need to find the best methods to achieve their goals. Rowing organizations tend to defend 'their' method at all costs." Private-sector rowers that defend outmoded and inefficient methods at all costs usually go out of business, which frees up the resources they were using to work someplace else. Obsolete public-sector rowers, in contrast, just keep wasting the public's money.

Insightful. Uncontroversial, no? (We certainly needed a change at the county; morale and effectiveness were in poor shape before Gaebler came.)

No. While the progressive Board of Supervisors majority (including Bruce Conklin) hired and supported Gaebler, the county's old power base - which took back majority control of the Board, by the slimmest of margins, in November 2002 - wanted him out.

From The Union in Dec. 2002, on Gaebler's departure:
Gaebler has been under almost constant attack since his arrival - over an employee retreat that was a tradition long before he arrived; over his salary; over his annual bonus. In the [Nov 2002] election campaign that was hypercharged by the NH 2020 planning controversy, every comma and paragraph of his contract was analyzed and vilified by those opposed to the incumbent candidates.

Not mentioned in this editorial was the major role The Union itself had played, by providing the venue and tacit encouragement for these attacks. It hadn't explicitly taken sides ( "we offer the memo without comment"); also without comment, it had published letters like this -
Gaebler was hired after our county leaders did a nationwide search for the best of the best. Translated, that means everyone in Nevada County was too stupid to qualify for the position and I'm sure he thinks we're dopey enough to buy this [department heads'] retreat nonsense...let's collect whatever money is needed to ensure that he have the ultimate bonding experience of his lifetime ... a one-way ticket to Afghanistan!
The Union's publisher had commented, as follows:
Speaking of more government ... I heard that the county manager wrote a book about reinventing government. Then I read about the retreat to Placer County that cost taxpayers a good chunk of change [ .01% of yearly budget, I've read] and wondered if I really wanted him to reinvent my government. It sounds very expensive.

In the run-up to the Nov. 2002 election, I don't recall seeing any mention in The Union that the "old guard" candidates aimed to remove Gaebler. If The Union had publicized this fact, it probably would have changed more than the 19 votes by which the Board of Supervisors' majority was changed - and we'd still have Ted Gaebler, if he could still stomach us.

The candidates' intent ("...if [B] and [S] are elected...their first order of our county administrator, Ted Gaebler") was known**, and written up, by a regular columnist for The Union; but it ended up getting published over on Yubanet instead, because The Union refused to publish it*** (Editor "requested that [columnist] not write [his] last column about the election") two weeks before the election. (Read the column; it gives a good picture of what is at risk up here.)

Once Gaebler was leaving, the paper expressed some remorse:
We will miss Ted Gaebler. Nevada County was lucky to have him, even for only three years...we worry about a throwback to the bad old days...
Not that it did the community much good, at that point. The damage had been done.


Just for reference:
Table of Contents for Osborne and Gaebler's Reinventing Government:
Catalytic government: steering rather than rowing -- Community-owned government: empowering rather than serving -- Competitive government: injecting competition into service delivery -- Mission-driven government: transforming rule-driven organizations -- Results-oriented government: funding outcomes, not inputs -- Customer-driven government: meeting the needs of the customer, not the bureaucracy -- Enterprising government: earning rather than spending -- Anticipatory government: prevention rather than cure -- Decentralized government: leveraging change through the market --Putting it all together.

* But not clear enough for your correspondent, who was too dense to realize that the ceaseless attacks on Gaebler meant that the attacking faction really would boot him out at the earliest opportunity; it took reading the column on Yubanet to achieve enlightenment. Thanks to Yubanet, once again, for informing its readership. (From Andrew Cline of Rhetorica: "The loss of 2-paper towns in America is, to my way of thinking, a civic catastrophe." - Yubanet keeps our county from being resigned to this fate.)

**In email Editor implies he did not know of the plan (does this mean he didn't read the column?):
The first I knew about it was after the election when Gaebler came into the office and told us about his departure. We ran a story at that time.
*** Why the refusal to publish? From editor, Oct 21 2004 email: "we had put a moratorium on political Other Voices [columns] in the weeks leading up to the election..."
Why the moratorium?
Editor, Oct 26 2004 email: "The 2002 moratorium, if there was one, was decided before I joined The Union, so I can't answer your question."

No comments: