A lose-lose situation

Consultants advise policy makers to seek win-win situations, where each side or multiple sides of an issue or a dispute walks away with a smile.

Greek philosophers called this phenomenon synthesis, German philosophers refined this concept and called it the dialectic and modern parliamentary democracies are built on it: where opposing points of view find common ground through reasoning and argument.

Then we have the city of Hollister, or to be specific, the city government of Hollister.

In its present incarnation, any possibilities of finding new common ground have been foiled by the fog of the war between the factions. Even the mayor calls it dysfunctional.         

For a brief moment, perhaps lasting only a single evening in early October, five elected officials in Hollister—four representing separate districts and a fifth representing the city as a whole—shared a common vision and acted together to hire someone to implement that vision.

They interviewed six city manager candidates, and within a day agreed to offer one of them, Paul Eckert, the position. Then, slowly, in a gradual, inexorable, painful manner, it fell apart, incrementally but spectacularly. Pick any metaphor you like: a crack in a windshield, a crack in a frozen pond, a train wreck in slow motion or a breach of a rain-soaked earthen dam.  It wrecks. It breaks and falls to pieces.

That’s what occurred the past six weeks at City Hall. In their failure to hire a new city manager, the Hollister City Council members displayed their best and worst qualities. This was not a win-win situation. There were no winners. Only losers.

Let us count the ways.

First, there is Eckert, who quit a job where he was loved and respected, endured the humiliation of being offered an interim contract when he was told he would be getting a full-fledged contract and suffered two weeks of personal attacks. The council majority that reneged on his hiring agreed to pay him $25,000, as a kind of insurance policy against a lawsuit.

Then there is that council majority—Vice Mayor Marty Richman, mayoral candidate Honor Spencer and Councilmember Carol Lenoir—which decided to look past a bitter rivalry with the minority—Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilmember Rolan Resendiz—to embrace a more professionally driven future. Then they watched it spin out of control as revelations of the baggage of sexual harassment charges and a big legal settlement in Eckert’s past—brought to light by the Free Lance—proved too much for some of their most fervent supporters. The majority found itself in the odd position of being chastised for choosing Eckert, praised for pushing him out, then vilified for paying him off.

Then there’s the minority. The mayor and Resendiz came so close to joining hands with their council rivals and finding common ground with Eckert, until a legacy of mistrust returned. Perhaps they had been too quick to act and claim victory, or too naïve to think that it would be possible for any candidate to get past prior sexual harassment allegations, even if dismissed or unproven, in the Me-Too era.

The biggest losers of the two-week soap opera are the citizens of Hollister, who deserve better from their elected and appointed representatives. The opportunities for redemption for all five council members are narrowing, and their remaining abilities to agree on another city manager pick as a unifying force will be tested in the remaining weeks of 2019. At year’s end, it’s up to them to choose to be winners, or losers.

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