An Inauspicious Beginning

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UPDATE: A more appropriate press release was received from the city several hours after this one was issued. City officials inform us that the press release was originally written appropriate city staff. Mr. McCall’s edition was adapted from the city’s original release.

In an emergency council meeting last night, council voted to offer a contract to Eric Osterberg to serve as our next city manager. In a closed session at that same meeting, they voted to promote Frank McCall to replace the departing chief Jason Armstrong. McCall’s promotion was announced in a ridiculous press release this morning, written by Mr. McCall himself.

We will leave the evaluation of McCall’s merits as chief for another day. In general, there is much to be said for promoting from within, particularly in an organization like a police department where the chain of command naturally pushes leaders to the top. But the issue is not whether McCall is the right man for the job, but rather, whether this was the right way to do it.

By taking away from Mr. Osterberg what was likely to be the most important decision of his tenure in Ferguson, they have undermined his authority before he sets foot in the door. Council has laid down a marker for Osterberg, that he will not be calling the shots if he should accept their offer. We wonder whether a professional of his caliber will be interested in working under such conditions.

More seriously, Osterberg now faces the prospect of being responsible for salvaging our struggling police department, while the opportunity to shape its leadership was snatched from him for no apparent reason. One would truly have to be a master of city management to find success in this house of dysfunction. In our previous endorsement of Mr. Osterberg’s bid for city manager, we said that he’d face a challenge in carrying out the responsibilities of his position while preventing the mayor from exercising the authority of the city manager. This maneuver heightens our concern, as the council also appears willing to weaken Mr. Osterberg.

And one other thing: Do we not have anybody at city hall who can write a press release? A man who has just been promoted shouldn’t have to issue the press release announcing his own promotion.