Special Reports

It's past time for council to stop wringing its hands

Now we know why under the current form of government the Tacoma City Council hires a city manager.

At least the city's managers have been capable of making a decision.

Love him or hate him, Ray Corpuz had focus, and he knew how to reach a conclusion and act on it. Some might complain about the substance of the decisions, but not the speed.

Not so this council. Under the city charter the council has two big decisions to make - they hire and they fire the city manager.

For six weeks, however, the local nine have seemed unable to do either.

They've agreed to accept Corpuz's resignation, they just can't decide when. They've agreed to promote deputy manager Jim Walton to acting city manager, they just can't decide for how long. They've agreed to search for a permanent city manager, they just can't decide who, how or when.

At a time when they surely agree the city needs strong leadership, they are unable to provide it. Each week they allow personal animosities and a clouded vision to get in the way. A few have close personal relationships with Corpuz that should preclude them from taking part in this decision. Collectively, the council members permit all of this and more to keep them from acting quickly and decisively.

Not that it's easy. The emotions that were unleashed when David Brame killed his wife Crystal and then himself have overwhelmed us. Half of us are pointing fingers, and the other half are deflecting them.

But then, anyone can make the easy decisions. We measure leaders by how they make difficult choices, not the obvious ones.

The debate is over whether to remove Corpuz right now - something they are empowered to do by the charter - or to craft some sort of retirement incentives that will entice Corpuz to "voluntarily" step aside sooner. The reasoning is to send a signal that the council is not insulting Corpuz or objecting to the job he's done for 13 years.

And now there's secret (and dubious) legal advice that firing him will harm the city's legal position in the tort claims against it. By that logic, would the city improve its legal standing if it rehires Corpuz and gives him a big raise?

Severance is not required. In fact, paying it contributes to the image that City Hall is a closed club where personal relationships dominate over public good. Employees at Corpuz's level are paid as much as they are because their job security is non-existent. They are supposed to be easily fired if that is the will of the council.

Imagine a president wringing his hands over how to remove a general in the field or a cabinet secretary. Imagine a governor waiting months to replace a top official or adviser when the time had come for him or her to go. This decision is no different.

Consultants make lots of money giving advice to organizations, teaching them how to interact and how to "get to yes." Tacoma can't afford that right now, needing to save for the lawsuits. So here's some free advice: Weigh every action based on the touchstone of what's in the best interest of Tacoma.

It should be simple. But some are spending too much time considering what's best for Corpuz himself and what's best for themselves. Winning a power battle on the council seems more important than doing what's best for the city.

What's best is having Corpuz off the payroll and on his way - with a thank you and best wishes. What's best is giving Walton the authority to run the city effectively if temporarily. What's best is a transparent and rapid process to find a professional city manager not encumbered by local politics who can help lead Tacoma forward.

What's best is setting aside the small politics for the big picture.

Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657 peter.callaghan@mail.tribnet.com