The new guy

By now, you may have heard that a man named John Shirey has been tapped by the Sacramento City Council to be our next city manager. By Monday, there was still no official offer. Bites just wonders if Shirey will change his mind.

Wouldn’t you? If you were considering a job offer, but one of your new bosses was going around talking smack about your hire?

That’s basically what Mayor Kevin Johnson did last week—posting on his blog that the next city manager should have “fresh ideas and both public and private sector experience,” and that “by all accounts that’s not going to happen.”

The other council members seem impressed enough with Shirey, who is executive director of the California Redevelopment Association.

That’s the same group that earlier this month sued the state to stop Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to eliminate local redevelopment agencies and funnel their tax revenue into stuff like police and parks.

Back in 2001, Shirey was city manager of Cincinnati. Later he served as assistant city manager of Long Beach, then assistant chief administrative officer of Los Angeles County.

The alternative weekly in Cincinnati, the CityBeat, named city manager Shirey “Best Scapegoat” in its 2000 Best of Cincinnati issue. “Anytime anything goes wrong in the city, his bosses on the city council publicly wonder how good a job he’s doing. Some … seem to blame Shirey for everything from [then-Cincinnati Bearcat] Kenyon Martin’s injury to global warming.”

And that was before riots broke out—sparked by the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man—which went on for three days, and for which Shirey ultimately took the fall.

In the aftermath, Shirey resigned his post and headed west. He later also used the word “scapegoat” in an interview with a Cincinnati public radio station on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the riots.

Aside from civil unrest and global warming, the other unfortunate thing that happened during Shirey’s Cincinnati days was a transition to a “strong mayor” system of government.

And so, when Johnson was pushing his boss-mayor proposal in Sacramento back in 2009, Shirey took a public stand against the plan, telling the Sacramento Charter Review Committee: “The manager’s position becomes untenable. He constantly has to broker between the mayor and the council in order to survive. The manager becomes a politician.”

“If you really want to go that way, you really ought to change the city manager’s title. Because the manager really becomes the chief of staff,” Shirey added at the time.

While the city council interviewed candidates all day last Monday in a closed session, Johnson was also the only one who chose not to attend. Why bother, right? You’re just hiring the most important person in city government.

Johnson did show up for a second round of interviews, once the candidates were whittled down. But when the council took a vote, we’re told Johnson was the only member of the council to say “no.”

The mayor’s actual chief of staff, Kunal Merchant, said disagreements about a strong-mayor system had “nothing to do” with Johnson’s “no” vote.

Merchant also was irked about the fact that Shirey’s name and details of the process “leaked” out to the press before the deal was final, to which Bites says: Chill. You guys aren’t exactly running the Manhattan Project over there.

So, would you take the city manager job? With the mayor publicly criticizing your hire? Not to worry, Merchant says, the mayor will be “100 percent behind whoever is chosen.”