ANAHEIM — On the corner of James D. Ruth's desk is an audiocassette tape titled: "When God Doesn't Make Sense."
It was sent by a local friend who knows the 56-year-old city manager is still struggling with the loss of his 28-year-old son, who died last summer while battling a rare and painful disease.
"That's why I love Anaheim," said Ruth, his eyes moistening with tears as he pointed to the tape. "I've got a lot of wonderful friends here and a lot of wonderful support."
At the same time that he has struggled with this very personal trauma, Ruth has also been successfully juggling his professional workload, advancing several major projects that promise to revitalize the city's economy and ailing infrastructure.
Among them have been the two most important items on the city's public agenda: the construction of its $103-million sports arena, which recently attracted a new professional hockey franchise as a likely tenant, and bringing the $3-billion Disneyland expansion to the city in a bidding war with Long Beach.
"I thank God that I have this job," said Ruth, who has been the city manager since May, 1990. "It's kept me occupied. . . . If the job didn't have as many challenges that require this amount of energy and time, (my son's death) would have been even more difficult."
In business terms, Ruth is the CEO of a half-billion-dollar organization. He's responsible for 2,000 employees and 18 departments, all the while balancing the demands of a City Council that often sees things from a purely political perspective.
All city manager jobs are tough, especially during recessions, but only a few managers confront the challenges that Ruth has in Anaheim. He is responsible for the largest Convention Center on the West Coast, the stadium where the Los Angeles Rams and California Angels play and the only city-owned utility company in the county.
"I doubt that there is a city in the United States that has the complexity of Anaheim," said Councilman Bob D. Simpson, who was city manager before Ruth. "This is a can-do city."
And, like the city, Ruth embraces that "can-do" spirit as the city's top administrator, said more than a dozen colleagues, residents and friends interviewed in recent weeks.
Fullerton City Manager James L. Armstrong, who twice worked for Ruth in Anaheim, described his former boss as a "fighter, a go-getter . . . someone who enjoys a challenge."
"He's one of those people who doesn't like to hear why you can't do something, he wants to know how it can be done," Armstrong said. "I think the way Jim handled the arena is an example of how he overcame amazing odds and obstacles and put it together."
Considered by some an unwise and costly endeavor, the arena has recently shown signs of becoming a financial plus.
Even Ruth acknowledges that it was a financial risk to build an arena before having a commitment from a professional basketball or hockey franchise to play there. He and most council members, however, believed in 1989 that the gamble would eventually provide substantial revenue. Ruth, at the time assistant city manager, was the city's point man on the arena project.
Critics, however, labeled the arena a boondoggle. They said the city had made a financial blunder by promising in 1989 to pay $2.5 million annually to its stadium partners for eight years if no hockey or basketball team moved here.
"It hurt a little," he said. "But I never equivocated, never lost faith."
Ruth and the city's partners in the project--Ogden Corp. and the Nederlander Group, which will manage the arena--continued to look for tenants.
In early December, the city's gamble finally began to pay off when Disney announced that it had purchased a National Hockey League expansion team, with the intention of making the Anaheim Arena its home ice.
"A lot of hard work went into that," Ruth said. "Now, we are savoring a great victory. . . . I think if you have faith and believe in that can-do attitude then there are no obstacles that you can't overcome. The greatest deterrent (to progress) that we have in society is people not believing in themselves."
Another victory claimed by the city is its wooing the Disney Co., which in December, 1991, decided to expand on the West Coast by building next to Disneyland, rather than creating a new theme park in Long Beach.
Though Anaheim won the competition between the two cities, Disney officials even today caution that there is much to discuss before it actually commits to construction. The main issue, Disney officials say, is the project's economic feasibility. Disney has reportedly asked for as much as $1 billion in public support for the project. What Anaheim's obligation will be is not clear.
Some critics have linked Disney's buying an NHL team to the expansion project, saying it is an effort by the entertainment giant to improve its negotiating position with the city.