Council says goodbye to Wilson

Political climate addressed by Wilson, councilmembers

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Council says goodbye to WilsonWith the recent announcement that City Manager Kurt Wilson would be moving on to Stockton to accept a deputy city manager position, the Ridgecrest City Council took the opportunity at Wilson’s final meeting last week to praise him for his contributions in his two years of service to the community, many of which were unappreciated by the community, they said.

Four of the five councilmen and Wilson himself also used their time to address the public at the end of the meeting to challenge those who have criticized city officials during a time of fiscal emergency.

During the tribute to Wilson, Mayor Ron Carter characterized the city’s top staffer as a problem solver with a great attitude. “We don’t want to lose him, but he’s going on to greener pastures.”

Carter said the city was facing many challenges when Wilson was recruited — including diminishing funds from the state and an embattled relationship with former trash hauler Benz Sanitation.

“We were facing a financial crisis where we had to cut $2 million from our budget. I didn’t think it could be done, but he did it.”

Councilmember Jason Patin agreed that Wilson left the city better than it was when he found it.

“It is sometimes misconstrued when someone is such a workaholic that he is not in the community,” said Councilman Steven Morgan, perhaps addressing public criticism that Wilson did not move to the community, and feedback from councilmembers that he did not always foster open communication at City Hall.

“He was working serious issues that we had,” said Morgan. “A lot of folks out there in this community never understood that, they never saw it. We are going to be challenged to find someone with half of his connections and half of his work ethic.”

Mayor Pro Tem Chip Holloway referred to Wilson’s first meeting two years ago when Robert Eierman, a citizen involved in a lawsuit against the city council and two attempts to have them recalled, said that citizens would be getting rid of the current council, city attorney and Wilson, depending how he behaved.

“Your first meeting here you were attacked,” said Holloway. “I wondered why anyone would stay here. But you never focused on the small stuff. You worked hard for the city. And no one will understand that until long after you’re gone.”

He said that any lack of public trust in Wilson was the fault of the council for failing to articulate his value to the community.

Several members of the council continued that commentary during their remarks at the end of the meeting. Those who spoke out also addressed how city issues should be discussed in the upcoming election.

“The campaigns are upon us,” said Patin. “I have a piece of advice for all of the candidates.

“Please be focused on the issues. Take it easy on each other, but be tough on the issues. It was good advice given to me when I was running, and I think it’s important.”

“I’m glad to see many candidates in the room. But I’m worried that I haven’t seen most of you until recently,” said Holloway.

“This campaign is setting out on a negative tone such that I’ve never seen in a council race in Ridgecrest. It is a disservice to the community because it distracts from the issues.”

He said that the bad economic times have equated the messengers at City Hall with the negative message they have brought to the community. “Some people are trying to take that for political advantage and twist the story. It is unfair to the rest of the council and unfair to the community.”

He said he has been criticized for not being aggressive at the dais, but “I learned that demeanor from Wilson. Thank you for showing me restraint and for showing me that some things are bigger than the little things.”

Steven Morgan said that he was thoroughly disappointed in his fellow councilmembers, and referenced his black and red wardrobe as a statement. “If I’m going to be portrayed like the devil, I’m going to dress like the devil.”

Although he did not specify the actions that sparked his disappointment, he had earlier called Vice Mayor Jerry Taylor to task for questioning city staff on items before the council.

“I’m a bull in a china shop – I’ve always been a bull in a china shop,” said Morgan. “When I break glass and I make headlines in the paper and I get told I should apologize to folks in local editorials, I laugh at those.”

He said Michael Neel, who criticized city spending in a recent letter to the editor, was a coward for not agreeing to serve on the Measure L oversight committee. “He didn’t want to be a part of the process. He wants to continue to be a part of the problem.”

To the members of that committee, he said, “Mr. Neel is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the person to talk to. He might be the person to be ignored.”

He said that as the community proceeds through the election cycle, people should educate themselves on each of the candidate’s understanding of city business.

“Instead of blaming the council, do they understand the process has changed and how the money has been stolen?” said Morgan. “How many of our candidates have sat down with our staff and had a positive conversation with them and tried to learn with them?

“There is a lot of work that goes on, being an elected official. The council is committed even when you beat them to death.”

He challenged members of the community to say thank you to members of the city staff. “And I’m going to ask the staff to let me know if the community responds … I want the community to understand that these people have feelings, too. And you’re killing them. And it isn’t fair.”

“As we go out as candidates, let’s be positive,” said Carter. “Let’s be above board and really represent what this community stands for.”

To Wilson, he said, “I’m sorry all of us didn’t work with you properly and give you the respect you deserve.”

Wilson also had some parting words for the city in his last meeting as manager.

He said the job of a councilmember is similar to the job of a city staffer. “They look at it and decide it can’t be that hard,” said Wilson. “People judge you in meetings by the decisions you make, but that’s not where the actual work is done. You put in countless hours outside of the meeting.”

He said staff members bring a tremendous amount of experience and expertise to their jobs. “It is quite insulting when other people come up and tell them how to do their jobs, actually, because they’re the ones who have been doing it for so long.”

Wilson said that people accuse the staff of being lazy, and citizens are frustrated because they see a decline in the level of service. But employees themselves are frustrated that they no longer have the tools to do the jobs they once did.

“We have employees who are climbing into sewers, hopping on lawnmowers, putting on vests and weapons and going out there and going into conditions that are far worse than the rest of us have to endure,” said Wilson.

“We complain about some conditions while it’s the city employees who are suiting up, going out there and taking care of that job.”

Story First Published: 2012-08-22