Playing musical chairs

Guess who’s controlling the music

For those who watch city government for its entertainment value, last week was a good show. Almost simultaneously, it seemed, the Chico City Council picked a new city manager, Brian Nakamura, to replace the retiring Dave Burkland, and the Biggs City Council picked Chico Councilman Mark Sorensen to be that town’s new city administrator.

What do the events have in common, besides Sorensen? Why, none other than Tom Lando, who’s become a one-man human-resources agency since his retirement as Chico city manager. It was Lando who squired Nakamura around town—the two have known each other for years—when the latter was here for his interview, and it was Lando who managed the hiring process in Biggs, where he was serving as interim city administrator.

Lando also had a hand in former Chico Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jim Goodwin’s being hired as Live Oak’s city manager in 2008. At the time Lando was interim city manager there as well. And Sorensen tells me Lando also had a role in getting Pete Carr—the previous city administrator in Biggs and the man Sorensen replaced—his new gig as Orland city manager. Lando’s “got a great track record of finding good people,” Sorensen said with a laugh.

In choosing Nakamura, who is currently city manager of Hemet, in Riverside County, the Chico council passed on John Rucker, the current assistant city manager, who’d made no secret of his desire for the job. Rucker’s a team player, but there’s sure to be some awkwardness, at least at first.

Nakamura is highly experienced, so his selection was no surprise. Sorensen, on the other hand, has worked exclusively in the private sector, the last 22 years as the owner of ACC Satellite. His only governing experience has been a stint as a Chico planning commissioner and less than two years on the council.

But Sorensen’s a smart guy and should do well—Biggs has only nine employees, after all, compared to Chico’s nearly 400. Asked whether he intended to stay on the council, Sorensen replied, “There’s no reason not to.” He said he’s seen how Scott Gruendl’s job as director of health services in Glenn County has benefited him as a councilman.

But Sorensen may have to adjust his conservatism slightly to accommodate one noteworthy factor about Biggs: It has socialized utilities! As its website proudly proclaims, it’s “Where the People Own the Water and the Power.” Like its neighbor Gridley, Biggs has enjoyed municipal power for decades.

And guess what: These socialized utilities charge less than their private-sector peers like PG&E. That’s because they exist for the benefit of their customers, not stockholders.

Not only that, Biggs’ power is sustainable! More than 60 percent of it comes from renewable sources, including a geothermal steam field in Lake County that the city partially owns. Socialism and sustainability—now there’s a concept!

Robert Speer is editor of the CN&R.