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Council May Fume, but Dever Makes Long Beach Work

September 28, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — The subject of the closed-door City Council session was John E. Dever, and the volume increased as the meeting wore on.

"You could have heard the yelling on the next floor," one council member recalled.

City Manager Dever is widely regarded as the catalyst for Long Beach's remarkable economic recovery and an innovative star in his profession--the president, in fact, of the 7,500-member International City Management Assn.

But Dever is also a lean, disciplined ex-Marine lieutenant whose laconic, self-assured and sometimes intimidating style has made him many enemies in the 10 years since he was hired to fix this city.

And at that personnel session last month, attended only by the council and the city attorney, most of Dever's council bosses were not altogether pleased with how he is doing his job.

Lines of Communication

The two new council members, Evan Anderson Braude and Ray Grabinski, wanted more information more quickly from the manager. Edd Tuttle also thought there should be a "better line of communication" between the Dever and the council.

"Right now if I don't ask the right question, I don't necessarily get the answer I'm looking for," Braude, an attorney, said later. "That may be all right in a court of law, but in this position I think you have to have a complete openness."

Braude was furious a few days later when he found out from constituents, and not from city management, about a riot at the Long Beach Arena. The arena is in Braude's district.

Wallace Edgerton, who early this year said that some of his colleagues were afraid of the manager, once again voiced his concerns. Jan Hall, who had joined Edgerton and two others in a 1982 move to oust Dever, was absent. She said later that council-manager cooperation still needed some work but had improved.

"John Dever is not a Mr. Personality Kid," said Mayor Ernie Kell, who, along with Councilmen Warren Harwood and Thomas Clark, is a staunch Dever supporter. "But that's not what we hired him for. We hired him to perform a function, and I think he's doing it very well."

Job Performance Meetings

In response to others' concerns, however, Kell scheduled meetings with Dever for each of the next three months to review his job performance. The manager usually has a job review once a year.

There had been talk of a formal job warning for Dever. But most council members said they only wanted to clear the air. And after the first of those meetings on Sept. 16, critics seemed appeased.

"It was a tough session, but it wasn't a screaming session," said a council member, who requested anonymity. "We bared our souls, you might say. And I think it might have done the trick."

Braude said specific suggestions for improving communication included daily phone calls from council members to Dever, or vice versa. Dever even offered to provide the council, which is a part-time body, with computer terminals in the members' city hall offices, so they could have access to much of the city's information bank, Braude said.

"I feel better about our ability to communicate with each other," Hall agreed. "But when you have a meeting like that, it takes some time to tell."

Meeting Survived

So, it appears that Dever had again been called in for a frank discussion and survived to say little about it.

He has had good luck in such meetings. In July, 1982, one city official recalled, "the council called a meeting to pound on him and he came out with a contract. Job security. He's a very astute guy." That contract, still in effect, would give Dever six months' severance pay if he is fired.

Dever said he would not comment on personnel sessions. Dever said he had heard nothing of the fiery Aug. 12 meeting and had seen no deterioration in his relations with the council.

"I think one councilman has expressed some concern about the future management and leadership of the city. . . ," Dever said. "But I haven't made any kind of decision about that."

Dever, 63, a city manager for 35 years, would receive nearly half of his $94,511 annual salary if he retires, an option he says he has not considered. Several other city management officials, however, said Dever would have lucrative options if he chose to leave.

"Managers always have the option of making a hell of a lot more money in the private field," said William Hansell, executive director of the international city managers organization. " . . . And I think it's safe to say that John Dever is probably the most respected city manager in America."

An old friend, Carl Husby, a former finance director in Long Beach, said Dever has told him he "always keeps his bags packed" so that he will not have to compromise if a city council makes unreasonable demands. Of that, Dever said: "You can't adjust values and principles to changes which occur on the basis of temporary politics. You have to adjust style and what you're doing on that basis. . . . , but you can't adjust ethics with the kind of vagaries that come and go with politics."

Down-the-Middle Approach

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