Change at the top … sort of
“This place should be able to run just fine without me.” When Greg Jones told that to the CN&R last May, he was referring to City Hall humming along when the city manager stepped out of the office. His words have new meaning now that he won’t be around at all.
Last Friday (July 27), Jones announced his resignation, effective Sept. 13, to relocate to the East Bay for family reasons. The City Council will meet in closed session Tuesday (Aug. 7) to consider how to replace him, but all signs point to Assistant City Manager David Burkland getting the top job on an interim basis—and to the changes Jones charted staying on course.
Indeed, earlier this week Jones recalled that quote from his early days as city manager. “This place should run just fine without me—I believe that,” he said in the top-floor office he’ll soon vacate. “The way I’ve tended the garden is to have initiatives come from within, not from the top down.
“Customer service, long-range financial planning, outcome-based budgeting—these are the right things to do. They have nothing to do with Greg Jones. … These things are all good management practices, and the organization is empowered now, so the employees won’t let them go away.”
Jones was assistant city manager for a year before succeeding Tom Lando on Jan. 1, 2006. Burkland became his deputy two weeks later, continuing his steady rise through the ranks.
Burkland has lived in Chico since 1975 and worked for the city since 1992. He started off in the Housing Services Department—logical, since he’d worked for CHIP (the nonprofit Community Housing Improvement Program). He moved to the General Services Department and took on oversight responsibilities for the Chico Municipal Airport before becoming No. 2 on the organizational chart.
Since then, he successfully negotiated a new contract with Butte Humane Society over operation of the Fair Street animal shelter and played an active role in the Planning Department—both subjects of criticism in Butte County Grand Jury reports as well as public scrutiny.
“People may not have heard about him because he’s quiet and soft-spoken,” Chico Mayor Andy Holcombe said. “He’s a hard worker, not flashy in his personal life, a major team player. While he may not have a lot of name recognition outside the city [administration], he’s known inside the city.
“Greg appointed Dave to be his point person with the reorganization. He moved his office to the second floor"—where, among other departments, Planning sits—"to get a clear understanding of the cooperative nature of the different departments and how they’re working.”
Jones’ plan, with Burkland’s implementation, seems to be working. “There’s a new air to the city of Chico and its staff; there have been great changes,” Councilman Steve Bertagna said.
“Internally,” Police Chief Bruce Hagerty said, “different departments’ personnel work better together through some things Greg has done. He made some changes in the procedural aspects. We were pretty heavy in procedure versus getting the product out. By streamlining procedures, it’s enabled us to deliver service better.”
Hagerty expressed confidence in Burkland as interim city manager. So did Holcombe, calling him “well-positioned to move up.” Vice Mayor Ann Schwab noted that “employees have been through a lot of changes there, particularly on the second floor,” so they’d benefit from some continuity. And Bertagna, the most vocal critic of the city’s planning process, declared himself “absolutely Dave Burkland’s biggest fan on the planet.”
Burkland has been on vacation this week and did not respond to requests for comment forwarded to him by city staffers who preferred to safeguard what may be his last stretch of off-time for a while. Neither Jones nor the councilmembers could say whether Burkland wanted the job on a permanent basis.
“I don’t want to presuppose any of that,” Bertagna said. “The council has to talk about what the process will be. And we have to regroup—this is somewhat of a shock to us.”
Jones will replace Hayward’s retiring city manager, who had been on the job 14 years—a tenure almost identical to Lando’s in Chico. He made the “tough decision” so he and his wife could be close to their grandchildren, who have serious medical conditions—an 8-year-old girl with rheutmatoid arthritis and a 1-year-old boy with hemophilia. “I tried for a year to relocate my children and grandchildren here,” Jones said, “but their doctors are there.”
His abrupt departure after 19 months on the job has sparked discussion that he’s leaving for professional reasons. Mention of that wipes the trademark smile off his face.
“I find it ironic that we tout family values, and family is why a lot of people live here, but I get criticized when I make a decision for my family,” he said. “From my standpoint, I’m taking a pay cut to take this job, I’m moving to a community where housing is twice as expensive, and the job is more difficult, with twice as many employees.
“The idea that I used this as a stepping stone aggravates me. I could have occupied this office for 19 months and done nothing. I could have sent the council a glued-together budget for a few years [as opposed to projecting a $56 million deficit and calling for a 10-year plan]. But that’s not best for the city, and that’s not me.
“I have a huge amount of mixed feelings,” Jones added. “I’ve committed a huge amount of energy to my work here. It saddens me I won’t get to see the fruits of my labor. But the community will, and that gives me some satisfaction.”