Community Editorial: National Search for a City Manager

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On Tuesday, five Santa Ana City Council members will propose to hire a new city manager. The new majority on the City Council represents a shift in the discourse. The members are proposing change, transparency and increased accountability to evaluate and assess the current leadership in the city.

The people of Santa Ana deserve this and much more.

A national search to find the best person for the job of city manager — and hopefully a new chief of police in the near future — is a good first step.

But let’s take this a step further. Let’s dream and think the impossible possible.

Imagine a Santa Ana where leaders would be chosen, not because he or she is or is not friends with certain politicians and investors, but rather because his or her leadership measures up to the needs of the people of Santa Ana.

A recent report on Orange County cities titled “Healthy Places, Healthy People” (2012) places Santa Ana as the city with the second highest unemployment rate (14.1%); the highest in poverty among adults (15%); the highest in poverty among children (25%); and the highest in crowded living conditions (34.1%).

At the same time, in education Santa Ana scored last in children attending preschool (32%) and last in percent of students graduating high school in four years. Only 85% of our students graduate in four years. We have the lowest percentage (51%) of residents with a high school diploma.

In regards to health, we have the lowest percentage of children and adults with health insurance and the lowest percentage of teens with proper body weight.

These are only some of the priorities our city leadership should be measured by.

Santa Ana is indeed seeing the beginning of transformative change as it builds toward transparency, accountability and increased democratic participation.

The Sunshine Ordinance came from years of community organizing and leadership development. It also came from residents and organizers coming together to study the planning process. Their research ultimately found that the current planning system is broken and needs fixing.

Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development’s “Rubber Stamp Report” documents that external power and money control local planning decisions. The findings show us that in order to counterbalance this situation we need to build power locally.

The Sunshine Ordinance is the beginning of a new way of making decisions — but not the end.

Continued progress would be to reflect on different ways of building leadership and choosing leaders that are responsive to community needs.

What would this process look like? What are the records of those whom we want to lead in positions such as the city manager? Is balancing the budget the No. 1 priority, or do words like social justice, human rights, and democracy come into the discussion?

Transparency and accountability are only the beginning of a larger victory for a more just Santa Ana.

During the upcoming years, the Latino, Mexican, working and progressive community should fight for change at the root.

Unlike the quick positioning of Latinos in front of the camera and on stage by both the Republican and Democratic parties, real change comes, as it always has, from bottom-up leadership, grassroots education campaigns and continued and constant struggle.

Carolina Sarmiento is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board Member and Director for the Santa Ana-based Centro Cultural de Mexico.

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