To fully appreciate John Shirey’s accomplishments, you have to remember the dire situation facing Sacramento City Hall when he became city manager.
The city was still trying to dig out of big budget deficits from the Great Recession. The City Council was a dysfunctional mess. The city had gone through a revolving door of city managers. And when the council hired Shirey in 2011, Mayor Kevin Johnson voted “no,” saying he was dissatisfied with the hiring process.
Shirey wasn’t flashy, but he was the steady administrator the city desperately needed. He navigated the city through political and financial storms to safe harbor – financially stronger and primed for greater prosperity. And Shirey, whose last day on the job is Friday, managed to do it while keeping his nine bosses on his side and winning Johnson over, even though he didn’t support Johnson’s “strong mayor” push.
The list of Shirey’s successes starts with the city budget, which is much more stable. By passing the Measure U half-cent sales tax in 2012, voters helped Shirey and council members restore public safety and other basic services. To prepare for the next downturn, he pushed the council to build the rainy-day fund to 10 percent of the general fund in his final budget this year, a key milestone.
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Major projects got off the ground, most notably opening Golden 1 Center. The council has finally approved a real plan to renovate the Community Center Theater. An expansion of the Sacramento Convention Center is about to move ahead. Last week, the council approved a long-awaited development plan for the downtown railyard.
The city is more up to date on basic infrastructure, even if it required painful water- and sewer-rate hikes to get there. He was willing to change course when it made sense, for instance a quicker and cheaper way to install water meters.
Shirey was not afraid to take on some tough, longstanding issues, starting the long road to control pension and retiree health care costs and cutting back on the beloved, but wildly inefficient, “claw” leaf-collection service.
This isn’t to say that everything went perfectly on Shirey’s watch. City Hall responded too slowly to community concern over the fatal police shooting of Joseph Mann and to lead contamination at the city-owned gun range at Mangan Park.
On the whole, however, Shirey leaves City Hall in much better shape for the next city manager. That deserves a round of applause.