Elk Grove News

Elk Grove’s economic development chief leaves city with little success

Randy Starbuck heard an earful from the chamber floor and the City Council dais.

Roseville and other area cities’ economic development efforts were leaving Elk Grove in the rear-view mirror, residents at the March council meeting said, bringing new businesses and jobs to their cities while Elk Grove watched by the side of the road.

“Randy, you’ve got to do a better job of marketing yourself. I hope you heard that tonight,” Elk Grove Councilman Pat Hume told the city’s economic development director in a video of the council’s March 26 meeting. “People need to know you’re out there shaking the bushes.”

“We all need to know our economic plan is for the year ... a level of detail about what that plan is,” Mayor Gary Davis said at the March meeting. “Everybody needs to know.”

Starbuck released a plan a month later, but the seeds had likely been sown. Starbuck’s public dressing-down by council members and frustrated residents showed that city leaders were losing patience months before his sudden departure days ago.

Starbuck, the in-house pick three years earlier to lead economic-development efforts for one of the region’s largest cities, wasn’t getting the job done, they said.

City officials on Thursday declined to say whether Starbuck had been fired, calling his departure a “personnel issue.” A curt five-sentence statement released this week read in part that Starbuck’s “responsibilities with the city have concluded” and that Starbuck is on paid leave through Oct. 17, when his employment with the city officially ends.

Elk Grove will start its search for a new director as early as Friday with hopes of filling the position in November, city spokeswoman Christine Brainerd said.

Starbuck could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Starbuck’s departure comes as Elk Grove leaders hope to land a Major League Soccer franchise, agreeing last week to spend $4.4 million on a 100-acre stadium site in the south end of the city and reviewing early outlines of an $88 million stadium financing plan.

The city continues to move forward with development plans for the Southeast Planning Area – the open land at the south end of the city envisioned as a business hub – and the planned Elk Grove Promenade outdoor mall project.

On Thursday, William Hodges, interim chairman of the Elk Grove Economic Development Corp. board, offered little on Starbuck’s departure, focusing instead on the marketing campaign it launched last week to draw more business to Elk Grove. He said Starbuck’s absence will not affect the marketing plans.

“We still have the city very much involved in the marketing campaign,” Hodges said Thursday. “From the board’s perspective, we enjoyed working with Randy. We trust the leadership and that they will make the right decision” on Starbuck’s replacement.

Starbuck was tapped in 2011 to revive Elk Grove’s lagging economic development efforts. Elk Grove’s EDC, created five years earlier, had struggled to raise funds and struggled even more to attract jobs – a paltry 70 in five years.

Elk Grove staffers looked to Starbuck’s work for the Bay Area city of Pittsburg, where he oversaw more than $300 million in public investment for the city and tens of millions more in private development as its redevelopment director.

But three years later, critics including Nikki Carpenter, a 34-year resident of Elk Grove and a familiar face at council meetings, are eager for a change at Economic Development.

“I’m not broken-hearted at his departure. He’s brought no business to Elk Grove,” Carpenter said. I’m more critical of the council because they never monitored him.”