Editorials ~ Sonoma Valley Sun


Running a city

Posted on March 1, 2022 by Sonoma Valley Sun

As if the past several years have not been tough enough  – dealing with a global pandemic, three City Council resignations, staffing problems, and truncated business hours –  the City of Sonoma now must deal with the recent and unexpected departure of City Manager Garrett Toy.

We don’t know exactly why Mr. Toy and the City parted ways – he was hired just last June – but apparently he wasn’t “the right fit.” His personal style certainly was casual, both in manner of dress and comportment; maybe his management style was too casual as well.. Whatever the reasons, his departure provides the City of Sonoma with an opportunity to do something different when recruiting the next City Manager.

During the past 20 or 30 years, city managers have become members of an elite league who, rather like professional baseball players, move from city to city. An entire apparatus of specialized recruiting firms are headhunters, earning high fees to place them in new communities. These candidates themselves are in communication with each other, sharing information and ideas, and opinions about salaries, job openings, and opportunities. Becoming a City Manager provides admission to an exclusive club.

Government jobs, once viewed as a second-tier choice when compared with the business world, now look appealing; as corporate pensions disappeared and job security deteriorated, government jobs became bastions of stability. City Managers may not get stock options but they receive high salaries, great benefits, excellent pensions, and the chance to work in relative freedom as the administrative heads within city government. In our small city of 11,000, Mr. Toy’s salary and benefits neared a quarter-of-a-million dollars. Larger cities pay much more.

We believe this moment provides the City of Sonoma with a choice: use a recruiter to dip back into the roster of rotating members of the City Manager Club, or do things differently – hire an experienced and successful manager from the world of business or nonprofits. City Managers are team organizers, after all, and there are plenty of CEOs and Executive Directors with proven records of success in leading teams.

As government has grown, its responsibilities have been divided among  highly specialized departments with professionally-trained department heads. These heads of Planning, Finance, Public Works, and Building all report to the City Manager, whose job it is to coordinate and prioritize staff efforts in accordance with City Council goals and state mandates. In other words, the City Manager relies on the expertise of others, and to do so effectively must be a trusted and respected team leader. 

It’s often said that government should run like a business, meaning efficiently, fairly, and not at a loss. But government is not a business; its mission is to serve the best interests of residents and the community as a whole, not to maximize profits for shareholders or owners. 

Government is largely a service provider, charged with making sure streets and people are safe, lights stay on, business is conducted smoothly, and our future is secure. Finding someone to lead the team to do that does not necessarily demand previous City Manager experience.

There’s a wide world of successful managers out there, many of whom might welcome the opportunity to be of service to a community. Recruiting from the City Manager Club is not the only option.


One thought on “Running a city

  1. I was employed by the IMCA Retirement System. They provide City Managers portable pensions so as City Managers move around, their pension goes with them. California is a big ICMA state. Most professional public mangers are members. Finance, Police chiefs etc. Maybe Sonoma would be better off with a strong Major form of government. Do away with the City Manager position. A local Major lives in the community and has a vested interest in its well being.

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