Sudden departure

Assistant city manager ‘retires’ abruptly, with no reason given

John Rucker, right, former assistant city manager, sits next to former City Manager Dave Burkland at a City Council meeting in 2012.

John Rucker, right, former assistant city manager, sits next to former City Manager Dave Burkland at a City Council meeting in 2012.

Photo By robert speer

There is a distinct air of discomfort in Chico’s City Hall these days, as staff and management try to come to terms with the sudden and unexpected “retirement” of Assistant City Manager John Rucker.

There was no press release or official announcement or acknowledgement of the development at the City Council meeting Tuesday (Jan. 15), contrary to what would be expected for such a high-ranking job.

The tip-off to this story started as a rumor phoned into this paper on Jan. 10. It was confirmed the next day by a city employee. Most who were contacted asked for anonymity.

An employee who worked closely with Rucker said the assistant city manager and recently hired City Manager Brian Nakamura had a meeting on Monday, Jan. 7, and that the next morning Rucker came to work earlier than usual, called the employee into his office and said he was stepping down as assistant city manager, but offered no specific reason.

“Nobody really knows what’s going on,” the employee said.

At least two other city employees said they’d heard that Nakamura had told Rucker at the Jan. 7 meeting that the men were “headed in different directions.”

Another worker said staff was informed about Rucker’s situation during a meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 8, but only after the question was raised.

On Friday, Jan. 11, in a brief phone interview, Nakamura confirmed Rucker’s situation.

“Uh, well, yes he’s not the assistant city manager anymore,” Nakamura said. “Unfortunately it’s a personnel matter, so I can’t really comment on it.”

The 47-year-old Nakamura was hired last August to take over the job from Dave Burkland, who earlier in the year had announced his plans to retire after five years. Rucker, who was hired as assistant city manager in 2008 after serving 20 years with the Chico Police Department, also applied for the head job. When he didn’t get it, Rucker, 51, said that while he was disappointed, he looked forward to working with Nakamura.

The sudden retirement seems to have caught most city employees off guard. Rucker attended the Jan. 2 council meeting, but was gone less than a week later. His office voicemail was still working on Friday, Jan. 11. However, his name was missing from the agenda packet for the Jan. 15 council meeting.

Councilwoman Ann Schwab said Nakamura told her that Rucker had retired and had sent an announcement via email to city department heads and some city staff members. She had not seen it. Schwab said Rucker was a very valuable employee and listed a number of accomplishments above and beyond the job description.

City Clerk Deborah Presson said she, too, was surprised by the news, which she learned of via Rucker’s emailed announcement. Presson noted how her job description had recently changed, so that she now reports to the City Council rather than the city manager and is “out of the loop” when it comes to Nakamura’s office.

She said that Nakamura is in a way a change from city managers of the past, pointing out Fred Davis’ 32 years at the helm, followed by 18 years of Tom Lando, who’d been groomed by Davis. Greg Jones served as Lando’s assistant manager for a couple of years before he was named city manager. He was on the job for only 18 months before he was replaced by Burlkand, who’d been a city employee for many years.

Nakamura is the first city manager in more than 50 years to take the job without prior Chico experience.

When contacted, Lando said he was unsure what had taken place and suggested perhaps former Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney might know something about it.

“I did hear last week that he was ‘released’ from his employment effective 5:00 p.m. last Monday,” Maloney said by email. “Apparently, the public word is that he retired.”

Rucker could not be reached for comment.

This week the Chico Enterprise-Record reported the story and also published in its classified section an ad for the position. The ad says the salary offered for assistant manager is $142,652 per year with the potential to reach $172,382 based on performance. The ad refers to the city website for more information.

“While performing the duties of this job,” the website announcement says, “the employee is frequently required to sit and talk and hear. The employee is occasionally required to walk; use hands to finger, handle, or feel objects, tools, or controls; and reach with hands and arms. The employee must occasionally lift and/or move up to 10 pounds. Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision and the ability to adjust focus.”

The application deadline is Feb. 1.