Claremont Insider: Catch the Fever!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Catch the Fever!

Atascadero City Manager Wade McKinney and Indio City Manager Glenn Southard pose for the April, 2008, edition of the City Manager Newsletter, a publication of Trackdown Management and Jack Simpson. All three, McKinney, Southard, and Simpson, are on the board of the California City Management Foundation, which Southard helped found.

We've been writing this past week about the situation in Indio where a portion of the city's utility tax has reportedly gone uncollected from nearly 8,000 homes and 650 businesses. Our fascination with the story has less to do with the fact that former Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard in now ensconced in that desert down and much more to do with the opportunity to view the story as a case study in crisis management by Southard.

Southard would like to have the public believe the under collection of the 23-year-old Indio utility tax preceded his administration by decades. But has anyone bothered to look at how many of those 8,000 homes and 650 businesses were constructed in the past three years during Indio's great real estate boom? Indio's population, according to U.S. Census estimates, went from 49,116 in 2000 to 76,896 - a better-than-50% increase.

So if the taxes that weren't collected came as newly constructed properties, and if many or most of those new properties were built during the Southard years in Indio, then he would have to bear a much greater share of the blame than he's been willing to up to this point.

We also suspect that Southard will do his best to slip any blame at all for the mess, which likely runs into the millions of uncollected tax dollars. As we've noted, Southard survived a number of crises in Claremont by effectively controlling the public message - defining the story himself; by using his ability to charm councilmembers into supporting his actions even at the cost of their council seats; and by marshaling the power of city employee unions to get involved politically to exert pressure on councils (see the Preserve Claremont campaign of 2005).

Spinning the public and the press is certainly not a new phenomena. It's really not much different than a medieval king having his favorite scribe write a chronicle of the monarch's most recent war of conquest.

We've seen it go on here in Claremont as well. The recent Cookie Monster flap with Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor is a good example with Taylor trying to counter the negative attention she received by portraying herself as being concerned about the safety of the girls involved.

These things are scalable, from the local level to the highest international circles. In a lot of ways, the current Beijing Olympics is a massive PR campaign by China, complete with lip-syncing and digitally-enhanced fireworks.

And that's not all:

Chinese Officials: Deadly Virus Sweeping China Is Just Olympic Fever