Ed Shikada, who joined Palo Alto in April 2015 as an assistant city manager and who currently leads the city's Utilities Department, will take over City Hall's top job in 2019, when City Manager James Keene retires, the city announced Monday.
The city's abrupt announcement came a week after the City Council met in a closed session to discuss the search for Keene's replacement. Keene, who joined the city in 2008, told the council last year that he plans to retire at the end of this year. Shikada will take over early next year.
The council reached its decision on Keene's successor after an abbreviated and opaque process that consisted entirely of closed-session discussions by the council's Council Appointed Officers committee and, ultimately, the full council.
By contrast, Keene's hiring in 2008 included 42 applicants, six semifinalists, several interview panels -- including one consisting of community members -- and three finalists. The council last discussed the city manager's position on June 18 but Mayor Liz Kniss did not report any action after that closed-session discussion.
When asked about the lack of transparency and public participation in the hiring process, several council members told the Weekly that they had to move quickly on the hire to avoid losing Shikada to another organization. Councilman Greg Scharff, who serves on the Council Appointed Officers committee said that after the committee consulted several recruiters, the word it received from them is that Shikada is the best candidate.
He noted that many other agencies in the region, including the cities of Fremont and Cupertino, have openings for top executive positions.
"Basically, people indicated to us that we would lose out unless we moved quickly. It was a decision of: Do we want Ed or do we not want Ed?" Scharff said. "Looking at what was available and the high cost of living here, the council agreed that it didn't seem reasonable that we can do better than Ed."
Councilman Tom DuBois, who also serves on the Council Appointed Officers committee, said Shikada's appointment will make it easier for the city to maintain some continuity at a time when a number of senior executives are planning to retire or have already retired. The list of departing executives includes former Planning Director Hillary Gitelman, who resigned earlier this year, Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez and Public Works Director Michael Sartor. The latter two officials have recently announced retirement plans.
In addition, with Shikada transitioning to the city manager's position, the city will now have to find a new utilities general manager, a position that Shikada had occupied since 2016.
If the city moved ahead with an extensive search for a new city manager, it would have complicated its ability to fill other positions, DuBois said.
"If Ed had left and we were doing a city manager search, it would have been very difficult to fill other positions because people want to know who their boss is going to be," DuBois said.
DuBois said he was concerned about the lack of public involvement in the process but said it was important to move fast to avoid losing a "strong candidate who already knows a lot about how Palo Alto works."
"There could still be an opportunity for the public to comment and weigh in when we do goals and performance reviews and setting criteria for evaluating the city manager," DuBois said.
In naming Shikada, the council opted for a candidate who has functioned for the past three years as both Keene's top lieutenant and City Hall's consummate utility man, with a portfolio that includes everything from utilities and transportation to public works and the city's effort to expand its animal shelter. Unlike Keene, who often brings a folksy sensibility to council meetings and sprinkles quotes from the likes of Bob Dylan and Emily Dickinson into his reports, Shikada brings to the table a wonky, technocratic demeanor, a legacy from his decades of experience in transportation policy.
For Shikada, this won't be the first go-around in City Hall's top role. He had served as city manager in San Jose from 2013 to 2014, a position he obtained after a series of promotions and increasing responsibilities. He resigned from the San Jose position in December 2014, reportedly after facing criticism from several council members about his role in firing the city's deputy city manager.
Before that, he had spent eight years in the city of Long Beach, where he served as director of Public Works, manager of traffic and transportation, city traffic engineer and transportation planning officer.
He had also served in management roles with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and in transportation consulting, according to the city's announcement.
Shikada holds a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Hawaii and a master's degree in urban planning from University of California, Los Angeles.
In a statement, Mayor Liz Kniss called Shikada an "exceptionally experienced professional with deep knowledge and leadership ability across the organization."
"He has the temperament, operational aptitude, dedication and commitment to public services that make him a great choice," Kniss said.
Kniss told the Weekly that she finds it "regrettable" that the city had to move as quickly as it did, but given the competitive marketplace, she and her colleagues felt it was best to move ahead and secure Shikada as the next city manager. She noted at least two cities had indicated that Shikada is one of their top choices for the city manager's job.
"Moving that quickly, almost pre-emptively, was not something I anticipated," Kniss said. "It happened in a far shorter period of time than might normally happen."
Shikada's base salary for the position will be $356,000, with a total compensation package to include an $18,500 contribution to a 457 "deferred compensation" account. He will also receive a temporary housing allowance of $4,000 a month until he is able to finalize permanent housing in Palo Alto, according to the city's announcement.
His current salary as assistant city manager and general manager of utilities is $303,000.
City Attorney Molly Stump said the council's decision was not reported after the June 18 meeting because it did not result in a final decision or agreement. When it comes to executive hiring, there is "a need to go back to the candidate before the decision is ripe for an announcement," Stump told the Weekly.
Stump said the council will formally approve Shikada's appointment and contract at a public meeting after the summer break.
Shikada said in a statement that since joining Palo Alto, he has been "impressed by the level of commitment and sense of service among our employees, and by our engaged and sophisticated citizenry." He called the city an "outstanding organization serving an extraordinary community."
"We are at the center of innovation in Silicon Valley and our work reflects the complex issues and high level of service that is representative of Palo Alto," Shikada said. "I am excited and grateful for this opportunity to lead this organization and serve the public as we work together on building community and quality of life."