News - December 29, 2010

Atherton: New manager's priority: fiscal shortfall

• Interim city manager to assume duties Jan. 3.

by Renee Batti

John Danielson, who as a city manager helped launch a newly incorporated California city and establish a police department and public transportation agency in Elk Grove, near Sacramento, will begin his new job as Atherton's interim city manager on Jan. 3.

The Atherton City Council on a 4-0 vote, with Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis absent, appointed Mr. Danielson to the post at a special Dec. 22 meeting. He will be paid $15,000 monthly, and will live in the town-owned house in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Mr. Danielson's contract with the town specifies that he will not be a candidate for the permanent manager's position. One of his top responsibilities will be to help the council recruit a permanent manager to replace Jerry Gruber, who resigned in October.

That's a role Mr. Danielson played in Wildomar, in Riverside County, when he was appointed interim manager just after residents voted to incorporate. He served in that position for about 18 months, from early 2008, he said in an interview.

Mr. Danielson told The Almanac that his "target time" for the town to hire a permanent manager is "somewhere within six months." Before that happens, though, "I'm hoping we can take care of some of the more difficult things so that when the city manager is hired, we have some things in place."

Among the highest priorities: "We have to address the (town's) fiscal shortfall — there's not the luxury of waiting," he said. The town is facing a structural budgetary deficit of about $1 million that the council, staff, and a citizen advisory committee have been struggling to address. "We'll be looking for efficiencies," considering options that include contracting out some services, Mr. Danielson said.

He stressed, however, that whatever he and the council consider doing, "it will be done in a very transparent, public way — wide open and transparent. ... That's the best route to go."


Mr. Danielson was one of five finalists for the interim manager's position. Before choosing him, the town hired an independent third party to conduct an extensive background check on him.

After the investigation, the council's consensus was that there was no merit to an online article published last year that claimed Mr. Danielson had amassed over $4.8 million in compensation, leave buybacks, lifetime health insurance and pension during his six-year tenure in Elk Grove, said Mayor Jim Dobbie.

Mr. Danielson told The Almanac last week that he had been "stunned" when the article was posted, and that the statement was "just completely made up. ... It was so utterly nonsensical."

According to a press release issued by the town last week, "The Council is confident that Mr. Danielson will be an effective leader of the Town staff and will provide the Council with the guidance it needs while it is recruiting and hiring a permanent City Manager."

Elk Grove tenure

Mr. Danielson served as one of Elk Grove's first city managers, taking the job in 2001. The city, on the northern boarder of South Sacramento, had only recently incorporated, and the first manager was there for only about 11 months, he said.

During his tenure there, the city grew from about 70,000 residents to about 140,000. He was responsible for building a police department "from scratch in about 18 months," and a public transit agency that was the fastest growing transit agency in the country, he said.

When he left the job in 2007, the city had a $20 million budgetary surplus, he said.

Mr. Danielson now operates Danielson Associates in Elk Grove, which consults for local government agencies.

Current transitional interim manager Nadine Levin, the former assistant city manager of Mountain View, will leave her post on Jan. 2.


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