He started 14 years ago as Sacramento’s parking chief – now he’s the city manager

By Anita Chabria


November 18, 2016 04:57 PM

Assistant city manager Howard Chan officially takes over Saturday as interim city manager of Sacramento, replacing John Shirey.

Chan will immediately oversee the city’s nearly 6,000 full, part-time and seasonal employees and run day-to-day operations. Under the city charter, the city manager has power over daily decisions and reports to the City Council.

“It’s sinking in and I’m very excited about some of the changes we’re going to make,” said Chan on Friday, his 49th birthday. “I’m looking forward to putting my imprint here in the city.”

Chan said one of his first priorities will be hiring a new police chief. Current chief Sam Somers Jr. is retiring in December, and the city is holding public forums to gather input on a new chief and police reform proposals.

“We’ve got to get the right person in there,” said Chan. “We’ve got to rebuild trust with the community.”

Chan also said he will try to increase diversity at City Hall, including hiring someone for the recently created role of diversity manager. An audit earlier this year found that many city departments lack minorities and women in leadership roles.

“I’ve been meeting with groups that are frustrated and critical of how we are doing our hiring and procurement,” Chan said. He added that he will increase outreach to find more diverse candidates for open positions.

Chan said he is meeting regularly with incoming Mayor Darrell Steinberg to discuss priorities for the incoming administration. Steinberg will need buy-in from the city manager to accomplish key pieces of his agenda, which includes reducing homelessness and spurring economic development.

“It’s a partnership,” said Chan. “The whole issue with the strong mayor, strong city manager ... what it really boils down to is trust and that is something I have been developing with Darrell and his team in the last month, and having open and honest dialogues about what our city should look like.”

Steinberg said he “believes (Chan) shares the vision that I have laid out ... I’m really looking forward to working with Howard. He is well-respected by everyone. He is calm and cool under fire and has good judgment.”

Chan was named interim city manager in September. Through search firm Ralph Andersen & Associates, the city received more than 80 résumés, interviewed 10 candidates and gave final consideration to at least one in its search for a permanent replacement for Shirey.

But ultimately the City Council opted to temporarily tap Chan, a 14-year City Hall veteran who began in the parking division.

“He kind of reflects who we are as a city, a child of immigrants who through hard work rose up through the ranks on merit,” said Councilman Steve Hansen.

Chan was born in San Francisco as the middle son of three to parents who immigrated from Hong Kong and China. His father worked as a bartender in a well-known Chinatown watering hole while his mother cleaned hotel rooms.

Chan graduated from California State University, Hayward, and worked in the private sector before being recruited in 2002 as Sacramento’s parking manager. He was promoted to assistant city manager in 2013. Chan has two teenage children and lives in Natomas.

The search for a permanent city manager was complicated by the June election of Steinberg as incoming mayor. Steinberg wanted to help select the next city manager, but the city couldn’t formally include him in the hiring process because he doesn’t take office until Dec. 13.

Chan has a seven-month contract through June. The contract could be extended or Chan could get a permanent offer.

Chan will receive a prorated annual salary of $262,627.

Bee reporter Phillip Reese contributed to this report.

Anita Chabria: 916-321-1049, @chabriaa