Why won't a city manager stick in Colusa?
The public acrimony — from the City Council and the community — defines the end of Jan McClintock's tenure as Colusa's top executive.
The question leading into the search for a new city manager is, does it define the city, too? And if so, what impact will it have on finding a qualified replacement?
Joan Phillipe, who lived and worked in a similar political environment, won't go so far as to say the acrimony defines Colusa.
However, she said the political atmosphere becomes far more personal in Colusa than in any other place she has worked.
"One of the things that is more pronounced in Colusa is that things become a lot more personalized," said Phillipe, who was born in the county and left when she was 8.
Her father was the principal at Princeton High.
Phillipe said once the disagreement became so personal, in her case the issue was the sewer facilty — it became nearly impossible to overcome even slight differences of opinions.
But she said that is not why she left, and she does not think it will keep Colusa from recruiting a qualified city manager.
"The reality is my tenure in Colusa was quite positive, and I enjoyed a lot of support from the council and from a lot people in the community, except for a small number of people," she said.
"I have been in two other communities other than Colusa and Clearlake (where she works now) ... and I don't think it is that unusual for the kind of problems Colusa has been experiencing."
Still, Colusa has watched a fair number of city managers come and go — and particularly over the last decade — and there has been a fair amount of angst attached to several.
The most common catch phrase: It wasn't a good fit.
That is how Councilmen Kirk Kelleher and Tom Reische described the situation with McClintock, and it is a phrase that has been applied to others as well.
"I just think the makeup of the councils change, and their priorities change and their personalities change," said Patty Hickel, who twice served as interim city manager during her time with the city. "And it is not just Colusa. It is all cities and small communities particularly."
Randy Dunn, who is serving as acting city manager, agrees.
"City managers know it is a difficult job," Dunn said.
The longtime fire chief understands all too well how tough, and how personal the public disagreements get, but is not willing to define the city as acrimonious.
"I think this is a good community, and I am confident we will find the right person for the community."
Dunn thinks salary and other compensation may ultimately play a bigger part in recruiting and keeping a city manager, and it certainly did with the relatively quick departure of Rob Hickey to Gridley.
In fact, the same head-hunting firm that brought him to Colusa's attention, also helped him find the higher pay in Gridley, Dunn said.
McClintock was paid more than $93,000 a year, plus a $4,200 car stipend annually.
Many view the number as high, but it is still on the low end of competitive compensation for the job.
Whatever the reasons Colusa has experienced a revolving door of city managers, given the political atmosphere, Hickel said the City Council must clearly define what it wants from a city manager, whether that is a background in finance, planning or general administration.
Then, she said, it must take its time and do the due diligence in the recruiting and interview process — and the public must be involved.
Hickel is also hopeful that whomever they select, that person will have at least some past experience with small towns, and will want to live here.
"I would think it would be helpful," Hickel said.
"Small communities are different, and Northern California is completely different than Southern California," said Hickel, noting yet another factor that may have to be considered.
"But I don't know if there is anyone out there," she said.
Phillipe did live in Colusa during her tenure, and believes it is nearly impossible to do the job from a distance.
"I am in the mind that a manager needs to live in the city or very nearby, and take place in the activities of the community ... to get exposure to people you are not going to see in city hall," Phillipe said.
Those who have served in the position also note there are things that happen a city manager cannot control, but will still take the blame.
Phillipe noted the difficulty of satisfying a council and the public during hard economic times, and that is heightened in small communities.
"In this kind of economic environment, it is sometimes difficult to bring in those kinds of (revenue-generating) opportunities, and often the manager takes the brunt of it," Phillipe said.
"Colusa was on the cusp of development projects when the economy turned," Felipe said of her tenure, "and (those projects) did not happen."
That was certainly an issue with McClintock, who despite having majority support from the council, became the face of a controversial economic development policy.
Many privately believe that is the driving force opponents of McClintock used to get their ultimate goal — her departure.
But many of those also believe the real reason was far more personal.