City Hall Turmoil: Mike Jordan Decries "Small Vocal Group... Looking for Heads to Scalp"
SB City Council member Mike Jordan brought his brand of plain-spoken candor to Newsmakers on Tuesday, pushing back against efforts by some colleagues, business and development leaders to purge top City Hall executives.
"People are full of crap thinking that, if you're unhappy, now is the time to start jettisoning executive team members, or department head members of the staff," Jordan said in an interview about the politics and policies of current city controversies.
"I mean really, what the hell is your plan?" he added.
Jordan's remarks offered the latest glimpse at a political drama that has played out largely behind-the-scenes at City Hall in recent months, amid an effort by developer Ed St. George and some commercial property owners to oust Community Development Director George Buell and secure four council votes to fire City Administrator Paul Casey.
Buell announced his resignation last month, as political pressure mounted over chronic frustration with permit, inspection and enforcement operations in his department, a move that came just days after council member Oscar Gutierrez called for his ouster, during his own appearance on Newsmakers.
It was an unusual public declaration for a council member to make, because such hiring and firing decisions rest with the Administrator under the charter, and Jordan made clear he considers the incident to have crossed an important line.
"I found it shocking, both on a personal level and on a procedural level," he said of Oscar's comments. "I can't imagine being an elected official and breaking through that level, making public comments about public employees while they’re still employed...It borders on illegal and it certainly was inappropriate."
While acknowledging problems with Community Development -- "we've lost a sense of customer service" -- Jordan said Buell's departure now means that the department will be without a leader during the six to twelve months it will take to search for, recruit, hire and bring a replacement to Santa Barbara, and probably another several years before a new executive is firmly established here.
"I would propose to you that I would much rather, personally – not my call – but personally, would have much rather worked with the incumbent over that three year period and tried to make (him), whatever the shortcomings were, much more effective," he told us.
"What you’re seeing is a small, very vocal group, development oriented, looking for heads to scalp," he added. "There are council members who are susceptible to that type of chatter."
Underlying the issues with Community Development, Jordan said, is broader, heightened tension between the city's traditional slow-growth policies, which the department long has enabled and enforced, and more recent efforts to jumpstart construction of more housing and fire up business development in a local economy that was lagging even before the pandemic shutdown:
"The silly secret...is, yes there are things to improve, yes, the development community really wants to improve them, and are very vocal, to the extent of sometimes being obscene. But for every one of those, there are three white, middle-aged voters in San Roque, the Mesa or those types of districts that are happy about the way Santa Barbara processes growth.
"They are slow growth, no growth, they like the look of Santa Barbara and they don’t have a problem with that. And that’s the balancing act, of trying to work with both of those sides and (it) doesn’t work well when you’re trying to jettison people, cause a vacuum and then just see what comes into that vacuum without a plan."
In a wide-ranging discussion of other issues, Jordan also defended Casey's management of the city; talked in detail about the unusual development agreement between the city and developers of the controversial 711 North Milpas project and affirmed his commitment to build a new police station with Measure C funds.
While saying he won't run for mayor next year, he expressed sympathy for Mayor Cathy Murillo in the face of community opprobrium dealt her amid the city's overlapping emergencies; offered a glass-half-full take on the future of State Street and declared the need for local government to become more "nimble" in using "adaptive management" techniques as it tries to navigate the current era of historic, interlocking global and national crises.
He also had some choice words for those who refuse to adapt their behavior to the demands of the pandemic.
"I'm so frustrated with people that are ignoring the simplest of things...staying apart even when you go out...and declining to put a mask on," Mike said. "It drives me bananas."
Click below to watch our entire conversation with Mike Jordan and the podcast version is here.