Edward Shikada, a former transportation executive who spent more than a decade in San Jose City Hall before resigning abruptly in December, has been tapped to serve as an assistant city manager in Palo Alto, the Weekly has learned.
City Manager James Keene said Thursday that he has hired Shikada on an interim basis for a position that until a year ago didn't exist. The appointment makes Shikada the second assistant city manager to get hired in recent weeks. On Monday night, the City Council is set to approve the contract for Suzanne Mason, a former Human Resources Director for the County of Napa and, before that, for the City of Long Beach.
Shikada, like Mason, has Long Beach connections, though his expertise revolves around transportation and public works. He has served as a transportation planner and, later, as director of Public Works in Long Beach before arriving in San Jose in 2003. He spent nearly a decade in San Jose, first as deputy city manager and later as an assistant city manager, before being tapped as city manager in November 2013.
Though the San Jose City Council approved his appointment unanimously, his tenure as the city's chief administrative official proved abrupt and controversial. Shortly after the November election, Shikada faced criticism from several council members for firing Alex Gurza, the city's deputy city manager, without first notifying them, according to the website San Jose Inside. The website also cited widespread speculation that the city's newly elected mayor, Sam Liccardo, wanted a leadership change. Shikada abruptly resigned on Dec. 17 after the council held two closed sessions to discuss his performance.
In discussing the new appointment, Keene praised Shikada's many years of experience in planning and transportation and called a "great background for us, given the issues that we've got."
Keene said Shikada's term will stretch until early August, at which time both parties will reassess their options. The reason his appointment, unlike Mason's, is on the interim basis is because Shikada has indicated he may pursue a city manager position elsewhere.
Keene has been without an assistant city manager since Pam Antil resigned in April 2014 to accept a job as assistant city manager in San Jose. She left that position immediately after Shikada resigned last December. Now, in an unusual game of bureaucratic musical chairs, Shikada will be temporarily assuming Antil's old job in Palo Alto.
Once vacancy turned into two in the summer of 2014, when the council agreed to convert a previously administrative position ("assistant to the city manager") into an executive one by adding a second "assistant city manager" position to the city manager's budget.
Keene said the city has been interviewing people for the two assistant city manager positions since last summer, but didn't have any candidates who had the right combination of experience and "good fit" for Palo Alto. He lauded Shikada's background as a certified engineer and a transportation expert and said he did not see the nature of Shikada's exit from San Jose as a deterrent to the appointment.
"City managers come and go and for lots of different reasons," Keene told the Weekly. "My sense of Ed's professionalism is that he's an excellent professional and he's done great work. He's a very smart guy and I think he can contribute to and help our organization."
Keene said Shikada's appointment will begin next week and he will have an annual salary of $200,000, pro-rated to account for the time served. If his term ends in early August, his compensation will be about $67,000. Unlike Mason, he will not receive a rent stipend in addition to his salary. Furthermore, because Shikada's appointment is temporary, it does not need to go to the council for approval at this time. The council would have to sign off on his hiring if he becomes a permanent assistant city manager, Keene said.
Keene said Mason will focus largely on City Hall's internal infrastructure, including functions such as Human Resources and Information Technology. Shikada, meanwhile, will be working most closely with departments such as Public Works, Utilities and Community Services.
"I've interviewed city managers and assistant city managers who had done well and were doing well in other places, but I didn't think the fit would be right," Keene said. "I think both people I'm bringing in now would make really effective contributions."
In an interview Friday, Shikada said he sees his new role in Palo Alto as that of a "utility player," someone who can quickly jump in and take over whatever role needs attention. He acknowledged the big difference between San Jose (which as a population of about 1 million) and Palo Alto (which has about 65,000 residents). In his former job, the size of the organization often required him to focus on process more than on the actual outcome of the city's actions. In the smaller Palo Alto organization, by contrast, staff's interactions and impacts can be more direct.
"We're all at the front door, at the front curb, really working directly with citizens and businesses," Shikada said. "I'm really looking forward to that. It's a different scale."
Much of his work will be in the realm of transportation and development, areas of intense community concern and council attention. He said he expects development issues to be "front and center" in his new job, including community engagement over planning issues. The biggest challenge, he said, would be bringing himself up to speed on local issues.
"It's a very busy community; a very busy organization," Shikada said. "Palo Alto is at the center of the economic resurgence happening throughout the Silicon Valley. It's a really exciting time to be a part of the organization."