Welcome to 2020. It’s a new year, a new decade, and the challenges looming for Bakersfield and Kern County could not be greater.

The most important decision Bakersfield City Council members will make in the next few weeks is the selection of a new city manager to replace longtime City Manager Alan Tandy, who will retire on Jan. 10.

The man or woman selected to lead the city will have a profound impact on Bakersfield’s future and on the lives of all of its residents.

Pick wisely. Select a city manager with not only proven technical skills, but also an open, collaborative and visionary spirit, as well as the ability to organize and inspire the city’s workforce and community to reach for a bright and productive future.

Bakersfield’s city manager is just one of two employees directly hired by elected city council members. The other is the city attorney. Under Bakersfield’s form of government, all city departments respond to the city manager. 

The powerful city manager post, which has been filled by Tandy for 27 years, is responsible for keeping Bakersfield moving forward along a fiscally sound and efficient path. Tandy has done that spectacularly well.

When other California cities fell into a financial abyss, including bankruptcy, during the Great Recession a decade ago, Tandy’s hard-nosed competence and dogged determination pulled Bakersfield through some really tough times. And during his nearly three decades at the helm, he kept the city growing, and public amenities and infrastructure expanding. The quality of life improved for all residents. 

We should expect no less from the next city manager. While technical competence must be demanded, a new city manager also must understand and appreciate Bakersfield, which can be a bit quirky at times.

We are proud of our Dust Bowl roots and country western twang; our generations of immigrants who continue to provide diversity and cultural richness; our rough-around-the-edges reputation; and the ag and oil patch dust that collects on our feet. When outsiders poke fun, folks around here take offense.

When city council members interview about two dozen people who reportedly are in the running to replace Tandy, will those applicants understand and appreciate what makes Bakersfield unique – and, yes, maybe a little quirky?

Will they be able to address the looming unfinished business?

  • Just a few weeks ago, Bakersfield’s police chief resigned to take a job with the Kern County District Attorney’s office. The chief was in the midst of a massive recruitment of new officers to expand the police force. One of the new city manager’s first jobs will be to select a new police chief.
  • Bakersfield and Kern County’s homeless problem continues to grow. Will the next city manager be willing to work with Kern County officials to find common, effective solutions?
  • Historically, the region’s two key economic engines have been agriculture and oil. But water supplies, government regulations and labor shortages threaten agriculture. And statewide pressure is growing to curtail Kern’s oil production. What will the next city manager do to diversify Bakersfield’s economy and create more jobs?
  • Bakersfield’s retail sector is struggling, with the former East Hills Mall languishing as an abandoned eyesore and several downtown storefronts sitting empty. What will the next city manager do to address these challenges?
  • City voters in 2018 narrowly passed Measure N, which added 1 cent to Bakersfield sales tax to fund government services, including public safety. Will the next city manager spend the money wisely?
  • Metropolitan Bakersfield is home to the majority of Kern County residents. There is a pressing need for the city and county to better coordinate the delivery of public services in the metropolitan area. Will the next city manager be willing to work with county officials to eliminate redundant and wasteful services, and promote efficiency?

Selecting the next city manager is not simply a process of checking the boxes on a resume. Each council member must ask themselves: Does the man or woman have the “right stuff” and vision to lead Bakersfield into its future?