Defending the double-dip: Steinberg holds firm on chief of staff hiring despite groups’ fiscal objections

Sacramento mayor plucks former SACOG executive to steer ambitious agenda

This is an extended version of a story that ran in the January 12, 2017, issue.

How much does it cost Sacramento leaders to recruit top talent? Too much, according to two fiscally-minded groups that last week challenged a proposal to hire the mayor’s new chief of staff and the interim city manager’s new assistant.

Appearing at his first city council meeting since 1998, Mayor Darrell Steinberg vigorously defended the selections and came out on top with an 8-0 vote for the plan last Thursday.

Eye on Sacramento’s objections revolved around its own estimates that—due to the candidates being retired annuitants—incoming Chief of Staff Mike McKeever would make roughly $248,400 a year and Assistant City Manager Jerry Way nearly $400,000 annually between their city pay and existing CalPERS pensions.

McKeever was recently the executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. He oversaw joint infrastructure, land use and housing strategies across six counties and 21 incorporated cities. Steinberg continues to stress that his top priorities coming into office are mustering resources for homelessness and mental illness, and pushing back against the city’s affordable housing crisis.

Darryl Rutherford, executive director of the Sacramento Housing Alliance, told SN&R in December that McKeever is a smart choice to navigate such difficult waters.

Eye on Sacramento and the Sacramento Taxpayers Association raised their objections to both candidates in official letters to the city council and media. Both messages declared that, if appointed, McKeever and Way would be grand-scale “double dippers.”

Steinberg was undeterred.

“Mike [McKeever] is an individual who we all know has a tremendous reputation, and relationships with all of the players, not only in the city, but in the region,” Steinberg said at the meeting. “I’m prepared to debate anyone here about the cost effectiveness of this decision.”</p. <p>No representatives from EOS or Sacramento Taxpayers Association approached the podium to take him up on that challenge. There was also no public comment on the hiring of Way, though Eye on Sacramento had raised very specific concerns about it in their letter. Way, the former director of public works, recruited now-Interim City Manager Howard Chan.

“The appearance of a former subordinate hiring his former boss as an assistant at a huge salary, while his former boss concurrently collects a tremendous pension benefit, has the appearance of a potential conflict of interest and may serve to undermine the public trust,” EOS wrote.

Human Resources Director Melissa Chaney explained why the city needed Way during a presentation that sounded like a 1930s stand-up routine.

“Right now we have an interim city manager who used to be the assistant city manager, and we have an interim assistant city manager who was the assistant to the city manager, so bringing Mr. Way in as the interim assistant to the city manager actually will help provide some stability while we go through the process of recruiting for a new city manager,” Chaney said.

Convinced, the council hired Way on an 8-0 vote. In order to recruit both him and McKeever, the council also waived a policy that bars the city from hiring retired annuitants until 180 days after their last jobs.