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Incoming City Manager Wows Locals : Hankla's Style to Be Open, Communicative, Yet Tough as Nails

February 01, 1987|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — For the third time in two weeks, this city's next chief administrator had made a public appearance to let the locals look him over. In the process, he delivered messages not included in the text of his speech.

City Manager-designate James C. Hankla's luncheon audience, the International Business Assn. of the Chamber of Commerce, thought they knew their man. His career had flourished, after all, during a 20-year stint in Long Beach government.

But following Hankla's seamless, 30-minute oration on national, state and regional competition for new business, Thomas Teofilo, president of the business group, said: "Wow! Simply wow. That was fantastic."

Teofilo, a shipping company executive, said later that he had been struck by the scope of Hankla's knowledge of economic development and of the worldwide forces Long Beach must understand if it is to keep companies here and recruit new ones.

"He brought up so many points. It energized me," Teofilo said. "He's coming to Long Beach to say, 'Wake up, you've got to protect what you have.' "

In the speech, Hankla alluded to his own experience after leaving Long Beach in 1980--first as head of a Virginia economic development commission, then as director of Los Angeles County's Community Development Commission and now as the county's chief administrative officer.

As a result, community activist Luanne Pryor said she was left with another impression. "Jim Hankla's saying, 'I'm somebody you have to take seriously,' He is a tremendous force . . . and it's going to be very interesting to see how he works with the council."

City Manager John E. Dever, who retired Friday after a decade in Long Beach, had his most serious problems with the council because he kept too much to himself and, although hired to implement council policy, was too great a force in setting the course of the city, council members have said.

Open-Style Communicator

Hankla's open style clearly is different from that of the tightly wound Dever. And unlike Dever, he promises to go knocking at council members' doors with information and not wait for them to come to him.

However, the 47-year-old Hankla, who dresses in blue blazers and gray slacks, can be stiff and careful. He measures his words. He declined to be interviewed at his home, he said, because one son was moving and the place was a mess.

"It was not the image I wanted to project," he said.

He cultivates an image of the over-achieving hometown boy with deep roots, the family man with two Eagle Scout sons. Of the organized optimist, the social scientist problem-solver, the humanist who is tough as nails.

He reads professional journals and newspapers to relax at the end of 14-hour days. And if he ever doubts himself, he does not let on.

"I'm very bullish on my ability to pull this off," Hankla said of his new job. "I have a very, very healthy self-image."

A great strength is his "ability to analyze information very rapidly, to take input from lots of different sources and come to the right conclusions virtually all the time."

The right conclusions, he added, are those that work.

Hankla comes back home to Long Beach with ideas and "a vision of where I'd like to see the City of Long Beach in the future," he said.

He sees an international city and maritime force--a city with a vibrant 24-hour downtown and rejuvenated neighborhoods. It is small enough to solve big problems and big enough to lure some business from the economic powerhouses on its flanks, he said.

Still, the true test of Hankla, council members said, may not be his force of personality or his clear vision, but how well be communicates with them and how faithfully he carries out their desires.

Mayor Ernie Kell said Hankla is keenly aware of Dever's problems and will avoid them.

But, when asked about a recent Hankla speech on the importance of preserving Long Beach's historic buildings, which are threatened by implementation of a city earthquake ordinance, Kell said:

"(City managers) have to be careful they don't try to set policy. He's not over the line yet. But it's a fine line. If I recall, that's what got the city manager of San Diego fired, going out and setting policy the City Council wasn't attuned to."

Kell, a retired commercial developer, has said that historic buildings must be economically viable if they are to be preserved and that he is not convinced local government should become financially involved.

Statements of Philosophy

Hankla explained that his recent speeches were general statements of philosophy, "but philosophies are always conditioned by reality."

His philosophy about historic buildings is "never trade something good that's old for something bad or mediocre that's new." But that does not mean that every good, old Long Beach building can be saved, he said.

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