View Full Version : City Manager, planning and project management



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Steve
09-12-2012, 11:02 AM
I'll go one step further.... Cafe is one of several of the best and brightest planners who have left a City Hall where decision making is increasingly dominated by engineers.

Pete
09-12-2012, 11:10 AM
I'll go one step further.... Cafe is one of several of the best and brightest planners who have left a City Hall where decision making is increasingly dominated by engineers.

Quite possibly the biggest issue facing the future of urban OKC, and one that gets little attention.

Spartan
09-12-2012, 11:51 AM
I've also been repeating this line several times, including in front of the horseshoe...

HangryHippo
09-12-2012, 12:22 PM
Who is responsible for this shift? Is it the city planner, someone else who makes appointments, the council, hiring managers?

Pete
09-12-2012, 12:31 PM
The City Manager, Jim Couch, is an engineer and came to work for the City over 25 years ago as a Water/Wastewater Utilities Director.

He reports to the Mayor & City Council and the Planning Department -- and every other City dept. (police & fire, airports, parks, etc.) -- report to Couch.

Couch's right-hand man, Eric Wenger, was hired by the City straight out of engineering school in 1994.

Spartan
09-12-2012, 01:18 PM
Don't forget Clowers, he's the one who hasn't been properly eviscerated on here. Wenger is changing and showing a lot more sensitivity toward urbanism whereas Couch will resist until he is forced to retire or...

TechArch
09-12-2012, 01:18 PM
I work with engineers and they are great people, but giving them power to decide design decisions almost always comes out bad.

Pete
09-12-2012, 01:21 PM
Yes, Dennis Clowers is an Asst. City Manager and is another engineer.

HangryHippo
09-12-2012, 02:09 PM
Thank you very much for the detailed answer, Pete.

So Jim Couch is the one that doesn't seem to be holding the city to a higher standard on a lot of things?

Spartan
09-12-2012, 02:12 PM
Absolutely Couch.

Pete
09-12-2012, 02:14 PM
Couch is by far the most powerful person in OKC... Way, way more than the mayor or any of the city councilmen.

Dubya61
09-12-2012, 02:19 PM
I'm sure this has already been covered, but how is Mr. Couch retained. Election? or some other process?

Spartan
09-12-2012, 02:24 PM
The council reviews his employment on a rolling basis and I believe just recently extended it. It's always just a back slapping palooza anyway.

HangryHippo
09-12-2012, 02:34 PM
Well, this explains a lot of things. Can't we do better when selecting a city manager?

metro
09-12-2012, 02:35 PM
Couch is by far the most powerful person in OKC... Way, way more than the mayor or any of the city councilmen.

Unfortunately you're correct. The man needs to go IMO.

Dubya61
09-12-2012, 02:37 PM
Do we believe that any of the council members want something better? How can he be the long pole in the tent when we elect people to carryout our desires? Maybe I'm just naive, but if the City Manager is a product of the council, the council needs to know that they're producing a product undesireable to their customers.

Spartan
09-12-2012, 02:37 PM
Well, this explains a lot of things. Can't we do better when selecting a city manager?

They would most likely promote a replacement from within anyway but we can definitely do better. OKC can be the best middle tier city in the world with one of the most innovative city managers out there if it wanted to.

Steve
09-12-2012, 02:38 PM
Couch is a good man - someone I respect, and I didn't intend to imply otherwise. Policy is still set by the city council. Couch takes his directions from the council. If they wanted a better balance between engineering and planning, they could make that happen pretty quickly.

Pete
09-12-2012, 02:41 PM
Couch is very well-liked and highly regarded by most of the current City Council and the mayor.

He's very politically astute.


Apart from the planning piece, there are serious issues in the way projects are budgeted, managed and reported. We keep going way over budget and way under-delivering what was promised.

In watching City Council and other meetings, I've been very disturbed by how Couch presents information and responds to direct questions.

Dubya61
09-12-2012, 02:47 PM
Pete, if it's something that can be discussed here, what do you think motivates Mr. Couch? Is it simply job preservation? Does he aspire to what Spartan would consider mediocrity? Is there a bigger picture here? Do you think he believe's he's happy being the power behind the throne?
I can see that there is some difference of opinion from people whose opinions i respect, and I'm not trying to incite anybody here or start a hate-fest. I am genuinely ignorant of the specifics. Can you elaborate in a manner suitable for this media?

HangryHippo
09-12-2012, 02:57 PM
The problem is there are often a lot of people that are otherwise good men that aren't good at what they do, and Couch seems to be one of them. The things that Pete mentions about planning, budgeting, managing, reporting and continuous under-delivery of what is promised are problems that have continued to plague our city for quite some time. If a better city manager can stem the rising tide of planning disappointments in this city, then someone (Couch) needs to answer for the continued letdowns and disappointments.

Is Couch responsible for the cluster that is our airport? Did any of the work on that microcosm of poor planning go through him or his office?

Pete
09-12-2012, 02:58 PM
I think Couch is in way over his head and also is trying to only deliver good news.

So, things get way out of hand early in these projects (due to lack of expertise and oversight) and then rather than just being upfront, key information is held until it's too late for much intervention, and presented in a way that is extremely manipulative. As an example, TIF revenue shortfalls are continually used as an excuse for the massive cut-backs on P180, yet in total there is more money available for that project than originally budgeted.

All this should also be laid at the feet of the mayor and City Council. It is their job to ride herd on these things yet -- apart from Shadid -- they allow all this to happen.


In completely fairness to Mr. Couch, he has a very tough job and there is no doubt his staff is spread too thin. But he should be honest about this and make sure he has the resources he needs to get the job done.

adaniel
09-12-2012, 03:01 PM
What's the possibility that numbers and budgets the city runs on large projects can start being put together by outside consultants?

Pete
09-12-2012, 03:09 PM
They use outside consultants to help with the budgeting and planning. In fact, when there was a TIF shortfall for Project 180, it was the outside consultants that were thrown under the bus.

I challenge anyone -- including City Council -- to track the budgets on these projects. It's impossible because they constantly change the budgets as the projects proceed.

When a change order is presented to Council for approval, they always state "we have the money budgeted". But what they don't say is that cumulatively they are way over budget and there are lots of other things that were part of the plan that will not have funding due to such changes.


They need to implement a standard report against budget, and then re-forecast as needed -- and report against that as well. I've never, ever seen big dollar projects managed without this yet it's either not done by the City or they don't share those numbers with Council or the public.

They also need to have a process of reviewing and making changes to their procedures as they run up against these overages. But since they never report against the original budget and don't seem to take any responsibility for the over-runs, how can anything ever change??

Pete
09-12-2012, 03:14 PM
BTW, notice how Devon Tower came in on time and on budget?

That project was every bit as big and complex as Project 180 or anything from MAPS but it was professionally managed by people who knew what they were doing and knew how to report as they went along.

There were lots of adjustments of course, but they still met their goals because they communicated back to Devon and they worked together. What they didn't do is wait until half the building was half built and 90% of the budget had been already spent and then tell them there were problems.

I've seen some of the reports Hines used and they are incredibly detailed but also do a great job of explaining any variances.

Pete
09-12-2012, 04:07 PM
Is Couch responsible for the cluster that is our airport? Did any of the work on that microcosm of poor planning go through him or his office?

Mark Kranenburg reports directly to Couch, as did his predecessor, Luther Trent. Couch hired Kranenburg.


Couch is also one of the trustees on the Airport Trust.

HangryHippo
09-12-2012, 04:21 PM
Well then, that removes all doubt from my mind that Jim Couch should be let go immediately.

Pete
09-12-2012, 04:26 PM
In case anyone wondered about the power and authority of the City Manager:



http://www.okctalk.com/images/pete/okcorgchart.jpg

Teo9969
09-12-2012, 04:39 PM
...wow...

that's just insanity.

LakeEffect
09-12-2012, 04:48 PM
Is Couch responsible for the cluster that is our airport? Did any of the work on that microcosm of poor planning go through him or his office?

I'm curious about this one. What issues do you have with the airport?

Pete
09-12-2012, 04:55 PM
Didn't mean to imply that I thought the City Manager had too much power, just pointing out the massive scope of responsibilities.

Also to underscore that this structure requires a very sophisticated person in this role, one with a very broad base of experience and leadership.

LakeEffect
09-12-2012, 05:02 PM
Didn't mean to imply that I thought the City Manager had too much power, just pointing out the massive scope of responsibilities.

Also to underscore that this structure requires a very sophisticated person in this role, one with a very broad base of experience and leadership.

I agree with that. I also agree with Sid. I personally feel much more comfortable with a City Manager format than a strong Mayor format.

Larry OKC
09-12-2012, 08:47 PM
What Steve & Pete posted is true...at least officially "on paper"....BUT while Mr. Couch supposedly gets his marching orders from the Council, he is the one often making recommendations to that same Council...Pete used the word "manipulative" and it is apropos....in other words, he presents them with what he wants to do. While I don't disagree with a strong City Manager setup, there needs to be direct accountability to the residents, and with the position, there is little to none.

soonerguru
09-12-2012, 09:09 PM
I'm struggling to understand what incident precipitated this post. Confused. My position that Couch has to go is well known here. Put another way: did I miss something that led to Steve's initial post, or was this thread created from another one?

soonerguru
09-12-2012, 09:10 PM
Who -- or what -- is "cafe?"

Pete
09-12-2012, 09:31 PM
One of the posters on this thread.

ljbab728
09-12-2012, 09:36 PM
Don't forget Clowers, he's the one who hasn't been properly eviscerated on here.

Why, other than the fact that he has an engineering background? I have a personal interest in knowing that because he was a fraternity pledge brother of mine in college.

Teo9969
09-12-2012, 09:51 PM
I'm struggling to understand what incident precipitated this post. Confused. My position that Couch has to go is well known here. Put another way: did I miss something that led to Steve's initial post, or was this thread created from another one?

This thread originated in another thread and Pete moved it here.

Steve
09-12-2012, 10:01 PM
I'll go one step further.... Cafe is one of several of the best and brightest planners who have left a City Hall where decision making is increasingly dominated by engineers.

I never meant for my message to be the start of a new thread.....

zookeeper
09-12-2012, 10:17 PM
I like the Manager-Council administration as well, but it must not become a situation where the council members are feeling pressured to go along and basically work for the CM rather than the other way around. There is far less accountability in the manager-council setup and a strong mayor system puts the power structure in elected positions across the board. Many say that the manager-council form keeps politics out but that's not true, it's just all behind closed doors. There are pros and cons.

Buffalo Bill
09-13-2012, 08:22 AM
I never meant for my message to be the start of a new thread.....

And I thought this thread was about a nativity scene to be constructed in the re-designed Civic Center park.

LakeEffect
09-13-2012, 08:35 AM
Why, other than the fact that he has an engineering background? I have a personal interest in knowing that because he was a fraternity pledge brother of mine in college.

I don't think Clowers deserves much blame for anything at this point. He was a good boss and knows how to run engineering, but I'm not sure he knows how to manage 1000+ people like he does now. He's "new" in the City compared to most others, and he allowed and encouraged a lot of change when I was in Public Works.

HangryHippo
09-13-2012, 10:18 AM
I'm curious about this one. What issues do you have with the airport?

Cafe, I will certainly respond to this once I have time to finish a proper post that adequately details my frustrations with the airport. It may take a bit as I'm kind of swamped lately, but I'll get around to it.

Skyline
09-13-2012, 12:34 PM
In case anyone wondered about the power and authority of the City Manager:



http://www.okctalk.com/images/pete/okcorgchart.jpg


After seeing this it is obvious that Okc needs TWO City Managers. One for inner city/urban areas (this would be a new position) and let Couch continue to manage the outer/suburban areas of Oklahoma City.

Teo9969
09-13-2012, 01:44 PM
After seeing this it is obvious that Okc needs TWO City Managers. One for inner city/urban areas (this would be a new position) and let Couch continue to manage the outer/suburban areas of Oklahoma City.

That was my initial thought as well. That's simply too much responsibility for a single individual...especially as OKC continues to grow at an incredibly quick pace. Yes I know he has people that work for him that are between him and the 18 departments under him, but I think it would be more efficient to break those 18 departments either in half or in thirds. A triumvirate of city managers would make sense to me.

Teo9969
09-13-2012, 01:48 PM
Also, I wouldn't divide it between urban/suburban. I'd probably divide it into something like infrastructure (transit services, transit services, parks and recreation, etc.), personnel (city clerk, fire, police, personnel, etc.), and one other category.

LakeEffect
09-13-2012, 02:01 PM
Also, I wouldn't divide it between urban/suburban. I'd probably divide it into something like infrastructure (transit services, transit services, parks and recreation, etc.), personnel (city clerk, fire, police, personnel, etc.), and one other category.

That's the whole point of the Asst. City Managers. Couch is just supposed to be the higher integrator to make sure they all function together. Whether he's successful at that or not is another question.

LakeEffect
09-13-2012, 02:02 PM
Pete, looking at that chart, it doesn't have the Asst. City Managers listed. It also lists Neighborhood Services, which no longer exists. Page 44 of the current budget book has a new chart, but still without Asst. City Managers for some odd reason.

metro
09-15-2012, 12:01 AM
Steve, any chance we can get a more scrutinizing article written on this growing topic of concern, we'd all like to see more accountability to the citizens from the City Manager.

kevinpate
09-15-2012, 03:31 AM
The solution for a more accountable city manager is to hire (elect) council folk who will demand the accountability on behalf of those they serve.

If the citizens fail to go to the polls and/or otherwise elect weaker, go along types, then the alleged leaders will instead likely be led by their chief employee, if only for a want of actual leadership from above.

If the citizens instead elect strong committed folk to the council, then their elected representatives are capable of directing their chief employee to get the citizens' priorities done timely and on budget, or by golly make it clear why it did not happen.

When the former, instead of the latter, leadership gets elected over and over again, the citizens have themselves, and only themselves, to blame for their less than stellar selections at the polls.

ljbab728
09-15-2012, 09:16 PM
Of course there has to actually be a better choice available to vote for and that isn't always the case.

Pete
09-16-2012, 10:42 AM
Of course there has to actually be a better choice available to vote for and that isn't always the case.

This is very true.

Even with all the recent council changes, only Shadid seems to be willing to challenge anything and his reward is generally disdain from the others.

There is a huge amount of group-think in these meetings, which is obvious when you watch them.


Also, the whole council meeting set-up makes it very difficult. Every week they have dozens and dozens of agenda items, and when there is something from Couch & Co., they give some very high-level presentation, assure the group everything is right on track, and ask for approval. There is lots of talk about Couch making sure he has enough votes on key items before the meetings, so any dissenting opinion is almost always squelched.

Praedura
09-16-2012, 11:12 AM
Should the title of this thread be 'City Manager ...' as opposed to 'City Manger ...'?

(unless Manger is an abbreviation for 'Anger at the Manager' :wink:)

Spartan
09-16-2012, 05:31 PM
Why, other than the fact that he has an engineering background? I have a personal interest in knowing that because he was a fraternity pledge brother of mine in college.

Well I just mean the fact that he's definitely the highest-ranking city engineer, in an age in which engineers definitely have pushed planners out of the discussion, that hasn't gotten much spotlight. I'd bet that's why he showed up, instead of Cuch or Wenger, at the FBB town hall...

Spartan
09-16-2012, 05:32 PM
Steve, any chance we can get a more scrutinizing article written on this growing topic of concern, we'd all like to see more accountability to the citizens from the City Manager.

LOL.. you want Steve to get fired?

Urban Pioneer
09-17-2012, 04:05 PM
Very few people, particularly younger people, are in the position to make the sacrifice for a $14,000 a year job and sustain themselves. No matter your opinion of the current counselors, until the pay is raised, we will continue to have older retired/semi- retired, or completely independently wealthy candidates.

And that is even before one discusses the fundraising involved to run for the office.

If we want younger leadership, diversity in leadership, or people who can simply focus all of their attention as appropriate to Ward issues, then we have to make running a worthy job without the distraction of worrying how to deal with one's personal expenses. Let's be real, a nearly billion dollar budget needs better individual Ward oversight and representation.

Pete
09-24-2012, 10:15 AM
From Steve's most recent chat.

This is a very disturbing trend and underscores the need for change at City Hall:


Q. Are you concerned by the recent exodus seemingly by so many city planners? What are some ways that public works, transit and planning can better integrate their efforts?

A. Yes. The city has lost almost all of its most respected, innovative planners in the past year. I've talked to some of these folks. They say they are frustrated by the unprecedented dominance of decision making at City Hall by engineers. They say they feel like planning has been diminished as a consideration on public works projects, MAPS and other big initiatives.

The city manager, the assistant city manager, public works director and MAPS 3 coordinator are all engineers - and they are the ones calling many of the shots on hiring of MAPS 3 consultants, land use, etc.

Pete
09-24-2012, 12:01 PM
BTW, in tomorrow's City Council meeting Couch & Co. will be presenting a MAPS 3 update.

Want to bet there is absolutely no mention of actual spending versus budget?

catch22
09-24-2012, 12:18 PM
Perhaps one of the members who can make it tomorrow can ask the council for an update on the budget. Keep pushing them for accountability until they start doing it.

Pete
09-25-2012, 04:05 PM
So, here is one of the reports to be submitted before the City Council and MAPS Board. MAPS project managers report to Jim Couch.

Notice what's missing? That's right, no budget numbers at all, except to a positive variance to Target for Sales Tax, and even then they left out the figure for Total.

In effect, this report is completely useless. What does it tell us? Have they spent a lot of their total budget? Are they on track or not?

http://www.okctalk.com/images/pete/maps3report.jpg