Leadership Transition Continues with City Manager Debra Figone’s Retirement

San Jose City Manager Debra Figone announced this week she will retire after overseeing city operations for six years. Her tenure, which will come to an end in December, has marked some of the most difficult years in the city’s history, as the City Council enacted layoffs and pay cuts to cope with historic budget deficits.

“I believe that this is the right time for a transition,” Figone said. “I made a commitment to myself to do the best I could before retiring to help the city achieve fiscal stability and lead our organization to recovery during remarkably challenging times. I think we’ve made significant progress, and I’m confident that we’re on the right track.”

The challenges, she added, are far from over.

Next year, it’s likely that San Jose will have an interim city manager, police chief and fire chief, all while the 2014 mayoral race is in full swing. This doesn’t even mention outreach efforts for new directors of planning and human resources.

Figone, 61, who takes home a $227,975 annual salary, has spent her entire professional life since high school in public service. The San Jose native became the city’s 15th city manager in 2007, after spending seven years as town manager for Los Gatos.

“Throughout her 44 years of public service, Debra Figone has demonstrated outstanding integrity, dedication and skill as a professional public manager,” Mayor Chuck Reed said. “I’m deeply grateful for her contributions and guidance to the City Council during an extremely challenging period for our city.”

Under the City Charter, the city manager is the top administrative officer who reports to the mayor and council for direction. The manager appoints department heads and employees. Reed plans to present a candidate to succeed Figone in time for her December retirement, so there’s a smooth transition.

“Our next city manager will inherit a committed organization, an impressive team and a supportive community with significant opportunities to make a lasting mark on San Jose,” Figone says. “These include completing our fiscal reforms, reinvesting in our workforce and our infrastructure, engaging our community to create new models for effective partnership and following through on initiatives to secure the economic and cultural vitality of San Jose.”

Not everyone’s upset to see her leave. Union leaders, like Jim Unland, president of the Police Officers’ Association, blamed Figone and elected officials for a rise in violent crime, faltering morale and an officer exodus after enacting a 10-percent pay cut and demanding more per-paycheck pension contributions through Measure B reforms.

“Deb Figone has championed a my-way-or-the-highway approach to labor relations, and the results have been devastating to San Jose neighborhoods,” Unland told the Mercury News. “We will not be sad to see her go.”

Figone became city manager at the outset of the Great Recession, when property and sales tax revenue plummeted and budget deficits grew. To keep as much public service intact as possible, the city slashed salaries, including Figone’s, in every department.

“While our challenges are far from over, I do believe that we’ve been successful in doing what has been necessary to avoid potential fiscal calamity during a period of great change and complexity,” Figone said. “I strongly believe, however, that we will emerge even stronger than we were before. This, too, won’t be easy. It will require continued hard work by our elected officials and professional staff–and especially our next city manager–to stay focused on budget discipline and service innovation.”

Here you can read Debra Figone’s farewell address.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the number of city department head vacancies. San Jose Inside regrets the error.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

12 Comments

  1. Hmmm, I wonder why we’ll have an interim city manager, interim police chief, interim fire chief…the list goes on.  Is it because nobody wants to work in the toxic environment created by the mayor, the council and Mrs. Figone herself?

  2. How about posting how much her pension is, and her buy out. And add her pension from Los Gatos?

    Was an audit just done that found some errors.  And all of a sudden she leaving?  Maybe she should be going in handcuffs. 

    No police chief no fire chief, because no one wants to work for a corrupt city government …. Can we get Reed and Liccardo to quit too.  Please!

  3. I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Ohhh! Look out! Look out! I’m going! Ohhhh – Ohhhhhhhhhh!

    (SJI…come on just post it. It is kinda funny.)

    • Ding Dong the Witch is Gone.
      Now we just need Reed to go back to Kansas. It’s a start. Well, at least one is gone. One is better than none.

  4. Just about every major department within the City has a vacant director or chief position.  Employees are leaving by the droves.  This is absurd!  If Chuck Reed was the CEO of a large corporation he would have been fired by now!  His cronies on the Counsel such as Liccardo, Pierilugi, and Constant need to be fired as well.  When are we as citizens of San Jose going to hold these guys accountable for poor decision making and horrible leadership.  They have destroyed our City. 

    Thank God Figone is retiring.  Typical politician jump ship before it sinks.  Your darn right its time for new leadership!  Take Chuck, Sam, Per, Madison, Pete, and Rose with you.  You have destroyed this City. I have lived here for 40 years and I can’t think of a time this City has ever been as unsafe or worse off than it is now.  You would all be fired if this was a public corporation for incompetency. 

    Thank you for doing us a favor Figone!  Please do not come back!

  5. Figone says the next city manager with inherit a “committed organization”.  Yeah, the next city manager will inherit great employees but how committed they are is another thing.  Cops are leaving left and right. I know many more employees would leave in a heart beat if they were able to lateral to new departments much like the police.  Employees are here and working, but committed, really? Morale sucks, just say it like it is. When morale sucks, people are not 100% productive.

  6. No worries….the city will contract the city manager position at double the salary…guess who they will hire…just retired Figone…hahahahaha

  7. Employees in city managers office may be committed, as are department heads, but rank and file employees have not had a joy for the job in many years.  If the the city’s main negotiator is considered as her replacement, then more employees will rush for the exit.

    Contract negotiations are as acrimonious as ever, and the city’s hostile position has now tainted the new tier two employees that were just hired in the last six months.  Great move city, showing new staff that their new employer is hostile at the negotiating table.  New employees are now grumbling.

    • And Department leadership in DOT, PW, ESD and Fire should be very concerned about this, knowing that their new employees are now having second thoughts. 

      As seasoned employees, we cannot recommend employment with the City of San Jose to any entry level engineer, knowing that every agency in the Bay Area not only pays more, but also offers a more stress-free environment.  And every other agency treats their professional employees with certainly more respect than the City’s negotiating team.

  8. She initially advocated for a retirement age of 65. The honorable thing to do is for her to retire at 65 or at least at 62 as measure B stipulates. Also take 2% for each year. Leadership is walking the talk, not just walking.

    • And she will also get a huge sick leave buyout, which is exactly what she told city employees to give up for the sake of city finances, which they agreed to do. If she were a person of her word, she will forfeit her sick leave buyout.