Alan Tandy accomplished a lot in his quarter-century of service as Bakersfield's city manager, and he did it in an era of out-of-control government pension obligations and city services strained by what was, for an extended period of time, one of the fastest growing urban centers in the nation.
There's almost a sense of mission accomplished surrounding his departure as city manager in January. But the new chief executive, whoever he or she may be, will face a list of challenges like nothing Tandy had to deal with at the outset.
Yes, we can and should credit Tandy for a job well done, on the whole, with a list of accomplishments that starts with the completion of the convention center hotel, the skeleton of which was a rusting eyesore some had advocated leveling before he got to town in 1992.
But Tandy leaves city hall with a long list of to-dos and assorted challenges that dwarf his own when he took over — not because he failed to check them off the list, but because they are ongoing and Bakersfield is so much bigger, more relevant and yet more vulnerable than it was when he moved here from Billings, Mont.
As the city council prepares to wade through the 20-plus job applications Dec. 16, the biggest concern should be the economy. It is purring now, along with the economies of California and the nation, but there's a cliff ahead.
Bakersfield can no longer look to oil and agriculture as the secure foundations of its economy and future. Ag is at the mercy of climate change, water availability and increased regulation. Oil is under attack by powerful influences in Sacramento that want to end oil production in California — and, by that, we mean Kern County. A desperate need to diversify the economy of the city and county in a way that sustains and broadens prosperity looms large.
The city manager should be willing and able to kick-start the idea process, bringing thinkers and financiers together to develop new industries, excite innovation and entrepreneurship and build a climate of encouragement. In other words, in addition to the financial and governing aspects of the job, the city manager must have vision and the ability to clearly express that vision. The word "inspirational" strikes me as a trait that ought to be on the city council's check list.
The new city manager should actually like Bakersfield – for what it is, not for what he or she wishes it to be. At the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley, more than 100 miles from the next major city, its residents can sometimes feel isolated, ignored, even inferior. The new city manager should not be a cheerleader — leave that to others — but his or her policies and actions should portray pride and optimism at every turn.
The new city manager should be collaborative. Enough already with this combative relationship with county government. In metropolitan Bakersfield, the city and county have shared problems, needs and solutions. The city manager needs the ability and willingness to work collaboratively with Ryan Alsop, the county's chief administrative officer, and other county heads. Resources are too scarce to duplicate services.
In choosing the right person for this all-important job, the city council can take one of two distinct paths. It can select a candidate with a proven track record of managing a city, as it did with Tandy, the only one of the three finalists in 1992 who had such experience. In that case, choosing a professional city manager paid off. The council can also select a city manager with energy, promise, ideas, vision and perhaps even relative youth. That person may not necessarily have a wealth of experience running a city. Ideally, the selected candidate has both a solid resume and abundant vitality. But he or she may not.
Tandy was just 43 when he came to Bakersfield, and he grew over 27 years as the city grew. He was central to the funding, logistics and construction of Centennial Garden (now Mechanics Bank Arena), McMurtrey Aquatic Center, Valley Children's Ice Center, Northwest Bakersfield Baseball Complex and more. He helped shepherd through the Westside Parkway, which will one day help complete the Interstate 40 cross-country corridor.
The new city manager must pick up where Tandy left off on other projects. He or she must judiciously monitor the spending of Measure N sales tax revenue, see the Thomas Roads Improvement Program's many highway projects through to a timely conclusion, effect a compassionate solution to the homeless problem, and deal with a project that almost (but not quite) predates Tandy's reign: California high speed rail, allegedly due to open its Bakersfield-to-Merced line in 2028.
Here's hoping the city manager selected by the council in 2020 will still be around for that ribbon cutting. Many cities change city managers every two or three years. Most of us don't know how good we've had it with Tandy.
The Bakersfield city manager is arguably the most powerful figure in Kern County — and perhaps 100 miles in any direction. County government officials and state legislators may well argue that point, but Bakersfield comprises fully half the population of a county roughly the geographic size of New Jersey with all signs pointing to further growth. It is the ninth-largest city in the world's fifth-largest economy. So this decision matters beyond Truxtun Avenue. The Bakersfield City Council needs to get it right.