Monday, October 6, 1997
Bold, brazen city manager needed

The Cincinnati Enquirer

John Shirey
Should he go or should he stay?

Frisch's restaurants posed that question a dozen years ago about its mascot, Big Boy.

Now, the same question is being batted around Cincinnati's City Hall.

Only this time city council is doing the asking. And the big boy on the bubble is City Manager John Shirey.

In August, council gave the manager his annual performance review. It wasn't good.

He was rated, ''average.'' Down from last year's rating of ''very favorable.''

That amounted to a vote of no confidence. And nothing extra in his paycheck.

The way these things work in the world of city governments, no raise is seen as an invitation to call the movers. Find another city to manage.

So, it came as no surprise last week when the Enquirer's Laura Goldberg broke the story about John Shirey looking for another job.

He set his sights first on San Diego. The West Coast city needs a manager and - until he learned over the weekend he was out of the running - he was one of three finalists.

The city manager says he's not contending for any other jobs. But he's closed-mouthed about his plans for applying elsewhere.

Unless things change in Cincinnati, John Shirey will probably keep job-hunting. He must have more than one copy of his resume. And, places other than San Diego need managing. Some cities feel funny being rudderless.

If John Shirey gets another job, I wish him well. Godspeed and all that.

If he doesn't, I'd be happy to have him stay.

Either way, I think this is a good opportunity to restate the job description for Cincinnati's city manager.

Since we don't have a strong-mayor form of government, we need a strong city manager.

Someone must be able to stand up to a city council that is divided, contentious and - all too often for the money the members make and the brains they have - clueless.

Work for us

Whoever has the job, this is what I want to see in a city manager:


Get this council and this city to move off square one with riverfront development. Lead them. Keep them looking ahead by presenting a firm agenda and keep them on track.

Don't get buried in generating endless reports requested by council members trying to politic on your time. And our dime.

When that happens, the real business of the city gets put aside for pointless busy-work. Stick to your own agenda. You owe it to the public.

When council tells you to go on a building spree - put up five new community centers, for instance, when there's barely enough money for two - scream bloody murder. Tell council members to do the math. Ask who's going to pay for their pet projects? Then, give them the bad news: You're not Santa Claus.

Don't be a behind-the-scenes city manager. Play to the public, for whom council works.

Your dealings with citizens are far more important than dealing with council. So, look out for everyone. But be beholden to no one.

When there is controversy over city workers - whether it's the police or some paper-shuffler buried deep in City Hall - move swiftly. Give all sides a fair hearing. Play no favorites.

And always keep the public informed.

Speak directly to the people.

Deal with us not them.

Keep issues on the table like any good manager. Run the city.

But be the people's city manager.

No secret meetings. Or sweetheart deals.

Be creative. Innovate. Come up with alternative solutions to problems. That's essential in a place called Cincinnati.

It's an old town stuck in its ways. As Middle America's problems mount and dollars to solve them decline, creative solutions are not simply needed. They're necessary.

So, make bold moves. Embrace change. End the city's love affair with the status quo.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Call 768-8379 or fax at 768-8340.