On a hot afternoon last week, I and several others from the current Leadership Burbank class sat down for a cup of coffee with Mike Nolan, a fixture within the Burbank community and a frequent speaker at City Council meetings.
I didn't know what to expect. Nolan never hesitates to speak his mind, and his manner can be gruff. During the Memorial Day ceremony at Larry L. Maxam Park this year, he said I had been dismissive of his concerns about the state's water supply. He then walked away without another word, leaving me confused and annoyed.
Leadership Burbank, by the way, is an annual program hosted by Woodbury University and the Burbank Chamber of Commerce. Glendale also has such a program, also done through its Chamber of Commerce. I was invited to take part in the Glendale version this year, but thought it unwise to commit to two courses simultaneously.
Our group had been tasked with speaking to two local leaders. We decided we would speak to two very different types: Nolan and Burbank Police Chief Scott LaChasse.
We met Nolan at the Starbucks on San Fernando Boulevard, though not the one downtown. He thought, and I agreed, that fewer tongues would wag if we were a bit farther removed from the people's place of business.
Here's my take: Nolan is a man who deeply cares about Burbank, and one who will get just as deeply upset if you don't see things exactly as he does. He also believes that elected officials — and all public officials, really — need to be watched closely.
"These people aren't evil or rotten, but they are lazy," he said.
Nolan does not see himself as a leader, nor does he see himself as a voice of the community or the conscience of the City Council, he said. I'd guess he shows up to council meetings so often because on a basic level he needs to.
I think it's fair to say that Nolan has a considerable amount of influence regarding the direction of the city. In three-minute blocks of public comment at a time, he has forced issues to be more closely scrutinized, priorities to change, and things to get done.
And not surprisingly, he's a polarizing figure. During the Leadership Burbank class last week, the discussion about Nolan lasted several times longer that it did about the chief of police.
And why not? LaChasse has a straightforward and understandable leadership style. He is markedly different from the previous Burbank Police Department command staff. And, in my opinion, he is very much the type of leader the police and the city need right now.
LaChasse's philosophy is simple: The best leaders are ones who surround themselves with people with a variety of strengths. No one is good at everything, and good leaders understand that.
Nolan is more complex. Does he keep the city honest, or is he a bully? Could it be both?
The two really cannot be compared. LaChasse's influence is direct. His leadership style may allow him to make the wisest decision, as it's based on viewpoints apart from his own. But it's still direct influence.
Nolan, on the other hand, cannot do anything directly. In fact, he specifically rejects that power, preferring to agitate from the outside. He needs others to get done what he thinks should — no, must — get done. And, sometimes, he gets it.
Though the class did not agree on whether Nolan was a leader, we did agree that both he and LaChasse have significant influence on what happens in Burbank. After all, that's what matters.
DAN EVANS is the editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.