I served as City Manager for the City of Novato for almost seven years, from 2009 until 2016. During that time my family lived in Novato and my daughter went to public school there. I not only worked for the city, but my family and I became members of the community.
I am submitting this statement extremely reluctantly. It is something I would have never considered at any other time in my career, and I certainly hope to never feel the need to do so again. I no longer live in Novato and have nothing to benefit from involving myself in Novato politics, but I care deeply about democracy at the local level, and I still want to see the community of Novato thrive. Novato residents need to know how badly their city is continually damaged by the disruptive and unproductive conduct of Councilmember Pat Eklund, who is once again running for re-election on the upcoming November ballot.
I resigned as City Manager because of Ms. Eklund’s behavior on the Novato City Council. Councils and staff of Novato have worked for decades to keep her destructive actions in check. Simply ask any present or previously serving Council member. Having spoken to all my predecessors in the position of City Manager, I know that those who served while Ms. Eklund was on the Council also left because of her. She is profoundly manipulative, disrespectful of others, and completely obsessed with her own self-promotion, all while portraying herself as an effective public servant. She simply makes being City Manager, or any staff position that interacts with Council, a relentless nightmare and, ultimately, an impossible task. There are hundreds of examples, some small and some extremely complex. Here are just a couple.
Like any organization the City relies on email to get business done. Repeatedly, in public and private settings Ms. Eklund would excuse her failure to know about an issue or to respond or act by claiming she did not receive the relevant email. It became such a continuing issue that I implemented a return-receipt email system so that staff could be sure that she received emails regarding city business. She refused to cooperate in using the system. City technology staff even offered to travel to Ms. Eklund’s home to make sure her computer was working properly – an offer she refused. Ultimately we found that Ms. Eklund repeatedly denied receiving emails that we could tell she had, in fact, opened, and sometimes even forwarded to others.
Ms. Eklund’s misleading or false statements are particularly egregious during her re-election campaigns. She was a career regulator for the EPA and therefore believes she can call herself an environmentalist, but she repeatedly fought against projects that helped the environment, including: (1) repeatedly opposing Novato’s joining of Marin Clean Energy or even spending $7,000 to move Novato’s electrical accounts to renewable energy, (2) voting to tear down a newly installed, small solar panel structure in a city park because of the complaints of a small neighborhood minority, (3) opposing reconstruction of the downtown Novato bus terminal to make it safe for riders to use mass transit even though it wasn’t costing Novato anything, (4) opposing SMART, and (5) opposing a downtown Novato SMART station after Fireman’s Fund left Novato and reduced the need for the San Marin station.
Ms. Eklund resorts to falsely claiming on her web site that she led the effort to replace old street lights with LEDs. The street light replacement project was an initiative that saved so much money that it was a fiscal no brainier, including the fact that the City got a federal grant to pay for the effort. There was no opposition from any council member, and why would there be? Ms. Eklund’s so-called leadership was non-existent and this is just another example of her taking credit for something she had limited involvement with.
Ms. Eklund is calculating and manipulative. She regularly votes against city budgets and other issues so that she can complain about them later; she is never willing to assume responsibility for making the hard choices involved in city budgeting and being a responsible leader, instead preferring to let other council members make the tough yes votes to keep the organization running and leaving herself free to pander to a small bloc of city residents who always think that government spends too much, regardless of the facts.
Another example of Ms. Eklund’s manipulative nature is her actions regarding the Novato Theater. When community members came forward with a plan to renovate the theater, by then a longstanding downtown blight, Ms. Eklund was against their request for city support, until she saw that the public overwhelmingly supported the project, at which point she did an about face and voted to support the theater group. Then she proceeded to contradict her Yes vote by telling the project leader and others that their efforts would fail, undermining their ability to raise funds.
Last, but not least, I was and am profoundly concerned about the mean and disrespectful way that Ms. Eklund treats city staff. Every organization, whether it be a business or a city, benefits from having employees and managers who feel that they are respected and treated fairly. During my tenure and before, Ms. Eklund constantly undermined staff morale with her relentless interference, second-guessing, attacks and criticism of city staff. She has even been caught spreading rumors to employees about one of their managers she didn’t like. Over my 30-year career I have seen no other council member regularly behave in such an offensive manner.
Ms. Eklund likes to run against “City Hall,” yet she has been on Council for 22 years. During that time, she has almost always been a dissenting voice. If she had been an effective leader, by now she would have a majority of the City Council standing in support of her, and a loyal city staff working arm in arm with her to advance her agenda. Instead, the City has been embroiled in controversy after controversy, with Ms. Eklund at the center of virtually all of them.
I am not advocating for any particular Council Member. I urge voters in the City of Novato, whatever your political convictions, to develop and elect leaders who have integrity and an ability to work with others for the benefit of the City as a whole. Re-electing Pat Eklund will continue to hamper efforts to create a healthy community that respects its past and is looking towards the future. No one can deny that Ms. Eklund has devoted a great deal to the City of Novato, but it is time for healthier new leadership.
Prior to his service as Novato City Manager, Michael Frank served in management and finance capacities in five other cities in the Bay Area: Palo Alto, Fremont, Hayward, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa. He currently serves as a consultant to several Bay Area governments. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Wesleyan University and a MBA from the Yale School of Management.