Michele Ellson
John Russo

Photo courtesy of the City of Riverside.

Updated at 6:04 p.m. Thursday, February 19

City Manager John Russo is leaving Alameda for the city manager's job in Riverside, an official with that city confirmed Thursday. Russo has been Alameda's top administrator since 2011.

Russo, a former Oakland City Council member who served as Oakland's elected city attorney for 11 years before coming to the Island, bested 40 other applicants, including five other finalists, for the job. He's expected to start work there on May 4.

Russo said he and his wife had planned to move to Southern California at some point, and that he considered looking at the opportunity to jump to a bigger city now with a lot of prompting from Girish Balachandran, the former head of Alameda Municipal Power who left to run Riverside's public utilities in 2014.

"This is the biggest city at that area, and it came open, and they came calling," he said.

Russo said that while Mayor Trish Spencer "has different policy ideas" than the prior mayor and council, the two of them have worked well together in their short time collaborating at City Hall.

"My relationship, person to person, in working with Mayor Spencer, has been friendly and professional. She’s been nothing but positive and supportive," Russo said.

Spencer concurred in that assessment, noting that Russo helped her put together a resolution to voice support for the East Bay Regional Park District's efforts to obtain the 3.9-acre Neptune Pointe property from the federal government to expand Crab Cove, which she had listed as one of her first priorities as mayor.

"It shows his professionalism in that we had a change politically on the council, and he seamlessly transitioned from the prior council to working with the new council," she said.

Spencer, who said she thinks Russo is "uniquely qualified" to serve as a city manager because of his experience as Oakland's city attorney, said she's happy for him and his family.

"Riverside is a growing community," she said. "I think it’s a really nice opportunity for him professionally. He’ll prove to be an asset to Riverside."

Alameda's City Council hired Russo after opting not to retain the city's former interim city manager, and he had a close relationship with former mayor Marie Gilmore, who voters ousted in November. He had been an elected official for 16 years before coming to Alameda to take what was his first job as a city's top administrator. Prior to Gilmore's loss at the polls, he had been rumored to be seeking an extension on his five-year contract, which would have expired next year.

Russo helped the Island win control of much of Alameda Point and helped push through a process to plan development there. He also helped attract new businesses to the Island and settle contentious contract disputes with the city's labor unions.

Spencer won a seat on the dais after running on a slow-growth platform, and Vice Mayor Frank Matarrese, who rejoined the council in December, has said he doesn't want to see any housing on the former Naval Air Station. The council will soon consider whether to permit Alameda Point Partners to develop 68 acres along Seaplane Lagoon with 800 new homes, shops, parks and a new ferry terminal.

The city's police and fire contracts expire in 2017.

Russo, who received notice for his loquaciousness on the dais and some criticism for attacking council members and members of the public with whom he disagreed at meetings, had been noticeably silent and withdrawn since the new council members were seated. He left Oakland after enduring a chilly relationship with then-Mayor Jean Quan, and many City Hall watchers expected him to leave after Spencer was elected.

Riverside is a city of 304,000 according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and Russo will manage a city staff of 2,400. He will earn a starting salary of $295,000 per year, according to the press release - $45,000 a year more than what he is earning here.

In a City of Riverside-issued press release, Russo praised that city for its ability to blend history and growth.

“Riverside has an excellent reputation around the state because of its ability to blend a reverence for its unique local history with an aggressive and groundbreaking public improvement program like the Riverside Renaissance,” Russo said. “My family and I are looking forward to becoming part of such a vibrant and inclusive community.”

Council members said they'll miss working with Russo and wished him luck in his new job. They credited him with helping the city progress in its efforts to develop Alameda Point and said he was a "valuable asset" in working with the city's labor unions.

"I think he’s brought us a long way," Councilwoman Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said, adding that she expects that Russo will continue to work hard for the city until he leaves in May.

City Councilman Jim Oddie credited Russo with helping Alameda make "significant progress" on Alameda Point and on addressing fiscal issues at City Hall.

"I wish John well in his new opportunity. Our city is fortunate to have been the beneficiary of his skills and talent as our city manager," Oddie said.

Council members voiced confidence that the foundation Russo laid during his time here and the staff he hired will keep the city in good stead after he leaves.

"While Mr. Russo is leaving Alameda for Riverside, his positive influence will continue on in City Hall with his key hires, as well as with policy directions implemented during his tenure," Councilman Tony Daysog said.

Spencer said council members will discuss how they'd like to handle the hire of a new city manager, though a date has not yet been set. Russo submitted his resignation Thursday after learning last week that Riverside had selected him.

In the letter he expressed gratitude for his time on the Island.

"It has been my honor to serve Alameda, and to have worked closely with its residents to solve some of the city's most intransigent issues," Russo wrote. "I will forever be grateful for the opportunity that was given to me nearly four years ago, and for the tremendous community support for me and my family during my tenure here."


Submitted by Neal (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Same destination as Girish Balachandran, late of Alameda Power...

Submitted by KurtP (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Guessing someone realized that bullying and back door negotiations weren't going to be the order of business with our new mayor and council. Looking forward to a new City Manager that has the long term betterment of the city at heart.

Submitted by MJ (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

It sounds like an opportunity for Alameda to improve local government.

Submitted by Sue Spiersch (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Best news for Alameda (since the last election) that I've heard in a long time. Good riddance! Poor Riverside. Be careful what you wish for. John, don't let the door hit you in the butt on your way outta Alameda

Submitted by Steve Jones (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Mr Russo was a wonderful blend between leading the Alameda City Council in the right direction and pulling them along the way. He had a correct vision for Alameda and will be missed. Be very careful for what you wish for, because as we have witnessed in the past, things can go south very quickly. Best to John in his new horizon.

Submitted by Karen Bey (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Best wishes to one of the best City Manager's we've ever had!

Submitted by Diane Stohner (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

good riddance!

Submitted by neil (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

I worry we won't get someone of his caliber again. He stands head and shoulders above his predecessors in terms of ability. We were lucky, being a small city, to get him.

Submitted by David (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Is this the same city manager who brought in the contingency-fee-based tax auditing firm - despite tons of evidence that such firms compromise the integrity of the tax system - which then set about pouncing on numerous innocent businesses and foundations in town, generating an outcry, and which ultimately resulted in the endeavor being quashed, with an apology from the City of Alameda?

Why yes, it is.

Submitted by Tom (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Well he certainly is a talented man.

A fantastic mind....Able to integrate vast amounts of information and respond on almost any civic matter with the voice firm voice of a warrior attorney!

But,,,,,,,to my mind he needs a bit of humility and common kindergarten manner training along with some Norman Vincent Peal coursework on citizen personal public relations and communications.

I do wish him the best in Southern Ca!


Submitted by Dvonne Pitruzzello (not verified) on Thu, Feb 19, 2015

Well John, since you've had experience with morally corrupt city council and mayor in Oakland you'll do fine in Riverside. Although we are very innovative in the corruption department. You see John the renaissance is but one of the morally corrupt projects in Riverside. Whereby, loaning utility monies and pension obligation money to redevelopment and then laundered to developers. You know the game. We have no one to blame but ourselves for allowing a mayor and city council to bring in a sociopath city manager to enact the scheme putting the citizens of Riverside in billions of dollars of debt. How to pay for all of this, up utility costs till the people can't afford to water their lawns and cool their houses. Your friend the new public utilities director in Riverside can vouch For this. Oh by the way, Ron Loveridge devised this scheme, mr. League of cities himself. Good luck you'll need it, it will test your moral competency.

Submitted by Gail Howell (not verified) on Fri, Feb 20, 2015

What great news to receive on a Friday morning. It will be a wonderful weekend. (This comment has been edited to reflect our comment standards.)

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Fri, Feb 20, 2015

Hey folks .... this is spiraling out of control. Shutting down comments now.