Dysfunction at City Hall: How the City Manager Office Broke Down

The City Hall management purge will tally its third top-level executive Friday, when Pam Antil’s resignation becomes final.

San Jose Inside has confirmed that on Dec. 29, San Jose’s second-highest ranking non-elected employee submitted notice of her intent to leave the city. Antil will receive a severance package of five months salary, or about $100,000, in exchange for an agreement not to file suit against the city. What claims she could levy against her employer of just eight months, after coming over from the city of Palo Alto, are not exactly clear.

Pam Antil

Pam Antil

Nearly two dozen City Hall insiders interviewed for this report say that the past month’s exodus of key staff—including Antil’s departure, the forced resignation of City Manager Ed Shikada and the firing of deputy City Manager Alex Gurza—points to dysfunction in the $3 billion city government’s senior executive team over the last six months.

During that time, potentially inappropriate personal relationships and perceived favoritism, as well as alleged threats of violence and overzealous internal investigations, have split the city manager’s office into factions. The turmoil has created a foreboding sense among top staffers that another shoe could drop at any time. The office’s productivity has also become an issue, according to sources.

The discontent appears to have begun shortly after Antil joined the city in May. Her arrival coincided with Shikada incrementally reducing Gurza’s responsibilities, which led to conflicts between the city manager and his lead labor negotiator. While Antil—an admittedly direct, unapologetic manager—was not Gurza’s direct boss, her position as assistant city manager placed her one step higher.

Shikada also hired Joe Angelo in August to assume the role of Human Resources director, which again cut into Gurza’s responsibilities as head of the Office of Employee Relations. In addition to carrying out orders from the council on negotiations with public employee unions, Gurza, who celebrated his 20th anniversary with the city two months before Shikada fired him, oversaw internal investigations into matters that ranged from poor performance to misconduct. The vigor with which he carried out these investigations is a matter of contention, but a report by an outside law firm suggests that he may have crossed the line in one instance. This is one of several reasons Shikada fired Gurza after learning about his own fate a day earlier.

On Dec. 9, Shikada received a performance evaluation from the City Council in closed session. San Jose’s incoming mayor, Sam Liccardo, notified him a day later that a search for a new city manager would be launched. The 11-year city employee, who had held the city manager role for almost exactly a year, was informed that he would be stripped of his duties and tagged with an interim title in the meantime. The move, once announced, would effectively neuter Shikada of any executive power.

Ed Shikada

Ed Shikada

In bold fashion, without notifying his bosses (the mayor and council), Shikada called Gurza into his office and informed him he would be terminated. City Hall security waited outside the office door. The axing shocked just about everyone—Gurza, Liccardo, terming-out Mayor Chuck Reed, council members and fellow city manager staff—and all but ensured Shikada would be removed from his post sooner than later. His resignation was announced the following week and his last day was New Year’s Eve. At Liccardo’s direction, the council appointed one of Shikada’s top lieutenants, Norberto Dueñas, to the interim position.

In addition to firing Gurza, one of Shikada’s last actions was to help engineer Antil’s exit. Her brief time in San Jose appears to have been tumultuous, and yet few people outside of the manager’s office say they were aware of the situation until last month.

According to a redacted report obtained through a Public Records Act request, the law firm Hirschfeld Kramer LLP concluded that an internal investigation initiated in autumn after an anonymous whistleblower complaint—and presumably carried out by Gurza—overstepped its bounds. Both the internal and external investigations focused on allegations that two employees were misusing city time by leaving work early together. One of these employees, according to sources, was Patrick Heisinger, who five months earlier had been promoted from the Housing Department to a senior analyst position in the manager’s office.

The inquiries prompted no known disciplinary actions, but relationships between several colleagues turned toxic.

In mid-September, a small group of city employees attended the 100th Annual ICMA (International City/County Management Association) conference held in Charlotte, N.C. During an off-the-clock dinner at Tupelo Honey Café, a “Nuveau Southern” cuisine restaurant in the Dilworth neighborhood, about 15-20 government employees from San Jose and other California cities shared comfort food, drinks and conversation. It was at this time, sources tell San Jose Inside, that Heisinger shared his frustration with Gurza’s inquiries, which apparently included digging into a personal relationship.

Alex Gurza

Alex Gurza

Heisinger, who was seated next to Antil, reportedly vented anger with the process and said he would like to physically assault the people he believed were talking behind his back, including Angelique Gaeta, an assistant to the city manager who had worked with Heisinger on San Jose’s medical marijuana regulatory program. Gaeta was not in attendance for the trip.

When Gurza heard about the threats, he launched another internal investigation. Sources say he attempted to debrief Antil but was rebuffed. There are varying stories on who heard Heisinger’s alleged comments, but sources tell San Jose Inside that Antil instructed co-workers not to discuss it.

In a brief phone conversation, Heisinger denied making any threats and said an investigation “concluded there was no wrongdoing.” He was, however, placed on administrative leave and, when he returned to the city, he landed back in the Housing department in his prior role at a lower salary.

Heisinger said his change in duties was voluntary. When asked to clarify what exactly occurred at the dinner in Charlotte, he hung up the phone.

Shikada’s decision to fire Gurza in December, knowing his bosses would certainly disapprove of such a bold move by a lame duck city manager, clearly left the incoming mayor miffed.

“The timing was a concern,” Liccardo says. “Ed was informed of my desire to start a search for a city manager before Alex walked into his office to be terminated.”

But in an odd quirk of the civil service system, Gurza was able to return to the city’s employ just two business days after being fired to a low-level analyst role in the Parks and Rec department—the same job he held when first joining the city. Days later, word leaked out of City Hall that Shikada would get the axe.

The city’s police and fire unions, which had attempted to negotiate a compromise on Measure B pension reforms with Shikada during the summer, said in a press release that the city manager’s forced resignation had “squashed” all hope for a fresh start with the Liccardo administration. The council rejected that compromise in August, but there is an acknowledgment by people involved in the process that the agreement was doomed to fail during the mayor’s race. Both sides could have been seen as politically weak by accepting a compromise: Liccardo and Reed would appear to be backing down on pursuing court validation of Measure B pension reforms, and public safety unions would lose the argument that the city’s political leadership was unwilling to negotiate a solution.

There has also been speculation within City Hall that Shikada's days were numbered from the moment he became city manager, even though he was given a contract rather than the interim tag. Having him in place during an election year would present an appearance of stability.

Dueñas, the interim city manager, now oversees an office that will be forced to fill not only the position Gurza recently held, but also search for Antil’s replacement. Those decisions, of course, may not be Dueñas’ to make, as a search to replace him is already underway.

The city has refused to answer all of San Jose Inside’s questions about how and why Shikada and Gurza were let go, citing personnel matters as confidential and/or falling under attorney-client privilege. But more answers could be forthcoming. Councilman Don Rocha submitted a memo Thursday requesting that minutes from the council’s Dec. 16 closed session—which also discussed Shikada’s performance—be made public.

Josh Koehn is the managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @Josh_Koehn.

17 Comments

  1. It sounds like Alex Gurza was fired for doing over zealous and inappropriate investigations. Anyone who works at City Hall could have told you that he was out of control years ago. Everyone at City hall is more than overjoyed that Ed Shikada had the balls to fire Gurza even if Shikada himself was on his way out. As for Pam Antil, it sounds like she was doing something called MANAGEMENT and some old time employees didn’t like it. Pam was direct, but even more so she was supportive and a breath of fresh air at City Hall. The rest of your comments about her are at best gossip since none of your “sources” (Alex Gurza) have names. Any time we get someone good, it doesn’t take long for them to figure out what a messed up place San Jose is to work. That started long before Pam came to work for San Jose. And by the way, what a sexist chauvinistic bent of the story — to try to hint that a strong and direct female manager caused the havoc created by Alex Gurza himself. Good Luck to Ed and Pam. The employees of San Jose will miss you.

    • I’m a pretty rabid feminist, and I didn’t see a hint of sexism in the article. As usual, Josh has a well written, well researched article.

    • Well Said, Most all of upper management in San Jose are dysfunctional and only the dedication and professionalism of the employees keep it running as well as it does.

  2. Good reporting JK!

    There is nothing like a steamy-sex ridden soap opera to define the intrigue and demise of; a city manager, an assistant city manager, a deputy city manager and a senior analyst who flunked out of the city manager’s office to start the New Year off for the Liccardo administration.

    Will there be any more “lopping-off of administrative heads?”

    There are so many additional candidates that should receive the same axe treatment to prune an organization fraught with corruption and mismanagement.

    It is my prayer, Mr. Dueñas be appointed as permanent City Manager so he can continue the lopping process. He knows all the corrupt and incompetent appointees and their corresponding appointees throughout the organization.

    Someone hired from the “outside” will not. Thus, the organization will continue to resemble, a fourth-stage cancer patient on ineffective palliative care.

    David S. Wall

  3. Now I wonder if all the City employees who were fired wrongfully, should start a law suit. Employee Relations, Alex Gurza, the City Council and the District Attorney’s Office were corrupt, lied, and did a lot of cover ups. This started back in 2007 or so.

  4. I have been with the city for over twenty years and the favoritism is still running rampant. Negotiations with the unions were more of a dictation with no compromise, OER is run by want to be lawyers.

  5. Sounds like San Jose had it’s share of probs but whoever hired Antil didn’t check her out. She was a mess in Palo Alto. Lying, getting drunk and hitting on staff. Everyone was glad when she left.

  6. LoL!! We really need a like button on the comments section!!! Sad to see Ed go. His short time as CM, he seemed pretty decent.

  7. As far as this former manager with 22 years in, this was all cultured and brought to product by the most dreadful Mayor San Jose has ever seen. No, not you Sam. Pondering “what would Janet Gray do” during the preceding the City’s fiscal stress? Sad he got off Scott free.

  8. San Jose makes Chicago politics seem like childs play. I can see why the city sux. Too bad. Pam is a good lady

  9. I just now ran across this article – happy to see that Ms. Antil was booted from San Jose. She was one of the reasons I left Palo Alto after several decades of service. It’s one thing to be “outgoing,” “zealous,” and “forceful,” but when it is accompanied by a complete lack of respect for your subordinates (among other negative qualities), you are just a pee-poor manager. Apparently two cities have now become wiser . . . Be interesting to see where she is recycled.