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Smith issues statement regarding State of the City address



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April 18, 2014
Editor's note: Junction City Manager Gerald Smith has released the following statement to the Daily Union concerning his State of the City address presented last week. This letter will appear in the Daily Union in the coming days. Smith's full letter is below.

In the State of the City address I stated my belief that Junction City is greater than merely the sum of its parts, and spoke about the City's municipal history as it related to the periods between 2006 and the present. There are challenges before us today, and challenges that await us beyond the horizon.

I also made a series of recommendations that the City Commission should evaluate and consider as we proactively act to take measures to protect the community from economic fluctuations that are outside the control of the City. These measures would have no direct impact to the property tax, nor increase to the Junction City consumer's sales tax burden.

Additionally, I proposed making internal adjustments within the professional ranks of our City's staff by repeatedly stipulating the need to maintain an appropriate complement of professional personnel within the respective disciplines. Opposed to this position is the practice of maintaining the bare minimum number of experienced professional staff to run and administer the entire operations of the City.

Many will recall that the latter system empowered a single individual who was by no means professionally trained, nor an experienced City manager, but rather a well-respected and admired individual with training in municipal finance who fancied himself as a wheeler and dealer as he administered many of the critical aspects of the municipal operation.

The Mayors and City Commissioners that presided over the community during that City Manager's tenure honestly and truly believed, along with many in the community, that he (the City manager), was the genuine deal. He lived in the County and later lived in the City; it was believed that he would do right by the City. The Commission at that time believed that their City Manager was serving their community admirably.

The auditing firm that was tasked to audit the financial operations of the City compounded management problems by consistently producing generic and artificially clean audits that failed to identify obvious and blatant deficiencies that clearly existed. Had the deficiencies been noted and disclosed, the Commission would have had the opportunity to the see the signs that all was not well in Junction City.

Please understand that this is not merely an indictment of an individual who may have been an exemplary finance manager. It is an indictment of the practice I spoke of at the State of the City which supports the establishment of the less than or bare minimum standard(s) with regards to maintaining professional staff which is necessary to appropriately maintain and manage the community from unnecessary risk.

The assumption by the community leaders was that talents in the area of financial management would equate to the talents necessary for a successful City Manager. The management theory, otherwise known as the Peter Principle, suggests that just because someone is good or even exemplary in one area it does not necessarily correlate that they will be equally as good or proficient in the other — which was proven to be true in this case. However, because his talents where within the areas of finance, he eventually drew upon those skills when it became clear that many of his decisions failed to materialize.

He began to engage in a series of deceptive practices, and misguided the governing body on an ongoing basis until such a time that such practices could no longer conceal the reality of the truth. While such behaviors were clearly deplorable, reprehensible, and highly unethical, his actions apparently failed to rise to the level of criminal behavior and he moved on leaving the community and its leaders to pick up the pieces.

Throughout the entire State of the City address, I repeatedly referenced the theme emphasizing the importance and need to move to a more professional model of operation if we are to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, mistakes that can be prevented by not hiring untrained or inexperienced staff. However, I spoke of this professional model in generic terms and made comparison to the previous practice that brought forth the previous City Manager.

A number of people interpreted my use of the phrase "professional management" or "professionally managed community" to mean something other than what it was intended to mean, The repeated use of the phrase was branded as being condescending and unprofessional by the community in general, and possibly targeted to various individuals within the community, this is false.

As our staff will all attest, I have a recurring practice of intentionally repeating myself on particular critical points that I wish to get across, which has become a running joke as from time to time someone will remind me that I'm getting to that magical number of the repetitively used word, phrase or statement and the point is made and understood. If I'm guilty of anything, it is certainly of that.

To clarify, the references to "professional staff" and/or "professionally managed (City/community)", referred to the improved model of internal staffing over the previous model which allowed an inexperienced individual to become a City Manager. My point was that by adopting minimum standards for professionally staffed positions, the City would consistently be assured that the Community is being managed by a professionally trained and experienced staff at all positions, and would ensure that the mistakes of the past could never reoccur.

My message was spun and falsely characterized to suggest that I was targeting external groups and/or individuals, or the entire community in general which is far from the truth.

I know that over the past few years, the residents of Junction City have had to endure a number of unfortunate mishaps and I am genuinely sympathetic and disheartened over that fact. I understand the need and the importance of providing reassurance that things can and will get better and a rehash of this information is frustrating. However, the State of the City address was presented in the manner providing full disclosure to all residents, and knowing that recommended solutions are forthcoming as we prepare to go forward.

Much of the general information covered within the State of the City Address was known by a select group of engaged individuals, but the message was not tailored to that audience alone. Many citizens want to understand the entire history; they spoke to me about their desire to learn more, and I stated at the outset that in order to move forward, we must first take a step back to understand how we arrived at our current position.

Nevertheless, for those who genuinely feel that my comments were condescending, and/or even unprofessional etc., I ask for your forgiveness in failing to more appropriately and succinctly communicate my message.

My decision to come to Junction City was not based on any desire to be critical or judgmental, but rather to convey my support and commitment that I am up to the challenge to see the City through this journey and to make a difference.

So, if need be, I am willing to step aside in order for the City Commission to move forward with the message that deserves your attention, and not the distraction that has risen around the perception as originally perceived. One simple fact remains, while we're all in this together, your City Commission, nor I, can do it alone! Thank You!

-Gerald Smith

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