Shirey, Hudson headline civil exodus

Sacramento losing a half-dozen of its top administrators

When John Shirey announced last month that he would leave his position as Sacramento’s city manager toward the end of the year, it illustrated a pattern. In recent months, five other high-level officials have left or made plans to leave, sapping the area of institutional knowledge in the fields of transportation, planning and finance.

Sacramento Transportation Authority Executive Director Brian Williams retired at the end of 2015. County Executive Brad Hudson last month departed for the private sector. Sacramento City Treasurer Russ Fehr retired February 2. And Sacramento Area Council of Governments CEO Mike McKeever told the Sacramento Bee he’s retiring by year’s end, while Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley announced he’d retire in 2017.

Retired county Supervisor Sandy Smoley said the departures could pose problems. “It’s highly unusual for the city manager and county executive to leave at the same time,” she told SN&R.

So what’s with the sudden brain drain?

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen cited coincidence. “There’s a tendency by some people to always want to see some hidden hand or some unseen force,” said Hansen, who also serves on the boards of the STA and RT. “But the only one that I believe is at work here is just simply the age of the people involved and their length of service and a desire to retire.”

Except for Fehr, each individual held the top staff position in his respective field, which involves working directly with elected officials but not always seeing eye to eye.

Along with Hudson, who sometimes clashed with Supervisor Phil Serna, Shirey’s departure elicited speculation as to the real motive. Mayor Kevin Johnson campaigned for initiatives that would have shifted some of the city manager’s authority to his office, but was rebuffed by the voters.

Johnson wants to interview Shirey’s replacement candidates before he also leaves office at the end of the year. But mayoral candidate Darrell Steinberg wants that process to wait until the new mayor takes office.

“I do believe that the new mayor, whoever it is, needs to have a role in that process certainly,” he said.