Shikada Will Face Moneyball-like Challenges

Every winter, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane has one hand perpetually tied behind his back, as he tries to rebuild his rosters for the following season. Frugal ownership, a decrepit stadium, and multiple run-ins with raw sewage make the A’s one of the least desirable Major League Baseball landing spots for top free agents. So, Beane, the man profiled in Michael Lewis’ bestseller Moneyball, does his best to cobble together lineups with bargain basement prospects and aging journeymen. And because he’s exceptionally good at his job—and a little lucky—he manages to field competitive teams year after year.

The city of San Jose faces similar obstacles to recruiting and retaining the best and brightest minds to run the day-to-day operations of America’s 10th largest metropolis. Protracted battles between labor and management, and polarization on the current City Council, have left a shroud of distrust hanging over 200 E. Santa Clara St. like a funeral pall. Employees are leaving in droves, taking decades of experience with them. And we don’t have a Billy Beane in our front office to work his magic.

Since 2010, San Jose has seen the exodus of no less than 13 department heads*. That number that will increase to 14 when Joe Horwedel steps down as planning director at the end of the year. All but two of these positions, fire and human resources, have been filled, but some sat vacant for months, even years, while the city looked for viable replacements. National searches have been abandoned. Chosen candidates have backed out at the last minute. And our city has been left with a gaping hole in its institutional knowledge while elected leaders grapple with the most daunting fiscal challenges in recent memory.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that City Manager Debra Figone unceremoniously announced last week that her deputy Ed Shikada will take her position when she rides off into the sunset of her pre-Measure B retirement package. No national search. No extensive outreach for public input. Not even an ad in the Mercury News. Just a closed-session council meeting and a rubber stamp. And just like that, the city of San Jose has a new CEO.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t know Mr. Shikada personally. (I’ve watched him extensively on Civic Center TV, but that’s not really the same, is it?) By all accounts, he’s a thoughtful and dedicated public servant who’s more than capable of excelling in the heady job he’s just been handed. And as fellow Willow Glen-ers, we have an instant affinity. So much so that I’ll forgive him his master’s degree from UCLA (Fight On!).

But wouldn’t it be better if we’d looked all across the country for our next city manager, turned over every stone, pored over lengthy resumes, studied best practices from similar cities and regions, only to find the best possible option right here in our own backyard?

It would make me feel better about San Jose’s pipeline of leadership—our “farm team,” so to speak. And it would certainly inspire more confidence in Mr. Shikada, who faces the prospect of proving himself worthy of an open-and-shut promotion while making difficult decisions about city services in the midst of an ongoing budget crisis. Not to mention that the upcoming mayor’s election will saddle him with a new boss within his first year on the job.

It’s an exceedingly tight rope, and I truly hope Mr. Shikada manages to walk it safely. I also hope that he will use this opportunity to promote a new vision for San Jose and a new attitude at City Hall. But the odds are stacked against him—much like they are against the A’s every winter.

Peter Allen is an arts commissioner, nonprofit director, small business owner, and a proud native of San José.

* Airport, Emergency Services, Environmental Services, Finance, Fire, Human Relations, Information Technology, Library, Parks, Recreation & Neighborhood Services (PRNS), Police, Public Works, Retirement, and Transportation.

Peter Allen was born and raised in San Jose and lives in Willow Glen. He is a board member of the Willow Glen Neighborhood Association and vice chair of the city of San Jose Arts Commission. Follow him on Twitter at @pjallen2.

5 Comments

  1. First step Mr. Shikada should make is to dump Alex Gurza, the universally loathed, distrusted and disliked head of OER. That move itself would speak volumes and go a long way in helping restore the employee’s faith in the city.

    • Mr J , You hit it right on the head! How can San Jose move forward when they have an anchor (Gurza)  weighing them down ? This sorry excuse for a human has bullied,degraded , insulted , lied and cheated San Jose employees for long enough. There are no employees that trust, rely, or look up to , this individual. This city all have an incredibly hard time seeking, hiring, and retaining employees when Gurza is involved. Hopefully Mr. Shikada will realize that he is hindered by Gurza , not helped

  2. I have high hopes for Ed Shikada. I’m a low-level city employee who has worked a bit alongside Ed. He’s personable, competent and respectful
    of fellow city employees. Prior to coming to San Jose, Ed worked for the City of Long Beach, California, which is a very well-run city. As previous posters have said,
    I hope that Ed takes a very hard look at the Office of Employee
    Relations and how they they work with and respect city employees, as I feel that there’s much room for improvement. I will support Ed and give him a reasonable amount of time to demonstrate that he can do the right thing.

  3. Billy Bean has been masterful in being able to produce winning teams. BUT , The A’s ALWAYS lose their talent to better paying teams . That is what the A’s are known for. finding talent and then losing that same talent , to a team that is willing to pay a competitive wage

  4. Hi David,

    Please keep up the great work you do. You have morr supporters than you probably realize, that watch you weekly at the different meetings on TV. You are always articulate, on point, and polite. The mayor on the other hand, seems annoyed every time you speak, because he knows you take him to task and speak the truth. Thank you.