Gurza ‘Shocked’ by Firing; City Hall Undergoing a Purge?

Shortly after returning from a holiday lunch party Thursday at Capers Loft, where approximately 60 city employees shared food and divvied up gifts through a raffle, Alex Gurza went into the 17th floor office of City Manager Ed Shikada and got canned.

There would be no negotiating or reason given for the firing, according to Gurza, who doubled as a deputy city manager and director of the Office of Employee Relations. After leaving Shikada's office, he was greeted by uniformed security guards and escorted out of the building. It was an unceremonious exit for an employee who two months earlier celebrated his 20th anniversary working for the city of San Jose.

But on Monday, Gurza returned to work—at a far lower rung on the totem pole.

Alex Gurza (via LinkedIn)

Alex Gurza (via LinkedIn)

Rather than take his usual seat at the bargaining table across from San Jose’s public employee unions, Gurza, who earned more than $222,000 in total compensation last year, has been reassigned to a low-level staff position in the Parks and Rec department. The analyst job in Parks, Recreation and Neighborhood Services (PRNS) will earn Gurza $62,982.40 annually, or about 72 percent less than what he was making.

Why would Gurza accept such a deal? And why would Shikada feel it necessary to fire Gurza in such a public manner? These are questions many at City Hall have been asking, made more difficult to answer because city officials have deemed the situation a “personnel matter,” thereby shielding information.

But in a phone call Monday evening, Gurza told San Jose Inside his side of the story. Gurza said he was "shocked" when Shikada informed him that he was being relieved of all duties effective immediately. He added that no reason was given.

"When I saw the hallway and I saw the security officers, I was even more shocked," Gurza said, adding that just this past fall he received an "outstanding" performance evaluation.

"I don’t really know what led to this," he said. "I just don’t know."

According to sources at City Hall, Gurza’s removal is part of several odd occurrences. On Tuesday, Shikada, the top appointed city official, will receive his second performance evaluation in as many weeks at the council’s closed session meeting. A second review is nearly unheard of, a source told San Jose Inside, and it could be taken as a sign that council evaluations of Shikada were so unflattering that action could be taken to remove him from his post.

Following the recent victory of Mayor-elect Sam Liccardo, there is some sense that a purge of the previous administration’s top city manager staff is taking place. Doing so could be seen as a way to create a new dialogue with public employee unions, many of which have criticized Gurza and the city for moving forward on pension reform via the ballot box. But the nature in which Gurza was removed from his job has led to speculation that something greater is at play.

Shikada, who declined an interview request, was free to fire Gurza because he was an "at-will" employee as part of the top-level management division known as Unit 99. But the security guard escort was an unusual and unnecessary touch, Gurza said. The rules of the civil service system allowed him to drop back into a previously held position, when he was still a classified employee. In a strange twist, Gurza could soon become part of the Municipal Employees Federation, a union that he sparred with repeatedly over wage cuts and pension reform.

Sources tell San Jose Inside that Gurza caught Shikada off guard by accepting the demotion rather than walking away from the city. While his pay has been reduced to nearly 28 percent of what it was a year ago, city rules allow his pension—and the salary at which it’s calculated—to go untouched.

According to a rubric for Tier-1 employees, “If separation takes place on or after July 1, 2001, Final Compensation is highest average monthly salary during 12 consecutive months.”

That means Gurza’s retirement will be calculated at the $200,000-plus salary he earned last year. He could retire today and receive a six-figure check annually from the city. But each year he remains with the city adds 2.5 percent to his annual pension payout, which caps at 75 percent.

The circumstances of Gurza’s firing caught him and many others at City Hall off guard, including the people who directed him in labor negotiations.

“If what he did was that egregious, I don’t know why the council wasn’t notified before this all became public,” one councilmember told San Jose Inside.

Another source at City Hall tells San Jose Inside that the demotion could be related to two internal investigations Gurza pursued as part of his duties in the Office of Employee Relations.

One inquiry had to do with a group of city employees who attended the 100th Annual ICMA (International City/County Management Association) conference held Sept. 14-17 in Charlotte, N.C. During the trip, the source said, a senior analyst in the city manager’s office, who has since been demoted, threatened another employee. Pam Antil, Gurza’s replacement, allegedly witnessed the threats but declined to cooperate with his investigation.

Other sources at City Hall reached for comment said they could not talk about the alleged incident, and Gurza said he could not comment on the matter.

Below is an email Gurza sent following a phone interview with San Jose Inside:

On Thursday afternoon, December 11th, the City Manager informed me that I was relieved of all of my duties associated with my Deputy City Manager and Director of Employee Relations positions.
I was not provided with a reason why I was immediately relieved of both my Director of Employee Relations responsibilities, as well as my Deputy City Manager responsibilities.  My Deputy City Manager responsibilities included areas unrelated to labor and employee relations.  I was most recently assigned to work with the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Services Department, and the Department of Public Works. In addition, I was recently appointed to the Treatment Plant Advisory Committee (TPAC) and served as City Manager's Office staff to the Transportation and Environment Committee. I recently was informed that I had received an Outstanding performance appraisal rating.
Effective Sunday, December 13th, I was placed in the position of Analyst II in the Parks, Recreation, and Neighborhood Services Department (PRNS). (This is the level of position I had when I first started with the City 20 years ago.)  I reported to work in this position at 8 a.m. on Monday morning. My new annual pay rate is $62,982.40. This new pay rate represents an approximately 72% reduction in my annual salary. Since this happened so suddenly, I will use my time in the Analyst position to consider my options, while assisting the PRNS department as best I can.
I do not know why I was escorted out of City Hall by security officers.  Based upon my 19 years of experience working in the Office of Employee Relations, I know that we rarely use uniformed security escorts when someone is removed from their current position and will be placed in a new position.  Security escorts are normally used if there is reason to believe there is a concern related to workplace violence or other safety concern, which is absolutely not the case in my situation. In the rare cases we believe a security escort is warranted, one option we have available to us is to coordinate with our Police Department who may provide us with the services of a plain clothes police officer which minimizes the visibility of the escort.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.

35 Comments

  1. This certainly seems like a very unusual, almost Byzantine, situation. I have no idea what the motivations were, but we’ll all have to wait to see how this shakes out. However, Mr. Gurza stated in his email that: “I will use my time in the Analyst position to consider my options” I would suggest, Mr. Gurza, that you use your time in your analyst position to do your job, and consider your options on your own time.

    • Mr. O’Connor–
      I apologize for the lack of clarity. Of course, I meant that I would be considering my options during this period….on my own time.
      Respectfully,
      –Alex Gurza

      • Was the issue of alleged “double-billing” by Montgomery Watson, a major contractor at the San Jose / Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant’s (WPCP) Capital Improvement Program-overseen by the Environmental Services Department (ESD) an issue?

        Looks like Ed has some explaining to do with reference to your latest performance appraisal. Unless, the entire performance appraisal system has been corrupted like I have been saying for at least two decades.

        David S. Wall

        • Corruption runs rampant at the City of San Jose. …and Alex Gurza is the poster child for corruption. Karma finally caught up with him.

          • Gurza can go to Hell! He won’t stay long as he will not be part of Federated, the bargaining unit that he so brazenly took target practice at…. These people are all incompetent

  2. Too bad to see what is happening to this once great City. Time to purge top management and start with new leadership .

  3. Will be interesting if they see each other on the elevator. If he does not like PRNS, maybe he could work as an Analyst for PD.

  4. That is Beautiful ! Now this P.O.S. can get a taste of what he has put City Employees thru for the last 19 years. Karma always comes around , Just happy that all employees get to witness it

    • My guess is that he took the lower position so that he can take the time to put in for his retirement, instead of losing it due to being fired. Just a guess.

  5. Welcome to the rank and file Mr Gurza. You’ve been away to long and forgot where it was you came from.

    I hope your experience now being on the on the receiving end of decisions and tactics you spearheaded cause you great sorrow and remorse.

    To begin the quest for reconciliation with those you helped to screw over please feel free to share all the first hand knowledge of the dirty deeds you came up with as well as those things you were directed to carry out.

    Playing the victim here will get you nothing except the very fickle attention of some very biased “jounalists.” Your best course of action might be to shut the heck up unless giving testamony to a grand jury or the FBI.

  6. The Meyer has been in consultation with The Oracle who suspects Shikada will be fired later today.

    Are Reed and Liccardo are conspiring to undermine the City Charter and the “strong City Manager – weak mayor” form of government and illegally change it to a “Mayoral Dictatorship” form of City Govt. Stay tuned, it’s about to get real interesting…who will be the first to speak to the Grand Jury or FBI? Will it be Honest Ed or Gurggling Gurza?

    • A measure, put forward by former Mayor Tom McInery, was approved by the voters several years changing the City Charter from “Strong City Manager” to “Strong Mayor” governance despite strong opposition. Nothing has worked well ever since.

  7. Mr. Wall,

    Double billing by MWH (one of the engineering contractors) at the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP)? Please go on…where are the memos or emails from a public records request? I would like to see the evidence…or is it just hearsay? Please post your evidence.

    • If you know anything about Mr Wall then you would first know he doesn’t post anything he can’t back up with the paper trail the crooks at City Hall generate.

    • I have placed one set showing “double-billing” onto the public record. The Office of the Auditor has one set showing the issue of double-billing, the Rules and Open Government Committee was given the same-RULES gave direction to Alex Gurza to report back, the Treatment Plant Advisory Committee (TPAC) was given the same set, so was the Office of the City Attorney and City Manager. So the “evidence” is posted.

      I don’t know if I scan these documents into a PDF file if the SJ Inside would print them. Further, their are serious issues as to the “Deliverables” pertaining to many invoices.

      Since you are an “unknown public employee” you may search the public record yourself and or you can visit me at City Desk (which is in the Wing in front of the main committee room) and I will gladly show you.

      David S. Wall

  8. Mr. Gurza tried to fire me once when I was President of MEF. He attempted to charge me with “theft of the public record” because I was directing all of my email to a USB stick so that I could take it with me and erase it from the server. Alex couldn’t spy on my email and that made him angry. His flunky running the IT department at the time agreed with him that I was stealing the public record. I was then told never to have a USB stick in my possession and never to tell anyone how to use one for email. My position with the City at the time was in IT assigned to the Building and Code enforcement department. Alex should be grateful that he wasn’t assigned to the animal shelter. I have absolutely no sympathy for him!

    • Your email account as a City employee *is* a public record, as it is paid for by the public and accountable to the public, and is subject to PRA requests. So, if you were deleting the public record of your email from the server, as you just stated you were, then yes, it sounds like you were subverting the system and stealing a public record.

      • Pragmatic Progressive: The City’s email policy at the time was to erase email immediately after reading it. I don’t make policy. Also, Union business is confidential!

    • I remember hearing that Gurza was approving heavy discipline for City Employees found to be surging the Web for non-job related things and especially for folks who where doing personal shopping on line. (Note: I am not condoning this behavior) turns out Gurza was doing some shopping of his own online on City Time and on City computers. He got a slap on the wrist…go figure.

  9. Mr. Gurza certainly took a hit, but unlike the police officers he treated so disrespectfully over the years he will not spend any of his work hours being publicly insulted or mocked by morons holding their hands up or claiming they can’t breathe; he won’t be at risk of physical assault or being rundown by a drunk driver; he won’t be exposed to prison or civil ruin because some oversized robber decides to assault him; he won’t be required to risk his life facing down a gunman or armed lunatic; he won’t be walking into squalid apartments or going hands on with diseased, drunken filth; he won’t be baited by punks looking for YouTube glory; he won’t have to conduct a domestic violence investigation with an outraged husband in his face; he won’t be have to see up close what adult monsters sometimes do to innocent little children.

    That said, I do ask that he watch his step, as bureaucrats in his position are traditionally vulnerable when left alone to negotiate stairwells.

    • > That said, I do ask that he watch his step, as bureaucrats in his position are traditionally vulnerable when left alone to negotiate stairwells.

      Are you referring to a specific case?

      Dish.

    • The hands up narrative was correctly evaluated by the grand jury to be a false to fact fiction produced by Michael Brown’s partner in the bullying and robbing of an Asian shopkeeper. The I can’t breathe narrative is recorded by one of those cop cams. When a police officer takes someone into custody, they are responsible for taking reasonable action to protect the life of the arrested.

  10. This is what I think and as you know I was on the money a few days ago. Put on your chips on this one folks and Shirakawa was the talker.Let me give you the clues. Liccardo was a DA and DA Jeff Rosen is his best “Partner in Crime”. Gurza was not told why because the Criminal Investigation is “On”. Grand Juries are secret!!!!! They want to forestall legal retaliation by putting him in what amounts to the Shaming job at the Police Department of working the in house Bicycle Detail. The COUNTS will be numerous and involve Debra Figone’s time as City Manager. This is one of my most thrilling Xmas presents.

  11. My guess is that Ed Shikada will be out on a no confidence vote by the mayor and council, Alex Gurza gets his reward for his humiliating demotion by replacing Ed as the interim City Manager. Plus what better way to reward Alex for his hard work with Measure B? Very transparent to me!

    • Sadly, many see the second part of this as being a very real possibility. And it would be just like Reed, Liccardo and their ilk to reward someone for their part in screwing up this entire City.

      • If that were to really happen, employee trust would fall so much lower that employees would have to look up to see the ground. I think that would be a huge, huge mistake if liccardo pulled that stunt. That being said, I would not put it past him. It would go to prove what we have said all along–we do not trust him.

  12. Wow, just, Wow! I wish I could find some tears for Mr. Gurza but I am all dried up do to the rape of all City Employees, current and former, at the hands of the Mayor, Council, City Management and Alex Gurza and the voters who support them. Poor Alex is “SHOCKED?!”. Get in line behind all the rest of the employees who have been reeling for quite some time now you poor sad thing. Maybe later I can drum up a moment to grieve. But that moment isn’t now.

  13. I can’t help but laugh. It’s got to be karma. So fitting Gurza gets demoted back to the position he started 20 years ago and has to endure a significant pay cut. I can’t stop laughing he’s now in the union he’s worked so hard to screw over. Rejoicing because he’s in the same union where he rolled back employees salaries to 1990’s levels. I can’t stop laughing because Gurza thought he was untouchable! During this entire mess and demise of the City, Gurza hasn’t endured any pay cuts or suffering. The best move the City Manager has done is to demote Gurza. I’m still laughing! I heard a rumor the reason why PD present was because Mr. Gurza threw quite the tantrum, as in 2 year old fashion.

    Justice served.

  14. Isn’t it possible that legal reasons made it impossible for Shikada to tell even council members anything if there is a criminal investigation unfolding? Not saying there is, just stating why he might take such an action without any “heads up” if he wasn’t compelled to. It would be a bummer if he was fired as a result. It’s quite possible he might be let go for unrelated reasons such as changing of the guard with a new mayor – yet the timing might make it appear to be related to Gurza. Maybe it’s in the best interest of some to have it appear related. If it’s a criminal investigation, and Shikada was advised to speak to no one, he also would not have been in control of the timing of the firing. He would be required to take action immediately. He hires and fires his staff – not the council. I am trying to apply logic to this – I have no vested interest other than a yearning for fair and just outcomes. That said, many things in life are not just, plus a tangled web has many outcomes invisible to most of us. I suspect those apply here.

  15. We are focusing on the wrong target. Sam Liccardo is the target….if you dont think this is an orchestration by him and his handlers, you are dead wrong. As I have said all along, at least you KNOW Chuck Reed is going to screw you, Liccardo will screw you while smiling in your face.

    • “Liccardo will screw you while smiling in your face.”

      Totally agree.

  16. No sympathy here, that the man who spent 20+ years developing his status as the most hated City employee amongst his fellow employees. His role as a key facilitator in Reed’s slash and burn legacy requires the most severe reprimand. But its too bad that the former Mayor, who worked his way to his final position as the most ruthless sociopathic Mayor the City has ever seen, has gotten off with impunity for the incredible damage he has done to the moral and quality of the workforce of which he had shown nothing but contempt.