Monday, March 17, 2008

On second thought

I may have been a little harsh on R. Leon Churchill Jr., who is leaving his job as city manager of Reading, Pa., for the rolling hills of California.

I thought the timing of Churchill's departure for Tracy, Calif., was a bit odd considering the City of Reading is facing a fiscal crisis.

But after considering editorials in the Reading Eagle and the Tracy Press, I've come to the conclusion that serving as a city manager is a thankless job. No matter how good you are at the job, you're at the mercy of elected officials.

For all we know, Mr. Churchill told Reading Mayor Tom McMahon that the city was facing a potential budget mess in 2008, but McMahon decided to keep it to himself because he was running for reelection.

As the Reading Eagle pointed out in a Sunday editorial, Mr. Churchill is probably the best city manager Reading has had in a decade.

"Churchill did a fine job while he was here, but the nature of the business involves finding a person every few years," the newspaper writes.

In the end, city managers have to report to elected officials. They have to follow a chain of command. They can advise elected officials, but can't force them to act. I can see why the job can become frustrating and why city managers tend to move on to their next job after a few years at the current job. You can only bang your head against the wall so much before you get a splitting headache.

So I'll join the Reading Eagle and wish Mr. Churchill the best in his new job in California. It's a big pay raise and I'm sure the climate in California is much better than Pennsylvania.

But he should take note of the editorial in the Tracy Press that says politics is just as big a problem in California as it is in Pennsylvania.

"We find it curious that Churchill, in an interview with the Eagle, said he was looking forward to a city with less political infighting than what he found in his Pennsylvania town of 80,000," the newspaper writes. "Tracy, in case he doesn't know, has plenty of budget issues and plenty of conflict. And instead of one boss — the mayor — he will have to answer to a five-member council."

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