Exceptional San Rafael City Manager Takes Another Job
By Karen Nakamura
In January 2006, San Rafael City Manager Rod Gould is leaving to take the same position in Poway, near San Diego. He has served since June of 1996. For those who have worked with him, this is a sad moment. Gould's management style has brought San Rafael into the enviable position of being that rare, smoothly run, economically viable, city.
Why should we care? With America the Beautiful is being battered and torn, Americans need guidelines to mend our country. San Rafael stands as a shining example of how to do it right. This is because of the method used to run the city for approximately a decade. City manager Gould insists, "It was a team effort." And he's right. It was a citizen and administration team effort from the start.
In 1996, Gould was employed by a City Council still in place: Mayor Al Boro, Cyr Miller, Paul Cohen, Barbara Heller and Gary Phillips. Even though Phillips took office a year into the transformation, he has been an active participant. It's that continuity that has allowed San Rafael to steer towards building the best functioning city possible.
"When I was hired," Gould said in an interview, "the city was not running at a very high level. It had no goals or system for department performance evaluations. Residents saw it as run from the top down and viewed the government with unease. City services were not up to par.
"I was told in no uncertain terms that the Council wanted me to make residents understand the City wasn't there just for the benefit of the well heeled. They wanted action on affordable housing and to make sure that low-income areas such as the Canal were given equal attention. They also wanted employees and residents to realize employees were not there just for a paycheck. And they insisted something be done to help the downtown area. They wanted it fixed and viable again. In other words, they wanted me to give the City a tune up."
The outcome was democracy in action. To set its agenda, the city sends out citizen satisfaction surveys and reads/listens to citizen suggestions. When the City decides to deal with an issue, the first thing they do is place public notice in the media and at gathering places announcing meetings and requesting input on the subject. The city also encourages those most interested to work on the project from the beginning of the planning process to completion.
The City realizes any problems with a plan will eventually surface. Better to have problems identified immediately and consensus found before moving on. That's why City Council meetings are often civil. Opponents have already agreed their mutual solution is the best available all around.
One of the first actions the Council took was to turn the expensive, armed camp mentality of the Police department towards the Canal into community policing lead by Captain Cam Sanchez. This effort has been visibly successful. Once the neighborhood was no longer subject to overkill, it became clear that the immigrants from war torn Central America and economically depressed Mexico were here to live quiet lives and enroll in educational classes rather than running amuck.
Things took a significant turn towards the better. One of the finest examples was when a hysterical Spanish-speaking woman trusted a San Rafael police officer enough to tell him her babies were being hijacked by "coyotes." Even better was that the police officer cared enough that the woman was quickly reunited with her children.
Another example was a complaint from a Terra Linda homeowners association. They wanted flooding fixed and a rain ditch fixed to be less of an eyesore and to prevent kids, pets and wildlife from danger. The City called a meeting in the Terra Linda community center to work out a plan. Several City Council members were in attendance as was Rod Gould and a representative from the City's municipal utilities. Large paper pads were set up and ideas taken from the residents. Besides working on ditch solutions, the engineer was able to trace a previously unknown flood path flowing through the backyards of several homes.
"At first, residents didn't believe us but after working through a number of bumpy issues, their trust in us is growing. That's because we listened and responded the best we could." Gould said modestly.
According to the City's website, here are a few of the City's accomplishments under Gould's tenure.
¥ "Revitalized downtown
¥ Enhanced service and citizen satisfaction levels in all municipal services
¥ Instituted goals, objectives and performance indicators for all city departments and divisions
¥ Instituted Community Policing and advanced Code Enforcement
¥ Improved the quality of life and safety in the Canal
¥ Adopted practices of proactive community outreach
¥ Improved technology and equipment, including first Marin agency on the MERA system
¥ Built the San Rafael City Plaza, Parkside Child Care Center, Terra Linda Pool, Anderson Drive, Public Works Corporation Yard, Third and C Street Parking Structure, renovated 11 parks and is currently completing the Pickleweed Community Center Renovation and Expansion Project
¥ Improved labor relations and city/school collaboration
¥ Won awards for community policing, mental health outreach, sustainable development, recreation, childcare, budgeting and financial reporting, and advancement of diverse communities
¥ Resolved a long-term structural operating deficit with the victory of Measure S."
The City also maintains a Triple A financial rating from the Federal and State governments. That says a lot with all the budget cuts and falling revenues of the past five years. "We were able to maintain that rating," Gould said, "because of the myriad of volunteers. It was tough. However, the passage of Measure S, [a 1Ú2 cent sales tax increase on the November 8 ballot that passed by 69%,], will stabilize the city finances. I'm happy to say I'm leaving the City in good stead as I go south."
Among other honors, Gould is currently President of the City Manager's Department of the League of California Cities and on the Board of Directors of the Institute for Local Government in Sacramento. He teaches graduate urban administration and finance at San Francisco State University and received an Executive In Residence Fellowship at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated from Yale and got his Masters in Government Administration from Harvard.
Gould commented on the City website, "San Rafael has been very good to my family and me. I have had the pleasure of serving a diverse and sophisticated community with the most effective and cohesive City Council in the North Bay and an outstanding employee base and management team. San Rafael is fortunate to have the active assistance of several thousand, community volunteers, who are dedicated to its civic improvement. I will miss many good people in this town."
Mayor Albert Boro in his good-bye said of Gould, and his friends concur: "For the past 9 1Ú2 years the City of San Rafael has been extremely well served by our City Manager... Rod brought enthusiasm, experience, and an ability to work with the community, City staff and the City Council to make things happen in San Rafael. Rod's dedication and commitment to our City was evident in the way he carried out his responsibilities. The fact that he serves as President of the City Managers in the League of California Cities is evidence that his peers recognize him as a leader. We wish him well and much success in his new capacity... Speaking for the entire City Council, we wish Rod, Rosaline and their children, Trevor and Emily, great success and happiness in their new home!"
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