Here today, gone tomorrow

City manager leaves, assistant steps in

An empty chair told the story at the Tuesday, June 3, City Council meeting: Chico’s erstwhile city manager, Brian Nakamura, was gone.

Just a week earlier he was at his desk in City Hall, doing his job. Then news broke that he’d accepted a similar position in Rancho Cordova, and the council, meeting in closed session before its Tuesday meeting, unanimously accepted his resignation after less than two years in Chico—albeit tumultuous and eventful years.

A few minutes later, at the beginning of the regular open meeting, the council voted to agendize the selection of an interim city manager and then unanimously chose Assistant City Manager Mark Orme for the position.

Although Orme had been Nakamura’s right-hand man for five years, three in Hemet and two in Chico, he largely escaped the blowback from city staff and members of the community that hit Nakamura when he implemented severe austerity measures at City Hall, firing dozens of people, including some very popular department heads.

Indeed, when the council selected Orme, he received a big round of applause from the audience.

Thanking council members for the trust they’d placed in him, he noted that the city still faces many challenges and “a lot of hurdles to get over,” given its financial constraints, that he’s “looking forward to it.” Chico has a bright future, he said, adding that “it’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s going to be well worth it for this community once we overcome something that almost seemed impossible when I first got here.”

Alluding to the profound and often painful changes that Nakamura wrought, Orme praised the “great team” at City Hall for staffers’ resilience in the face of necessary layoffs and pay cuts. “We’ve got a lot of healing to do, both internally and externally,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I’m excited and ready to do it.”

Mayor Scott Gruendl then had some advice for Orme: “You smile a lot,” he said. “Please don’t stop.”

In other council news: Members of the board of directors of the Butte Humane Society appeared before the panel to introduce their new executive director, Chuck Tourtillott (pronounced tour-TILL-oh), as well as to announce that they were developing plans to build a new facility near the airport north of town.

Board President Katie Gonser explained that Ginger Drake, the widow of major developer Dan Drake, recently donated 7 acres off Eaton Road near the airport for a permanent home for an animal shelter and that BHS soon will be launching a capital campaign to finance it.

Noting that BHS had been in existence for 103 years and had worked with the city during much of that time, sometimes “on the same page and sometimes not even in the same book,” she called for both parties to look ahead. “A new facility, a dog park, we’ve got big plans,” she said.