Meet the boss
Hemet officials not happy that their city manager is coming to Chico
Perhaps it says something about Brian Nakamura’s attractiveness as an administrator that officials in the Riverside County city of Hemet, where he’s now city manager, were unhappy to learn he’d been interviewed for the city manager job in Chico.
Nakamura quickly sought to reassure them, but then, just a few weeks later, on Aug. 15, he got the Chico job and was forced to tell the people of Hemet that he would be stepping down as city manager there.
Nakamura, 47, is set to start Sept. 4, the Tuesday following Labor Day weekend. In a brief interview this week he said he was looking forward to the job and had kept his eye on the Chico city manager position for some time.
“I’ve been following openings for Chico for the past 10 years,” he said, “back to when the former city manager, Tom Lando, was there. Then Greg Jones was offered the position and then again when Dave Burkland was hired.”
Nakamura was one of 50 applicants and six finalists for the job and the only one whose name was made public during the hiring process. A company called Avery Associates out of Los Gatos conducted the recruiting and advised that it be done out of public view so that the applicants’ employers wouldn’t learn of their intentions to leave for greener pastures.
Avery advertised the job as a challenge that included overseeing a $43 million budget and nearly 400 full-time employees in a city that would be negotiating new contracts come December. “Maintaining the positive relationships that currently exist with the workforce will be of paramount importance and will be largely reliant on the credibility and trust established by the manager,” reads the job announcement.
Word of Nakamura’s application for the Chico job was published in the CN&R in July, causing a bit of a stir in Hemet. This reporter heard about him from a local business owner, who said Lando had brought Nakamura into his shop while on a tour of downtown. Lando confirmed that info, noting he was a longtime acquaintance of Nakamura.
Political reporter Kevin Pearson of the Riverside Press-Enterprise newspaper brought word of Nakamura’s intentions to light, forcing him to answer to the Hemet City Council. According to Pearson, Nakamura told the council, “I was asked to come up there, share with the [Chico] council my experience on how we made our city a wonderful place, and that’s it. That’s where I’m at.”
Pearson reported that Nakamura said he had spoken to several Hemet City Council members “to let them know of the situation. He said his focus was on Hemet and should a call come, it would not be an easy decision.”
“I told them my commitment is 110 percent here,” Nakamura told Pearson. “My focus is to continue to serve Hemet to the best of my ability. I’m committed to Hemet.”
That seemed to be the end of the story, but of course it wasn’t. Last week Pearson wrote that Nakamura “shocked city officials Wednesday [Aug. 15] when he announced that he has accepted the city manager’s job in Chico.”
Nakamura has served as Hemet’s city manager for three years, after a stint as city manager in the Riverside County community of Banning.
“I had a difficult time with this because of the direction we are heading in Hemet,” Nakamura was quoted in the story. “This was a very difficult decision.”
The story also reported Nakamura would be paid $217,000 a year in Chico, up from his $205,000 Hemet salary and a substantial increase over Burkland’s $181,000 annual paycheck.
Nakamura said the way the news of his pending departure played out was awkward, but not unexpected for someone living in the public limelight.
“That’s always a dilemma,” he said, “but Chico to me is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I could not resist, and I’m honored to have the opportunity.”
The fact he was hired on a unanimous vote by a normally idealogically split Chico City Council probably speaks well for the man.
Mayor Ann Schwab, who is among the panel’s liberal majority, said Nakamura’s wealth of experience will greatly benefit Chico and that his $217,000 salary is the result of a highly competitive market.
“We felt we wanted to have the best city manager for the city of Chico,” Schwab said.
Councilmember Mark Sorensen, a conservative, also lauded Nakamura, telling Chico Enterprise-Record Editor David Little, “He can speak in details about anything we asked him. That was not always the case [with other candidates].”
Nakamura said he has both cities in his best interest.
“I am still here and committed to Hemet to my last day,” he said. “I know it’s hard to envision it to be like a light switch, where you can turn off one job and jump into another one, but the positions are pretty much similar.”
Nakamura, who was born and rasied in Lodi, said he has no friends or relatives in Chico, but his wife has family in Sacramento. The couple have two sons, one who just finished his master’s degree at Fresno State and another who just entered UC Riverside.
Schwab said the family has found a temporary home until they figure out which neighborhood they’d like live in permanently.
“As people get to know him, when they get to meet him, I hope they’ll support the council’s decision in finding the city manager that this city deserves,” the mayor said.