Claremont Insider: Three-Card Monte?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Three-Card Monte?

Southardism, the political philosophy embodied by former Claremont City Manager Glenn Southard, has a number of strategies. One is to surround oneself with weaker yes-men and to set up a pay-for-performance system that rewards loyalty above all. Another is to ally oneself with certain power brokers, the Claremont 400, for example. Ensuring their egos were well-fed allowed Southard to keep lining his pockets with an ever-larger array of benefits.

One overlooked aspect of Southardism was Glenn's use of highly-paid consultants to support whatever goal he wanted. These experts acted as hired guns who might be willing to bend facts to fit seemingly predetermined conclusions. As a reader pointed out a month or so ago, with the Padua Sports Park Environmental Impact Report the city hired a botanist named Thomas Leslie, who listed himself as "Thomas Leslie, Ph.D Biologist." The truth, according to the reader, was that Leslie's Ph.D was in theology and had been obtained online from the Universal Life Church for a nominal fee.

These hired gun experts would provide voluminous reports filled with graphs and tables to wow laypersons - the city commissioners charged with the early decision-making and the city councilmembers who had the final say.

One expert who figured prominently into Southard's career was Dr. Bill Mathis, a Napa-based psychologist who specializes in professional management facilitation. Dr. Mathis often pops up whenever a city needs to hire a new city manager. He works with cities to identify and winnow down a candidate list. As the Foothill Cities blog recently noted, the city of Sierra Madre has hired Dr. Mathis to help find fill their vacant city manager post.

Dr. Mathis turned up several times during Glenn Southard's tenure here in Claremont. One of the first was during the Irvin Landrum crisis when Southard faced possible dismissal for his handling of the matter. (After an 18-year-old African American motorist was shot and killed in 1999 by Claremont police, Southard inflamed the situation by awarding the two involved police officers Employees of the Year awards, complete with cash bonuses that ended up looking like bounties. Southard also tried to discredit the dead man's uncle, who was speaking out at protest gatherings, by releasing the uncle's decades old criminal record.)

As the Landrum crisis reached a boiling point with hundreds of people showing up at City Council meetings in protest, the council circled the wagons and brought in Dr. Mathis for a city manager performance review. Southard's job was saved, and the council ended up backing Southard. The council's refusal to deal with the Landrum issue ended up discrediting the incumbent councilmembers, and four of the next five who ran for re-election lost.

Thereafter, for the remainder of Southard's stay in Claremont, the city would hire Mathis annually at $9,000 or so a visit, to facilitate Southard's yearly performance review.

Regarding the city's biology expert, our reader wrote that "if the consultant-city executive relationship appears close, you have to wonder if the consultants aren't just shilling for their friends." Mathis, we note, is on the Board of Trustees for the California City Management Foundation (CCMF) and has held that position for years. Southard is a founding member of CCMF and was a long time CCMF president. (Other city consultants are also represented on the CCMF Board.)

And, when Southard chose to leave Claremont for Indio in 2005, when a change in the council looked inevitable, Mathis was the consultant working on Indio's city manager candidate search.

Friends helping friends?