The position of city manager dates from the Progressive Era. Progressivism was an ideologically diffuse movement; while some progressives sought to use government power to restrain big business, others essentially sought to move government further away from popular pressure, hoping that such an approach would allow leaders to achieve the public good.
These progressives embraced the cause of efficiency as a path to reform, seeking to shield day-to-day decisions about city affairs from popular influence. In their minds, most municipal problems had fundamentally non-political, rather than political, solutions. It would be best, therefore, for cities and towns to establish a council/city manager system, where executive decisions regarding running the city would be made by someone specially trained in municipal government.
The council/city manager system is one of the few legacies of the Progressive Era to survive to the present day, though it currently exists mostly in towns or small to mid-size cities.
I recently spoke with two city managers with more than two decades’ experience, one from the
Generally, the two managers noted, a city manager would have no role in any criminal investigation, beyond receiving periodic updates about cases from the police chief. (One noted that Baker has a law degree, which might make the
I asked both managers if fears about financial losses from future civil litigation against the city could justify a manager shading the truth in a public report. Both said no. Beyond the obvious ethical problems with such a course, the city manager has an obligation to protect the image of his or her city, and misleading the public is bound to produce a backlash.
Trying to deflect
Baker, a graduate of
Founded at the high tide of the Progressive Era in 1914, the ICMA (International City/County Management Association), with more than 8000 members, describes itself as “the premier local government leadership and management organization.” The ICMA ethics guidelines require city managers to “keep the community informed on local government affairs” and to “be dedicated to the highest ideals of honor and integrity in all public and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the respect and confidence of the elected officials, of other officials and employees, and of the public.”
It’s difficult to see how Baker’s handling of the lacrosse case fulfilled either of these ethics provisions. Liestoppers had a comprehensive review of Baker’s poor performance on both the lacrosse case and as city manager in general. But two items especially stand out.
The first came on May 10, 2006, when Baker gave an interview to the N&O. The city manager asserted, “I’ve had a lot of conversations with the investigators in this case and with officials at Duke, and at no time did anyone indicate [Crystal Mangum] changed her story. If that were true, I’m sure someone would have mentioned it to me.”
As we know now, Mangum never told law enforcement the same story twice; Baker’s portrayal of the evidence was, therefore, false.
Only two explanations exist for his statement: (1) in the highest-profile case in the city’s history, he allowed police to mislead him, causing him to mislead the public—calling into question his competence; or (2) he willfully misled the public—calling into question his ethics.
Baker’s second highly dubious act came in another N&O interview; this one occurred last Saturday. Matt Dees reported,
A legal document filed March 23, 2006, ten days after the party, listed every white lacrosse player as a suspect. Baker said in an interview just after Chalmers’ May 11 report was released that everyone was considered a suspect at the start of the investigation. But by the time the April 4, 2006, photo procedure was conducted, he said, that was no longer the case.
“That you’re a suspect in the beginning of an investigation for even one day doesn’t mean you’re going to be a suspect in a week or two weeks,” Baker said.
Much like Baker’s May 2006 assertion about Mangum’s consistency, his May 2007 claim about the status of the investigation is false.
There was no evidence, anywhere in the discovery file, that the police had eliminated any of the 46 white lacrosse players as suspects before the ill-fated April 4 lineup.
As with his May 2006 statement, only two explanations exist for Baker’s May 2007 statement: (1) in the highest-profile case in the city’s history, he allowed police to mislead him, causing him to mislead the public—in turn calling into question his competence; or (2) he willfully misled the public—in turn calling into question his ethics.
If one idea unified Progressive Era thought, it was a fear that public officials would abuse their power to subvert the public good. That, alas, has been the central story of events in