Elk Grove Leadership - What We Saw is Not Always What We Got

By W. Morris |

Here's a great idea for a master's thesis in psychology - What possesses an otherwise "nobody" to run for local office? Is it the lure of becoming a household name becoming locally famous? Is it the sudden rush of lobbyists that will flock to them like they're a rock star? Or, heavens to Betsy, did they respond to the inner call to serve the public?

In recalling the early campaign statements of our current leaders and looking at their recent actions, I have sadly concluded that our local leaders did NOT run because of their inner calling. Instead, those other reasons I have suggested are probably closer to the truth. Sadly, it appears that our current crop of local leaders started out with articulate purposes for running, but over time, their message became convoluted, distorted, or just plain permanently lost. 

None of our leaders apparently ran for office with a vision or a calling to public service. Years of quotes compiled from numerous interviews would reveal that most of them ran initially on some simplistic, superficial, hard to quantify issue (i.e. greater transparency, stronger neighborhoods, law and order, etc.), but once elected, strayed from their initial message. 

In the case of Gary Davis, he came to us via the Natomas school board and he cited the good schools and quality of life for his reason for moving.  In other interviews he revealed that he saw the opportunity to unseat an unpopular council member while securing a job as an advocate of charter schools and began his 10-year run on council. Davis originally pushed for greater organizational accountability and pushed for the "Sinclair Report", which was an organizational audit of the city. Davis was all aboard for a lean, mean local government and livable community.

Fast forward ten years and somewhere along the line, Davis came up with this idea that Elk Grove had to be a destination city and sports would be the primary attraction for achieving that. Of course he was prodded by voting parents to push the youth sports agenda, so in effect, he could kill two birds with one stone. Thus began the endless stream of economic feasibility reports and dream projects that are barely above stillborn status and may yet die after he leaves office in January.

After seeing the city lose out to other cities in the regional transportation grants because of our city's dismal record of urban sprawl lack of jobs, Davis modified his agenda to encourage more jobs and executive housing. Jobs only became a focus when the city was denied regional transportation grants and LAFCo rejected expanding the ultimate boundary. 

In the case of Steve Detrick, he originally pushed for greater cost efficiency and to rein in extravagant spending. He also claimed he would be the voice of the little people who would otherwise be ignored and needed to be protected from large scale retail projects impacting their neighborhoods (i.e. Walmart in his own). Upon being elected, he publicly requested that the City Manager provide the council with a report outlining the pay and benefits package for all of the executive management team. The fiscal conservative then evolved from a self-funded campaigner to essentially becoming a successful ATM machine that only receives deposits, all FPPC violations aside. During his watch, he voted to approve the Gil Moore project which placed a fast food drive-thru lane and gas station car wash behind single family homes.

In the case of Darren Suen, I can find no specific "pre-appointment" references to what he hoped to accomplish as a council member. He has cited his past experience working for home builders as an asset to serving on council and has waited a long time to take Jim Cooper's place. In this case, he was spared having to campaign for his spot, but keeping your face in the right place at the right times evidently kept him relevant. Since being appointed without having to face the scrutiny of an election, he has kept his head down low and avoided wedge issues. I call him the covert candidate, or the invisible man! Stay out of the limelight and you'll stay in office--not a hallmark of a visionary or leader I would say.

In the case of Pat Hume, he makes no bones about it--he is in office to represent the development interests and the old guard property owners. Once the SOI landgrab is complete, I would venture to say he will say that his job is done and will leave office. In interviews, he has indicated no political aspirations beyond his current role.  

And finally in the case of Steve Ly, he would like to say he is on the fast track to political success. He would have you believe he got there on his past accomplishments and skill, but his campaign proved that ethnically-derived money and glossy brochures (and plants) can get anyone elected. It also helped that Gary Davis offered his coattails and together they rode the jobs campaign pledge. The source of his money is not as important as what will he do once he is in office for awhile. The timer clicks away, regardless of whether he is Vice Mayor or Mayor. I have yet to hear him articulate a vision or goal, other than make his Hmong supporters proud of him (as evidenced by the numerous celebratory Hmong YouTube videos I have watched). 

My original question restated is "what possesses an otherwise nobody to run for local office"? As an astute follower of local politics, I honestly don't know the answer to that. Some would offer that their egos need feeding. Others would conjecture that they must be doing a good job or else they would not have been elected. One thing is for sure-our leaders could do a better job if we only voted to increase our sales tax and vote them all a full professional salary. I don't recall these being mentioned in their early campaign fliers?

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