Mountain View Voice

News - August 19, 2011

Former MV city manager helps deliver city of Bell from scandal

Kevin Duggan recruited to lead city managers association

by Daniel DeBolt

Mountain View's widely respected former city manager Kevin Duggan has found a new calling after retirement, and it includes helping to turn things around in the scandal-ridden city of Bell.

Duggan was hired on as West Coast director of the International City/County Managers Association in May after planning a more relaxed retirement; he was considering upgrading his house and sitting on some local boards and committees to stay involved locally. But when he applied to be a volunteer mentor for the ICMA, Duggan was asked to apply for the top ICMA West Coast director job instead.

"I think I felt retired for three and a half weeks," Duggan said.

Not long after taking the job, Duggan said he was struck by the difficulties that the citizens of Bell were having in reforming their city. Several city officials there were jailed on corruption charges last year after the Los Angles Times revealed that the city manager and several council members in the small, working-class city in eastern Los Angeles County were paying themselves salaries as high as $1.5 million a year.

"An email had gone out for an interim city administrator and no one applied," Duggan said. "This was a very reform-minded City Council and a citizenry that wanted to recover. It struck me they weren't having success."

Duggan got ICMA's executive director on board, and "we agreed to help them (Bell) find somebody immediately," he said. Duggan helped bring in Bell's interim city manager for the last month, Ken Hampian, a retired San Luis Obispo city manager.

Hampian was put to work immediately after the council met him; he was paid only a small stipend that included lodging and meals, Duggan said.

"Our association will send people to Iraq or Afghanistan to demonstrate what effective local government can do," Duggan said. "If we can do that we can go to east Los Angeles and go to Bell and demonstrate what professional city management can accomplish."

Undoubtedly helping in the matter is Duggan's credibility and reputation earned statewide while running Mountain View's city government for 20 years, and Campbell's city government before that. After numerous phone calls and emails, Duggan introduced three qualified applicants to the Bell City Council. Last week the council hired Arne Croce, retired city manager of San Mateo and also one of the most respected in the state, to run Bell for the next six months while a more permanent replacement is found.

"I've known Arne for at least 25years," Duggan said, adding that Croce is also a former city manager of Los Altos. "I was very, very pleased" that Croce was hired. "I figured if he could handle Kosovo he could handle Bell," Duggan said, referring to time Croce spent in Kosovo doing volunteer consulting work with local governments that had corruption problems. "He's going to do an excellent job down there."

With all of the professional help, the atmosphere in Bell City Council meetings has calmed down in recent weeks, Duggan said.

"The reputation has been that it is boisterous and combative to some degree," Duggan said of the meetings. "Frankly, what I've heard from the last couple of meetings is things are beginning to calm down. Once you set a professional environment it doesn't solve things overnight and I'm sure there will be some eruptions when they have to deal with tough budget questions, but they seem to have some hope. They haven't been left adrift."

Duggan said the Bell city government had been badly neglected for years, and lots of "basic" work still needs to be done. Among the problems is a deficit estimated at $4 million. That's in a city with a total budget of less than $20 million.

"It's almost like triaging a badly injured patient," Duggan said. "You have to decide which (problems) are most important. They have to assess what their financial situation really is and bring in basic training for the council and staff. They need to create dialogue with the community. They need basic personnel policies." Lots of small things need to be figured out, like "how to rent out a playing field on the weekend." His understanding, he said, is that "they completely got rid of their training budget four or five years ago."

Despite the chaos, Duggan seems to have enjoyed the unexpected interlude with Bell.

"If somebody told me I was going to be hanging around the Bell City Hall at my retirement reception I would have said 'you're kidding,'" Duggan said.

Duggan hopes to get back to working his new job half-time again, he said, which will involve some traveling to meetings with city managers in the states he is responsible for: Alaska, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. On Monday he was meeting a group of city managers in Seattle. Unfortunately, he doesn't foresee any meetings coming up in Hawaii.

"It helps me stay connected to the profession," he said.

Duggan hopes to stay connected to the Mountain View community as well, having been appointed to the board of the Community Services Agency and advisory boards for Saint Francis High School and Avenidas Senior Day Health Center.

He said that at some point he'll get to those home improvements, too.

Email Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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