John Shirey’s announcement Tuesday that he’s leaving as Sacramento’s city manager in November just before a new mayor takes office doesn’t come as a huge surprise.
But he’ll leave some big shoes to fill, and his departure deepens a leadership vacuum for the region.
Mike McKeever, an important voice on growth as executive director of the Sacramento Area Council of Governments for 12 years, announced last week that he’s retiring at the end of 2016. Sacramento County CEO Brad Hudson has already left. Sacramento Regional Transit chief Mike Wiley and Sacramento Transportation Authority executive director Brian Williams are also exiting.
That’s a lot of firepower and institutional knowledge heading out the door.
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For the region’s progress, it’s absolutely essential that officials make smart choices for their replacements. They all need to be strong leaders – and team players.
Shirey, who was appointed in 2011, said Tuesday that he wanted to make his plans clear early so that there could be a public process to pick his successor. His departure – when his contract expires Nov. 18 – had been expected by the City Council, which twice extended his contract, most recently last June.
Shirey can be proud to leave a stronger foundation. He helped steer City Hall through a deep budget crisis without gutting basic services. He helped find a reasonable way to pay for the new arena, which is already helping rejuvenate downtown. He pushed important first steps to get labor and pension costs under control. On his watch, the city started catching up on its long-neglected infrastructure needs and finally accelerated the installation of water meters.
And through all the contentious policy decisions, he was more open to the press and public than many officials – no small matter.
One testament to his success is that Mayor Kevin Johnson, who voted against hiring him, is now a solid supporter. Shirey managed to make progress on some of the mayor’s priorities, even as Johnson championed a ballot measure to reduce Shirey’s power.
That political skill also should be high on the list of the qualities sought by the City Council as it chooses Sacramento’s next city manager.