Who’s got a job?

Council OKs plan that puts most City Hall positions up for grabs

If life at Chico’s City Hall these days were a game, it would be pick-up sticks.

Following the City Council’s approval Tuesday (Feb. 19) of a complete reorganization of city departments and staffing, it’s as if nearly all city jobs, with the exception of police and fire, have been tossed on the table, and those current employees who are successful at picking up a stick will keep their jobs, while the rest will either be out of work or demoted.

This is especially true for the 10 current department heads. Their numbers will be reduced to five, which means half of them won’t retain their positions. The five core departments are police, fire, administrative services, community development and public works/airport.

The police and fire departments aren’t changing, so their chiefs will keep their jobs. That means the remaining eight department heads will be competing for three jobs. Those selected will then hire the members of their teams.

City Manager Brian Nakamura said the new department heads would be paid $160,000. That’s more than they currently make, in acknowledgement that their responsibilities will be greater. He said the changes will save about $180,000.

The city will save another $500,000 to $750,000 annually, he said, by eliminating “overlap” of duties among the departments. Altogether, Nakamura estimates, the city will save upward of $1 million. He has warned repeatedly that it faces a $3.24 million structural deficit and owes its own development-services fund $9 million and its airport fund $1 million.

Councilwoman Ann Schwab wanted to know how the new department heads would be selected. She asked Nakamura: “Will you post job descriptions? If candidates aren’t selected, will they be terminated?”

Nakamura replied that he was working with the city attorney and personnel to develop a hiring process. Both external and internal candidates would be eligible, he said.

(Following the meeting, he told me he expected most of the hiring would be internal. The city was “not trying to start over” and didn’t want to lose its “historical perspective,” he said.)

The reorganization plan was only narrowly approved, 4-3, but not because any council members disapproved of the reorganization. The disagreement was over something Nakamura came up with just recently: the addition of a sixth department, called community enhancement.

This department, he explained in a memo, would handle all of the city’s quality of life issues: homelessness, affordable housing, relations with the university, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations such as the Torres Community Shelter, the city’s arts programs, community relations and engagement, and so forth.

The proposal quickly came under fire from Councilman Sean Morgan. “If things are as dire as they seem to be, why are we creating another department?” he asked. “It seems like another level of government adding to the quagmire.”

Mayor Mary Goloff disagreed, saying it was wise to “take those issues that are at the top of any list of issues that matter” and consolidate them in one department.

Councilmembers Tami Ritter and Randall Stone both agreed with Morgan, however. Ritter acknowledged that her stance would surprise people who know how much she supports affordable housing and helping the homeless, but in this case, she said, “We need to save money. Maybe when we have more money to build houses, we’ll have money to pay for a Community Enhancement Department.”

Morgan moved that the reorganization plan, minus the sixth department, be approved. Goloff, Schwab and Vice-Mayor Scott Gruendl voted nay.

In other council news: By another narrow vote, 4-3, the council approved a comprehensive ban on smoking in all city parks. The only major issue was whether it was appropriately applied to the Bidwell Park Golf Course. As Councilman Mark Sorensen pointed out, there’s no fire danger there, the operator takes care of trash, and players are so spread out secondhand smoke is not an issue. Stone and Morgan agreed, but an anti-smoking majority prevailed.

Also, the council authorized Nakamura to enter into lease arrangements with Innovate North State to locate a business incubator called ChicoStart on the first floor of City Hall. Operated in partnership with the university and the city, ChicoStart will provide an office infrastructure and a helpful environment for young entrepreneurs to get their Web and tech businesses off the ground.