High marks, no contract

August 26, 2002 12:00 am

The Baker City Council likes City Manager Gordon Zimmerman's performance.

Zimmerman likes Baker City.

But even after the high praise and even higher marks on his last review, we anticipate Zimmerman will keep his eye out for another opportunity.

He should. Managing a public agency in a city the size and demeanor of Baker City is tough work; when that city is Baker City, it can only be harder.

"City managers, by their very nature, don't always tell people what they want to hear," Councilor Charles Hofmann observed of Zimmerman's twin challenges of pleasing the public and serving the city.

People who feel they have been on the losing end of a dispute with the body politic have a habit of grousing, loudly, to everyone and anyone who will listen. But it takes strategic, constructive criticism to bring about a change in government. It also takes time to understand why you were the "loser" in a dispute — was it state law? A local planning board policy? Or was it those jerks down at city hall?

It's no wonder folks are speedy to skip right past the real problem and find a personality to blame.

To make matters worse, sometimes government will learn to tune out the squeaky wheel when it is demanding the sort of grease that would ruin the rest of the works.

The council feels Zimmerman is handling this delicate situation better than he has in the past, and gave him higher marks accordingly.

However, the council has yet to take up in earnest the topic of a contract for the city manager. Now might be the time.

Presumably, the council would like to review Zimmerman again next year rather than take the time and expense to recruit a new city manager. If he continues to improve, they might like to retain him longer (unlike elected officials, who are up for election every four years, appointed public officials can serve effectively for decades).

Zimmerman would like to stay, but he has concerns he thinks a two-year contract would answer. To start with, however, a one-year contract, renewable on the same cycle as Zimmerman's review, might curb his need to look elsewhere and help keep us all focused on what's best for Baker City.