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.