Part I of a multi-part series
Recently I sat down with Escondido’s newly ensconced city manager, Sean McGlynn for a wide-ranging discussion of his first weeks on the job and where he sees the future of the city.
McGlynn has been on the job about two months, replacing Jeff Epp, who capped his decades of service with three years as city manager. “I’ve got a lot to learn, right?” McGlynn said. “You know, Jeff was here for 35 years—I’m excited because I’m getting out to build relationships in the community and meet folks. Talk about their opportunities—and the challenges—we face as a community—and that’s exciting for me. I expect that to go on throughout my tenure, but especially during the first year. I’m going to be really looking to the community and community members to give me some perspective.”
McGlynn has visited with the leaderships of several organizations. “One of them is the Center for the Arts, which is our neighbor,” he said. “I’ve also talked recently with the San Diego Senior Foundation. I started a conversation with the Escondido Community Foundation and met with the Chamber of Commerce the other day and have community groups coming up with very specific interests in where we are going. Both in terms of environmental policy, obviously—and housing. I’ve been meeting with a whole variety of stakeholders and community interest groups.”
I mentioned that I attended the recent Downtown Business Association meeting where he introduced himself. “You seemed to be more interested in hearing what they had to say than in telling people what you think,” I pointed out.
“When it comes to where we are going to go as a city and as an organization, the best thing I can do is listen. That is an advantage I have being a newcomer: I’m hearing everything with fresh ears. I’m hoping that advantage will enable me to be able to take a fresh look at opportunities or places we can go as a community. That, to me, is really, really important.”
He added, “Even listening within the organization is important because I have a lot to learn from the staff too, because they are out in the field. Many of them have been working ten, twenty years in this community, so they have a lot to teach me.”
I asked “What is the most common theme you are hearing?”
“I’m hearing a variety of things,” said McGlynn. “One of them is making sure we are addressing the big needs in the community. A lot of those big needs revolve around housing and homelessness—They work in concert together. But making sure we are addressing quality of life issues. I’m hearing that frequently. And frequently addressing what are our basic infrastructure needs. Making sure we have a clean, beautiful city and that we are addressing roadway infrastructure.”
He continued, “We are making sure graffiti is off the walls and this is a fun place, a beautiful place and a future-oriented community. I feel that all of those things are coming up frequently in conversations— and really how do we strategically position ourselves and make sure we are a leader—not just in terms of economic development but in quality of life.”
I asked, “How are you going to pay for all that? Because you’ve got this looming deficit that you have to deal with. I know the federal government gave Escondido something like $40 million but that is a one-time thing. I guess you have that money you can play around with.”
“Yeah,” said McGlynn. “We’re trying to be very strategic—making sure that those investments meet the criteria the federal government has set out for the investments. There are criteria that are for reopening or paying for lost revenue and we’ll be coming out in the latter part of next month or early October with the first pass to bring forward to the council on how we invest those dollars—and making sure we are on the full road to recovery with those investments. I think they are going to be strategic and I hope the community will be excited about where we are going to go.”
I said, “When you say investments, I assume you don’t mean in a hedge fund.”
“That’s correct,” said the city manager. “Those are monies to invest in the community. And that’s not about sending them to a bank and earning interest on them. It’s about how do we stimulate activity in our community and help organizations or parts of the community who may need those monies to help them move to the next phase of recovery?”
I said, “I assume the city council will give you direction what to do with that?”
“That’s exactly what will happen,” he said. “But as you pointed out those are one time monies. The purpose of the fund is to jump start you into recovery. They certainly aren’t ongoing revenue and we’re going to have to get into a conversation with the community about structural issues the city is facing very, very quickly. We’ll be doing a community survey at some point. In the fall we will be bringing back that conversation for the council. I know we have gone through that conversation once before.”
“You are speaking about the one or half cent sales tax?” I asked.
“That’s correct,” said McGlynn “That’s a conversation we are going to have to have but it’s not the only avenue we are going to approach to make sure that we’re running an efficient, effective organization before we ask for any additional contribution from our community.”
To be continued next week.