Rick Cole, who left his post as the longtime city manager of Ventura Sept. 15 after losing the support of a majority of the City Council, talked about his departure Friday in a public question and answer session after his address at the fall Speaker Series hosted by the Martin V. Smith School of Business & Economics at Cal State Channel Islands.
He alluded to some differences of opinion with council members but avoided getting into specifics.
“I left for one big reason and one small reason,” Cole told the audience of about 90 assembled for the luncheon. “The big reason was that four City Council members said it was time for me to go, and I respect that.”
He added that the four council members in the majority have been vague about their reasons for wanting new leadership.
“Both sides have not spent a ton of ink in the newspaper explaining why the other one is wrong and I think that’s good,” he said, “and that’s how I would like to hold things.”
He went on to talk about the smaller reason he resigned after eight and a half years as Ventura’s city manager and after an earlier role as city manager of Azusa.
“…After 15 years of being a city manager and having to cut $15 million out of a $95 million (Ventura) budget so we could live within our means, having to shrink our work force by 100 people and then try to go back and do all the things we used to do and do them better, I realized that I’m becoming part of the problem and I need a fresh perspective. I need to step out of the public sector,” he said.
Cole has accepted a position as parish administrator at his church, San Buenaventura Mission.
He noted that he started out as a successful entrepreneur in the private sector, and that if he ever goes back into public service, “I want to go back with a renewed sense of life as people in the private sector call it: the real world.”
“Meeting a payroll is something that most people in the public sector don’t have a full appreciation for just as I think too many people in the private sector don’t have an appreciation for the complexity of trying to balance regulations,” he said.
After the session, the Business Times asked Cole if he had a clash of vision for the city with council members.
“I don’t think it’s a question of vision,” he said. “I think these are challenging times and accountability is critical. So the question is how quickly can we restore capacity to get the job done, and I think the council was impatient and I understand that impatience, so we came to an amicable parting of the ways.”
During his speech, Cole talked about the role of city managers, saying that these officials often find themselves caught in the middle between elected officials who may view the manager as an apologist for bureaucrats and those in the city work force who accuse them of selling out to politicians.
“If (city managers) are decisive and opinionated and seek to be leaders, they’ll eventually come to the end of their career,” he said.
After his appearance, the Business Times asked Cole if he was talking about himself in that line of his address.
“As a society we’re looking for decisive leaders but we often want decisive leaders who agree with us. And if they don’t you have to be willing to pay the consequences,” he said.
Cole’s message at the Speaker series was that it is time to reclaim the honor of public service in America and to reclaim respect for California’s shrinking public work force. He said the public has been bombarded with reports of corruption in government, and polarization in politics has been damaging.
Cole said a sense of shared sacrifice between the public and private sector is needed to deal with controversial issues like rising pension costs. Public employees must embody strong ideals like those of the U.S. Marine Corps, he said, to encourage young people entering the work force to join them in service.
“Our challenge today is to reclaim the high ground and restore public service as an honorable calling,” Cole said. “Nothing is more urgent than to actively resist this destructive mindlessness in Americans’ civic and political life.”