We at the California City Management Foundation (CCMF) were shocked to read about the protest this past weekend outside the home of our CCMF member: Sacramento City Manager Howard Chan. The organizers’ imagery and language in their announcement represented a thinly veiled threat to our professional peer. Further, the protest at his home represents a continuation of protest tactics that began in 2020 and have moved the public debate forum from its rightful place in council chambers and the ballot box into the personal domiciles of civic leaders across America. This is wrong.
Our member-based organization advocates for and supports the City Manager profession throughout the state. As many of the City Managers, Town Managers or Chief Administrative Officers of California’s 480+ cities and towns can attest, it is often a thankless job. Especially after a year of relaying unpopular mandates from higher levels of government and making unpopular decisions to keep local government budgets intact.
People often misunderstand that the City Manager serves at the pleasure of the City Council and is charged with executing their vision while overseeing the administrative side of the public agency. As public servants, City Managers have thick enough skin to receive misplaced anger or public criticism about their performance via email or phone or during a public meeting. But nothing can – nor should – prepare you for the completely inappropriate intimidation Howard and his family experienced at their home. If you have a problem with a policy, take it up with the elected officials who have the honor of representing the public. The city manager form of government is intentionally designed to shield the professional staff from the public’s policy objectives. Council members decide, city managers deliver.
Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the rest of the Sacramento City Council offered a swift and eloquent reproach of this protest and its tactics to intimidate a public servant. Thank you to the members of the Sacramento Police Department for your efforts in ensuring the physical safety of everyone involved. And thank you, Howard, for your steadfast public service in the face of this frightening incident. We stand ready to support you in any way we can.