In school, you’re tested on your intelligence quotient, on TV, it’s your personality quotient or TVQ for how well people like you without knowing you.
After reading the Kroll interview summaries, we can see a new local quotient: the MQ, that I’m naming after my favorite interview quote from Dick Murphy that so well captures our cultural dilemma:
….Uberuaga “never told us and we were stupid enough not to ask.”
In some circles this is also known as mushroom management – keep us in the dark and fertilize us (no questions asked, no accountability needed). This comment captures a certain … flavor shall we say … about what Arthur Levitt too broadly addressed as our “cultural” problem.
So let’s get more specific about what exactly is it about our local culture that has us circling down the drain. Hint: it’s not just that we don’t like taxes!
Jack McGrory, a key architect of the original pension trading scheme known as “Manager’s Proposal 1” started off by explaining, “that he left his position as City Manager because he became tired of working for Mayor Susan Golding.” He also opined that “in the early 90s, the Council thought that its only job was to spend money and make its constituents happy and it was his problem to make the budget work, including budgeting for the pension.” Regarding the pension board, “the Board members did not have enough sophistication to understand their duties.”
So, applying MQ to both the Council and the Pension Board – he made it work, sort of – well past the statute of limitations. What worked was that he never told them some things – and they were “too stupid to ask” – or have anyone on their staffs to double-check the consequences. Thinking of it now in simple terms – how could it ever have worked to reduce payments to the pension while increasing benefits? Most spreadsheets move into the red quickly when you try that kind of thing, as did the city’s – if any number of public servants and “decision makers” would have been paying attention and not following MQ.
Scott Peters on McGrory:
“Peters recalled that McGrory had once told him that he did not tell council members where all the money was because he believed they would just go out and spend it.”
HMMMMM and they didn’t look and find it – MQ! and with respect to retroactive pension increases:
“the general concept was explained…but actual numbers were not specified.” MQ! and regarding forming the Pension Reform Committee:
“they could not get the right information from anyone about the right thing to do” He explained that there was no institutional process within City government to craft an idea or share the necessary information.”
“….and they would all provide reassurances on a steady basis”
GEE it seems Mayor Murphy’s quote can apply to so many things!
And another GEE – a multi-billion dollar government but “no institutional process?” MQ!
This group was very big on being reassured by those with an interest to keep things going without actually answering for the details – as well as hiring “professionals” who then had an interest in telling them what they wanted to hear along with soothing any concerns that might pop up.
Both Peters and Murphy – and others in a special closed session corroborate that the city attorney’s approach to the disclosures on the ballpark bonds were just to “create a record”…and “that the lesson from the meeting was that they should read the documents and be able to show that they did.”
But not understand them! – MQ!
As to the city’s relationship to state government: “we sort of own the bank, and there is no politician in Sacramento that is not going to give us a chance to fix it.”
This is a special version of MQ – and explains partially why Mike Aguirre is on such a warpath against Kroll’s conclusions. With clear knowledge and advice they were breaking the law, you have to wonder why it doesn’t move beyond “simple” negligence. Even when some of them admit to reading the advice that told them they were violating the law, the attitude was not how to try and do the right thing according to the law, it was proceed ahead and do what business interests wanted by sticking it regular ratepayers. Some claimed they didn’t really realize that what they were doing was illegal even when told. This must have been about the time that Donna Frye began her crusade to avoid closed sessions and create a record of what happens in these private negotiating fests.
Evidently even when locals are negligent, as well as acting with knowledge that they are in violation of the law – it’s OK – their friends will let them “fix it.” MQ2! (We won’t tell them – it’s closed session – and they are too stupid to ask us. Along with that classic cultural response from Madaffer: “Let ’em sue us!”) And weren’t they indeed right about that? They had to fix it eventually after Frye kept pitching fits without breaking her confidentiality agreements. But where is the info on how much this really cost ratepayers?
Then there is the case of city attorneys under Casey Gwinn displaying classic MQ while forging time cards.
In each case, the individuals involved didn’t consider doing the right things – if they even knew what it was to begin with. That really comes out as the dominant cultural issue – lots of people claiming they didn’t notice what was going on (make it work! Reassure me!). They never thought to hold others accountable – in fact, they dismissed people who pointed out problems (Vortmann, Shipione, Blue Ribbon Committee) and forged ahead anyway.
No wonder Donna Frye began her boycott of closed sessions and eventually gained a requirement that transcripts be taken. Looking back now, with so many who cannot recall so much, it’s easy to understand both her leaving that locker room and only going back when she knew there was a way to create a record.
Next: a reader asks: “While honest people speak out and are ignored, will we ever get out of this mess?”