For reasons both mysterious and explainable, the City of Westminster has been in various degrees of municipal agony over the past two decades.
The causes are multiple – the end of redevelopment, the Great Recession, ethnic fissures, the coronavirus – but the drama is ongoing. The latest chapter was presented at the last two city council meetings when the selection of former city councilman Tyler Diep to get a contract to lobby for the city with state and other officials caused an uproar.
Several council members complained they had not been informed of the decision by new City Manager Marwan Youssef to pick Diep, who was reportedly once a candidate to be city manager when the resignation of Eddie Manfro last year left a vacancy.
The last two city council meetings were marathons, each going on past midnight. The most controversial items always seem to end up at the end, so that you have to be a night owl to follow what’s going on. That’s not good for democracy … there’s nothing there that should take five or six hours.
To summarize, members of the council took turns beating up –verbally, of course – on Youssef, who just landed the job in February after long service in public works. His selection of Diep was clearly a rookie mistake, but by the way he was cross-examined and criticized, you would think he was on trial for the Lindbergh kidnapping.
Especially painful was watching Councilmember Tai Do questioning Youssef, taking an almost prosecutorial tone. Youssef hung in there gamely, although it must have been humiliating.
Regardless of how you feel about how severe the level of misstep the Diep affair might be, the show was reflective of what’s been going on in this city of 90,000 people for so long. Too much focus on drama and finding villains. Division instead of vision. Not enough emphasis on solving the myriad problems the community faces.
The most immediate problem is money, but even if voters rescue the city by approving a sales tax increase in 2022, some basic stumbling blocks remain. Low property tax rates, the implosion of Westminster Mall – once a cash cow – a city divided along ethnic lines, and more.
Strong leadership that unites the community is what’s needed, but that’s been elusive. The financial instability of the city has driven some talented people out of city hall, and the result has been a drift that has worsened the condition of Westminster as much as COVID or raids from Sacramento. The city council, constantly divided, has been unable to provide direction.
If the city has had trouble attracting talented, experienced, top-tier city manager candidates, citizens need look no further than this week’s meeting for the reason. People with those kinds of resumes aren’t keen to sign on to a job with a town that’s on the edge of bankruptcy and whose elected officials seem to be more interested in recrimination than rebirth.
“Usually Reliable Sources” appears on alternate Thursdays.