Alan Webber can be pretty quick on the draw.
When SFR asked the mayor last July about his decision to rehire City Clerk Yolanda Vigil at a six-figure salary, he said she knew a lot about city government and was his choice to help modernize the role of the clerk's office.
Back then, the city planned to ask voters to consider moving city elections to every other November in odd-numbered years. It did ask, and voters said yes. Webber knew that would reduce election-related duties for Vigil.
Vigil, as SFR has reported, makes not just her $100,500 salary, but about $73,000 annually from her public pension. When she retired in 2005, she went back to the same job within months. She's one of the last remaining retirees to be allowed that sweet gig—which is legal, but worth pointing out.
When SFR asked about the good-government aspects of such an arrangement, Webber was honest and said he hadn't considered it. But he didn't see an issue, the mayor said, because of Vigil's expertise and ability to guide the city through its transition from a city clerk's office that ran elections to one that served more as a clearinghouse for city data. Making data sets available to businesses could lead to more innovation, Webber theorized.
With the quick-draw gun out and fired last July, however, there's little evidence that the mayor's innovation bullet has hit its mark.
The city's website is still a byzantine collection of endless lists and links of varying usefulness. There's been no serious public discussion of reform, and an online search of city contracts for website improvements is fruitless.
Vigil didn't respond to SFR's request for an interview, and Webber was uncommonly difficult to reach to talk about any changes that have been made.
It's an odd tack for the mayor, who fashions himself an innovation junkie and likes to make references to his time at the helm of the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company. He's frequently admonished the press corps that "this is what good government looks like" when he rolls out a new initiative or study.
"We're moving in that direction. Probably slower than I would like, but that's true of many of the changes in city government," Webber told SFR from his office late last week, recalling comments from the city manager at the most recent City Council meeting. The manager, Erik Litzenberg, was talking about deferred maintenance on city property. Webber says it applies not just to aging city recreation facilities, but outdated city business practices, too.
He doesn't have much to point to in terms of concrete achievements, though.
Webber leads with the elimination of paper-filled three-ring binders for governing body meetings and senior staff gatherings every week. That's not nothing. Those were big binders, and almost all that paper was destined for the recycling bin.
But it's not the kind of 21st-century-city idea that Alan Webber talks about so often. It's more a symbolic gesture, he admits, that sends a signal that real change is on the way. At least, he'd like it to be.
None of the city councilors SFR contacted about innovations in the city clerk's office responded saying they were aware of major new initiatives that were underway.
Webber would like the clerk's office to work more closely with the constituent services office on "outward-facing" improvements. One of those might be not only providing better data for businesses, as mentioned above, but also "more transparency, so people have access to the data that affects their daily lives."
Asked by SFR what successful innovation would look like for Vigil this spring as he reevaluates her contract, the mayor bristles a touch.
"I don't mean to be rude, but I don't think I want to engage in a contract negotiation through you," he says. He plans to sit down with the clerk as the end of her contract and talk about where she sees the most progress and where the city is moving.
Webber hired Vigil after she oversaw the city's change to ranked-choice voting, a process that was tortured even before the election. Then, results took hours to arrive. The mayor says the clerk shouldn't be left holding the bag for a state law that prevented memory cards from being transported to the clerk's office until the polling place had been closed.
Pressed about his reputation as a manager who wants to see data points and concrete ways to gauge the effectiveness of his administration, the mayor demurs somewhat, but adds that there's a human component to hiring that's more about vision and a shared direction than quantifiable progress.
"I think it's safe to say I have high standards and great expectation about the city's ability to improve and get better," Webber says.