Garrad Marsh offered some bold plans for Modesto shortly after he was elected mayor 14 months ago. He was riding high after winning a tough runoff campaign against fellow Councilman Brad Hawn.
Marsh hasn't had a big win recently, however.
The mayor is finding it tough to sell his council colleagues, other community leaders and some residents on his big ideas, such as annexing Salida or raising the sales tax to put more police officers on the street. Just two weeks ago, the mayor came up on the short end of a 6-1 council vote on how vigorous the city should be in demanding developers mitigate the loss of farmland.
Good leaders need optimism and confidence, and Marsh has ample amounts of both. But he's not demonstrated that he's willing to be a member as well as the leader of the team known as the City Council, and it has hindered him in advancing his goals.
Some quiet conversations about Salida's future were already under way when Marsh used his 2012 State of the City address to proclaim: "We need to explore the annexation of Salida. The Salida Plan area holds the best long-term potential for quality job-producing business and industries."
Marsh made a splash with that, but he also prematurely antagonized those who like Salida the way it is. Then the city and county agreed to split the costs of a study with two options Salida remaining unincorporated or Salida annexed to Modesto. In retrospect it's obvious that the study also should have looked at the feasibility of Salida incorporating as a city.
Annexation opponents rallied quickly and effectively, leading the town's Municipal Advisory Council to come out against annexation, politically forcing Stanislaus County Supervisor Terry Withrow to adopt that position.
Marsh still believes he can educate Salidans as to the financial advantages of annexation and the financial impossibility of incorporation. We don't think they're open to persuasion at this point, even if annexation is the best alternative in the long run. If anything, they've become more entrenched against annexation and the mayor. Furthermore, Marsh's approach and some of his comments have seriously irritated county leaders.
The city and county continue to share one common interest the potential for business parks and job creation along Kiernan Avenue. Today we seem to be looking at two alternatives, neither great:
1) Two city and two county representatives few enough to avoid a Brown Act violation meeting behind closed doors to broker a deal to let development proceed; and 2) The city entertaining proposals from land owners in the county for spotty development and limited annexations.
Marsh convened community leaders in December and again in February to talk about public safety, chiefly the city's problem with increasing crime.
Participants at that second session favored better intervention programs and strong measures against gangs. But when it came to the question of pursuing a sales tax increase to hire more officers, the audience was far less receptive, evenly divided between those who strongly agreed and disagreed. There was an audible gasp at those numbers.
Yet, Marsh forges ahead. It appears likely he will persuade a majority of the six council members to put a tax measure on the November ballot not necessarily because they favor a higher sales tax but because they support the argument that voters should get to decide.
Marsh contends that the city is hampered in its efforts to attract employers because of its troubling crime issues, and therefore the sales tax increase should come first and economic development will follow.
Some business leaders contend that the city needs to promote economic development first, which will increase the tax revenue needed to pay for additional officers, making a tax increase unnecessary.
The city is using an outside firm to survey a sampling of city residents on public safety and other customer service issues. We acknowledge the need for such a survey aka poll because public meetings tend to draw only a few and often the same people. On the other hand, the $25,000 cost for the survey is in itself controversial, providing an early reason for critics to oppose any tax increase.
This is what we wrote a year ago: "Marsh's first State of the City speech offered a good mix of details and big- picture thinking, of realism and optimism. His challenge, of course, will be to enlist council support for his bold ideas and then turn them into achievable plans that others individual citizens, other agencies and the private and nonprofit sectors will get behind. That's the hard part."
Today, there's no doubt Marsh still has vision, passion, intelligence and tenacity qualities essential in a good leader. But he seems to want others to simply fall in line behind him. The mayor needs to spend more time listening, consulting and collaborating with other community leaders and with residents. Over the long run, that's how big things get accomplished.