Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Patrick Baker, City Manager

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. Durham, with a population of more than 200,000, is unusually large for a council/city manager type of government. As we all have discovered over the past 14 months, many of Durham’s problems are—in the end—political, and therefore poorly suited for resolution through apolitical, technical means.

I recently spoke with two city managers with more than two decades’ experience, one from the Midwest, the other from the Northeast. Both said that they didn’t want to critique any specific aspects of Durham City Manager Patrick Baker’s performance, but agreed to answer some general questions on what the ideal behavior of a city manager should be.

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 Durham city manager believe that he is qualified to intervene on criminal matters.) While a manager is bound by a code of ethics to do what he or she believes is correct, even if the City Council believes otherwise, managers ideally want to avoid situations where they lose political support from a majority of the council. Political rivalries between city managers and mayors, in their experience, were quite rare.

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 Durham’s civil liability would seem the strongest reason for the Baker/Chalmers report’s claim that defense attorneys were to blame for Durham police and prosecutors seeking indictments, without probable cause, against three demonstrably innocent people. Even for the Wonderland that is Durham, that argument was so bizarre as to stand out.

Baker, a graduate of Wake Forest Law School who started out as a personal injury lawyer, came to his position inadvertently: his predecessor, Marcia Conner, had resigned under pressure. Baker, then assistant city attorney, was asked by the City Council to serve as interim city manager and five months later was offered the permanent position. Before taking over the Durham slot, he had no experience as a city manager. In retrospect, the Council might have looked for someone with a demonstrated track record of competence.

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 Durham since March 2006. I suspect it would horrify Progressive advocates of the city manager idea to see that Baker contributed to—rather than prevented—the subversion.


Anonymous said...

It should be interesting when Baker is put under oath and when he responds to depositions. Civil suits are urgently needed.

Anonymous said...

Austin, Texas has a population of about 700,000 and tries to get along with a city manager and a city council. It may not be possible to govern Austin with any kind of government, but I see no reason why some other system would be better. The same is likely true for Durham.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Dallas also has a council-manager form of government for its 1.25 million residents. K.C., you need to get away from the right coast a little more. Nevertheless, keep giving Durham hell wherever you find yourself.

Gary Packwood said...

Quoting Baker

...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.”
That pretty much is the answer to the question. He has gone round the bend and thinks he is an elected official...and probably still does.

We have a strong mayor form of government here in Houston, Texas for that reason.

We can imagine a city manager who is supposed to be an expert on sewer, water, roads and waste removal beginning to think the s/he is elected.

Baker has moved the pea under the political shells so many times over the years, he doesn't remember where the pea is...anymore.

The defense attorneys must be watching this was fascination.

Is there anyone in Durham who can get the issue of an external investigation on council's agenda?

Good summary KC. Thanks

Anonymous said...

I am very well acquainted with my city's manager (population just above 200, 000). I also knew two of his predecessors quite well. Individuals in this profession tend to have backgrounds in more technical areas, such as Urban Planning, or in Government, Public Administration, and the like. As good managers, they also tend to leave legal matters to the City Attorney.

Baker strikes me as an individual who suffers from a belief that he can do it all ... a poor trait for any manager.

From all indications, he is neither a competant city manager, a competant attorney, nor an ethical person. But this is Wonderland ... why am I not surprised?

Why is it that the Durham City Attorney has never even been mentioned during the entirety of this sad episode? I don't think any of us probably know his name. He must visit the same teflon factory as the Durham Chief of Police.

This is a partial job description from the Durham City Attorney's website: "The City Attorney is appointed by the City Council. The City Attorney's office provides legal counsel and representation to the Council, City Manager, departments of City government, and City-appointed boards and commissions." [My emphasis added].

To quote Butch Cassidy, "Who ARE these guys?"

One Spook

Anonymous said...

Let's not put too much stock in the fact that Baker is a law school graduate. Even highly ranked law schools (among whose numbers include Baker's) have to meet certain criteria when it comes to admissions.

I think it is best left at that.

Unknown said...

hah what a do-do,,,many conversations...how nice to get him under oath about all these conversation

Ryan Paige said...

I've never lived in a city that didn't have a Council/City Manager form of government (I live in Dallas now).

I would guess the best City Managers are the ones that stick to the day-to-day operations of the city in relative anonymity.

I would be hard pressed to tell you the name of the current city manager here in Dallas.

Anonymous said...

JLS says....,

Sorry Professor Johnson but the two city managers were blowing smoke at you about the reason for the so called report. Of course Baker should be concerned with the liability of Durham and the two city managers you spoke to would be worried about it too were their city in a similar situation. That goes hand in glove with putting the city in a good light, ok make that the best light possible.

Baker has been wrong throughout this, particularly with his comment last May when misleading the public mattered. But not airing Durham's dirty linen in a report that no one was going to trust to be complete anyway was a time he was not wrong.

The only investigation any of us are going to believe is an indepedent one. Anything Durham learned by their investigation can be handled internally still. There was just no need to make Durham look bad and increase Durham's potential liability with that report.

Anonymous said...

Even in law school and West Point, someone is at the bottom of the bell curve.

Anonymous said...

So we have a DA wandering into the police department and a taking control of the investigation, a city manager straying into the legal realm and having, "a lot of conversations with the investigators in this case and with officials at Duke", and a majority of the city council asking for an outside investigation. It doesn't seem like there is much trust between officials in Durham City government.

Anonymous said...

I am a former councilmember from Austin. I have worked with several city managers. One reason the council/manager system survives is that it can perfectly avoid anyone catching any flack. The City Manager only works for the Council and as such is only conscious of pleasing four votes on the Council that could get him fired. And only he is aware (and keenly aware) of who on the Council are his supporters).

In this way when something goes wrong Councilmembers can deflect responsibility on staff and no one has to answer for anything. The historical description of the council/manager form of gov. would be incomplete without noting how this system allows local goverment to hoodwink the public as it has in this case.

Ultimately only a resolution introduced by a councilmember to hire their own special investigator will ever produce a genuine understanding of what went wrong.


Anonymous said...

Baker's in the N&O again this morning, and guess why?

He wants a tax increase for Durham.

Michael said...

I live in a place with a council/manager with about 30K residents and it has its problems in that there can be favoritism in business that the public doesn't see. We had this problem in the past. With the internet, though, information travels faster and wider.

We're considered a large town. Most places larger have a Mayoral form of government. Which, of course, has its own set of problems. The other thing about a councel-manager form is that it tends to be less expensive.

We've always hired town managers from outside using a professional search. A Mayoral form would result in a local manager.

Anonymous said...

In most cities, the main job of the council and city manager (or mayor) is pandering to the police and fire department unions at the expense of the taxpayers. Those departments take up about half of a city's budget, and are political power centers unto their own. Woe to the politician that crosses either of those unions.

In this case, the manager has a certified rogue cop in his employ. Gottleib is THE main co-player with Nifong of what everyone understands was a railroad. The Durham council should be bombarded with reminders of that; the words "Gottleib" and "rogue" should be publicly stated ad nauseum in the next week or so. The concept should sink in after enough people use it during council sessions, letters to the editors, and other correspondence.

People "get" Nifong as a rogue - now it is imperative to tie Gottleib to him inextricably in their minds. An intense, focused attack on him is the best strategy to getting some of the other objectives accomplished. Low hanging fruit, yet no one speaks his name to the city officials.

Anonymous said...

Did anyone attend last night's Durham City Council meeting?

Anonymous said...

Looks like Next Thursday is when they will designate an independent board for an investigation.I am amazed that Thomas Stith and Diane Catottia are opposed to the investigation.

Maybe they are concerned that this will further encouraqe civil suits.


Anonymous said...

Carolyn says:

Corruption has its own language - 'there' but not 'there'. It's like a greased pig, you can never grasp hold of it as it squeals and wiggles out of your grasp. Makes me nauseous to read Baker's squeal about whether a black prostitute lied when she accused 3 white Duke players of raping her:

"...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."

"Indicate"? "IF that were true.." "I'm SURE.." "WOULD have MENTIONED..." That slippery language never once comes out and states solid facts, makes a stand - it just slips and slides through your fingers as you try to grab at truth - leaving you with nothing but the sound of them laughing as they leave you with fingers stinking like Crystal's panties.

Durham needs a bath.

Gary Packwood said...

It would be helpful to know if Durham makes use of the resources available via the Association of Government Auditors.


There is a peer review program and audits types include both financial and program audits.

Monitoring the audit function is an important part of Mr. Baker's duties and responsibilities.

LarryD said...

Well, Baker's curriculum vitae shows he really isn't trained for the job, so it shouldn't be any surprise that he fails to meet the standards, he might not even be aware of them. Though some of it is just common sense. Which never seems to be very common in either politicians or lawyers.

I speculate that Durham's city council wanted someone who'd be 'pliable', so they didn't bother to look for someone with real city manager credentials.

Anonymous said...

"Why is it that the Durham City Attorney has never even been mentioned during the entirety of this sad episode? I don't think any of us probably know his name. He must visit the same teflon factory as the Durham Chief of Police."

Playing "Devil's Advocate" here ...
What would a *competent* city attorney do in this situation?(Other than start looking for a new job, of course.)

I don't think talking to the press would be a big part. I do think talking to his clients, begging them to behave sensibly would be. But we wouldn't see that happening, and these don't seem like the kinds of clients who would actually listen.

So really the only information we have about the city attorney is that he's smart enough to know when to keep your head down and your mouth shut.

By normal standards that's no great achievement, but by Durham standards it makes this guy a genius.

Anonymous said...

As a Durham resident, I can say that the city has spent far too much time and money celebrating 'diversity' when it would have been nice to have celebrated Competency.

The encouraging thing is that the worst of the race baiters from the county commisioners and the school board have actually be voted out so maybe something good will come from this after all.

I know with some reasonable certainty (based on conversations with the indiduals involved) that Patrick was REPEATEDLY counseled to stop call press conferencess and commenting on the case. Much like the Nifongerator, he fell in love with the cameras and it took attention away from other failures of his administration (failing to report LEAD levels in water, failures around waste management, corruption/waste in public housing... this list goes on)

Keep up the good work KC!,


Anonymous said...

State public utilities commissions are also holdovers from the Progressive Era, as are state provisions for ballot initiatives and referenda. Actually, a fair amount of the Progressive agenda is still in place, it seems to me.

Anonymous said...

Baker is political and that is the problem.

The real question is what political pressure was exerted on the PD to push this investigation along and who did it.

The rats are upsets.

Anonymous said...

Do the residents of Durham not see that these people are making a laughingstock out of their city much like Curtis, Lubiano, Neal, Chafe, etc. are making a laughingstock out of Duke?

The residents of Durham not only get to have their city be the butt of jokes, but will likely have the added bonus of paying for that privelege. But I don't understand some things.

We're talking about potential police and govt corruption at a very high level. Christ, a downtrodden unreliable hooker makes some unsubstantiated allegations and the streets are filled with protestors. The black community is in an uproar.

But when we see abuse of police power and screw ups and cover ups we get........silence.

People of Durham, what the hell is going on down there? Where are your priorities? The people who run your cities are screwing up royally and you're letting them do it.

Perhaps once you feel the effects of the lawsuits that messrs. Finnerty, Evans, and Seligman are going to drop on your doorstep you'll feel the same outrage as many of the readers of this blog.

"Good things are happening in Durham"

Anonymous said...

KC say: "The council/city manager system is one of the few legacies of the Progressive Era to survive to the present day"

Um...that's worse revisionism than Brodhead's view of his behavior in the Lacrosse case.

How about the entire modern US Monetary system

The Income Tax

Women's sufferage

The Land Grant Universities

Most of the US law in due process and commerce through the Supreme Court work of Holmes and the Taft court.

The National Park System and the modern conservatism impulse

The safe food and drugs laws

and on and on....

KC, sometimes I think you may just be ready to join the Duke faculty yourself.

Anonymous said...

How do folk thing all this money is going to be collected from a Durham jury? Many of the Durham citizens are mad, mainly, that they were made to look foolish. I think the jury will pick the side they like best - the home grown instutions,

LarryD said...

1:35:00 - the lawsuits won't be in a Durham city court, they'll be higher up the hierarchy. State court or higher. Precisely because a jury made of Durham taxpayers, or even just residents, is likely to be protective of their own.

Anonymous said...

I am a Durham resident and have some knowledge of the inner workings of the City's government.

A previous writer characterized Patrick Baker as "pliable". This was a generous assessment of his capabilities. I think it is more accurate to call him completely unskilled.

As an Assistant City Attorney, he was responsible for managing an employee relations case. Baker passed on a $19,000 settlement telling his bosses (the City Council) that the case was solid. As a result of his recommendation the employee was fired.

Here's the outcome as reported by the Herald-Sun:
The city of Durham will pay $390,000 to a former Housing Department employee who recently convinced a federal jury that she was fired wrongfully for raising questions about a troubled small business loan program. Under a settlement announced Monday, Ava Hinton will get $90,000 in back pay, plus $162,500 for the emotional toll the firing took on her. She also will receive about $5,500 in city retirement benefits.The city also will pay Hinton's attorney $118,080...

So lets consider some of Baker's other successes as City Manager:

A fire at the City's Yard Waste Facility. It was later determined that this facility was operating without a permit. Baker claimed no knowledge despite numerous reports submitted to him and his assistants.

This facility was ultimately closed. What happened next, Baker forgot to instruct staff to stop charging residents the $60 yard waste fee. Residents learned from the News & Observer that their yard waste was comingled with regular garbage and sent to the land fill.

After ducking this issue, Baker's next success was the Lead in the Water fiasco. The City conducted numerous tests and determined that there were excessive levels of lead in certain areas of the City. In fact one young boy was treated for lead poisioning. These test results were never reported to the State. Baker defended the clear violation of state law by claiming that the reporting requirements were unclear.

Lastly, lets consider Baker involvement in the Lacrosse case. He clearly crossed the line as a City Manager. In his former position as assistant city attorney, he worked closely with the police department defending officer liability claims. This past involvment and his arrogance were a toxic mix when it came to the lacrosse investigation. My guess is that Baker could not help inserting himself directly into the investigation hence allowing Chief Chamers to retire while still on active duty. It will be interesting to learn the true extent of Baker's involvement once the lawsuits start flying.

So why does a City the size of Durham hire someone with no experience as their City Manager. The answer is simple, he is not really the City Manager. The Mayor really functions in this capacity allowing Baker to implement his decisions. It also provides the Mayor with a convenient foil to be blamed when things go wrong.

Hope this helps to provide some insight into the wonderful City of Durham.