Former Oakland city manager appointed as Richmond interim city manager

Former Oakland city manager appointed as Richmond interim city manager
Veteran government administrator Henry L. Gardner was appointed as interim Richmond City Manager on Saturday, July 27, 2019. (Photo credit: Mike Kinney)

By Mike Kinney 

Henry L Gardner, a former city manager for Oakland who has advised dozens of cities and counties over several decades, was appointed as Richmond’s interim city manger at a special council meeting today.

Gardner’s appointment comes in the wake of a controversial 4-3 vote by the Richmond City Council on Tuesday to fire former City Manager Carlos Martinez, who clashed with the city’s unions during negotiations over the city’s budget deficit and labor contracts.

Following the decision Tuesday, the council appointed Rochelle Polk as acting city manager, apparently without her knowledge, as she declined the appointment Wednesday morning, leading to today’s special council meeting.

Mayor Tom Butt, Vice-Mayor Ben Choi and Councilmember Jael Myrick voted to retain Martinez. Butt and Myrick have publicly criticized the union-pressured council decision as being done hastily and irresponsibly. The mayor detailed his take on what led to Martinez’s firing here. Martinez, who leaves with a severance of one year’s salary, $260,000, per his contract, said he disagreed with his termination but respected the council’s decision. He told the Standard the city and council have challenges ahead.

Gardner dives into the apparent chaos with a long resume of experience in both the private and public sectors, including in Richmond, where he facilitated a retreat in February to develop City Council priorities, according to Mayor Butt. Gardner was Oakland City Manager from 1981-1993, beginning the position at age 36, according to several biographies. He was named the nation’s most valuable city manager in 1992 by City and State Magazine and has been the recipient of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators’ Mark of Excellence Award, and the 1992 Selected Fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration. He would later launch a management consulting firm providing advice in finance, governance, efficiency, staff development and other areas. He served deputy executive director and executive director of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) from 2003-2010 before returning to consulting. In 2010, he headed Mayor Jean Quan’s transitional team, and in 2014-2015 he served as interim Oakland city administrator to allow for transition.

Michelle Milam, head of the City’s Crime Prevention Unit, was also a candidate for interim city manager. 

“Henry is my mentor,” Milam said. “And I am happy with the decision.