In selecting Rick Cole as his deputy mayor for budget and innovation last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti got an outspoken proponent of high-density building along transit corridors and someone who, as a former city manager, demanded accountability from department heads.
Cole, 60, was Ventura's city manager for eight years before abruptly stepping down last year. He was city manager of Azusa before that and is a former mayor of Pasadena.
During his tenure in Ventura, he championed the adoption of an all-infill general plan, reorganized departments and recruited high-tech businesses to the laid-back coastal city.
As the economy tanked in 2008, Cole presided over a 15% budget cut that included 100 jobs eliminated and the closure of a popular city library. But he managed to preserve most services and also worked out a plan to improve emergency response times.
With the election of a new City Council majority last year, however, his sometimes blunt style clashed with that of Ventura Mayor Mike Tracy, the city's former police chief. He announced that he was resigning last July.
Cole said he was approached by Garcetti's transition team and met with the mayor last week. Garcetti's team was attracted by his use of performance-based budgeting first in Azusa and then in Ventura.
"That which gets measured gets done," Cole said. "Government has been slow sometimes to adapt organizational best practices. Tracking performance and being accountable for results is what I've tried to implement going back 30 years."
The city's workforce needs to be well-equipped, well-trained and "sustainably compensated," Cole said, and employees also need to use technology that makes them more efficient and be focused on results. Although Ventura and Azusa are far smaller than metropolitan L.A., the same principles have been applied successfully in big cities such as New York and Boston, Cole said.
"We're starting with a very big city that has been in business for more than 100 years," he said. "The job is to move aggressively and responsibly to keep the city moving forward, and in a way that people notice improvements in their neighborhoods."
He doesn't know Garcetti and didn't contribute to his mayoral campaign. But he supports Garcetti's "back to basics" vision, Cole said:
"I believe in their message, and I believe they are real about their message."
For the last year Cole, a devout Catholic, was the administrator of Ventura's historic mission in the city's downtown. He focused on linking the church's resources with city programs for the poor.
In recent months, he's also served as interim chief operating officer to the Local Government Commission, a nonprofit based in Sacramento.
Cole lives in Ventura with his three teenage children but said he will be moving to Los Angeles as soon as he can.
"If you work for a city, you need to live there," he said.
Cole will draw an annual salary of $172,000.