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Is Irvine’s City Manager on his way out?


John Russo, Irvine City Manager. Photo credit: OC Register

Thanks to our friends at Irvine Watchdog, it appears Irvine City Manager John Russo is on the chopping block, but if it does happen, that will happen in executive session.  See this link:  

As Russo has sole hiring/firing power at City Hall, he’s the logical city h all employee for this action.

Russo’s “Sunshine Ordinance” isn’t as transparent as you might think and his scare tactic of a deficit was designed to penalize rank-and-file city hall workers while enriching himself and his team he brought to Irvine from his tenure in Riverside, but we have been on to him for awhile.

Per our sources in Riverside, Russo’s management style in Irvine is the same as his modus operandi there. He did the same thing in Oakland too. Russo’s firing and severance package in Riverside is the subject of a lawsuit there later this month.  Sources in Riverside say a settlement is in the works — and one that involved Russo returning some of the money he’s been paid.  If he’s fired from Irvine, his severance won’t be nearly as lucrative but its going to be hard to Russo to land another gig as a city manager at the rates he’s been paid here.

On March 12, 2019, Russo asked for all the hiring and firing power over senior staffers. Then he began moving city staff members around, fired some, reassigned others. Others, tired of his management style, quit.

Two notable hires during his term were his friends Marianna Marysheva and Kaitlyn Nguyen. Marysheva was given the Assistant City Manager position and less than a year into the job, there was an effort by Russo to give her a 17 percent raise which would have made her one of the highest paid ACMs in the state.  Shoe wound up getting a 9 percent raise.  Rank and file city hall workers got nearly nothing (Irvine deficit remember?).

Nguyen was given a completely new job created just for her titled “Economic Development Manager.” A city commissioner asked for a status report on her work and was told no.

When it came time for Russo’s year review, he asked for a 10 percent raise for himself while deciding to give city employees no raises for the next two years. His raise was negotiated down to 8 percent. Remember my article, “Taking the Early Train to Riverside“? Russo was MIA. Getting to work late, leaving early, hanging out in the gym at the Police Departmnt?  He got paid $303,041 annually for what is essentially part-time work.

Sources at Irvine City Hall tell TheLiberalOC that they believe the Council has finally heard them on these points:

  • City Staff Morale is at an all time low with turnover higher than ever before
  • Russo known to bully/embarrass staff at meetings in front of their colleagues
  • Russo witholds information from city staff

They point out that Russo never moved to Irvine as his employment agreement stipulated (probably a good thing now).  And they tell The LiberalOC that his hand selected Assistant City Manager signs off on his travel and expense reports.  There’s an obvious sign that Russo is disengaged and distracted during city council meetings when his participation should be active, it’s actually the opposite.

Then there’s this:

Our Assistant City Manager was welcoming LifeTime Fitness on her Twitter feed on September 16, 2019, before it went to a vote by the Planning Commission on October 7, 2019.

So Russo’s team was clearly making deals and boasting it about it on social media before the Planning Commission even voted on it.  Back room deals anybody?  Success fees paid?  The question ought to be asked.  At the very least, this Tweet ought to be explained.  Riverside sources say Russo was known for this in that city; how many deals were done in Irvine?

It’s time for Russo and his team to go.  They line their pockets at the expense of long time city hall employees who left with lots of institutional knowledge.  Only two council members are on the dais from the day Russo was hired.  For the other three, do the right thing.  Time to start over.

And thanks to Irvine Watchdog for the tip.


  1. Patrick Rodgers Patrick Rodgers January 13, 2020

    City Manager’s like all Department Heads, serve at the pleasure of three votes on the City Council. Loose those three votes and you become history, unless of course you have a long running contract, which the previous City Manager had. If Russo is on his way out, I guess we can assume he crossed the Mayor and her majority. Hopefully, they will clean house at the top and do a better recruitment job for the next City Management Team. The employees should be treated like the assets they are.

    • Dan Chmielewski Dan Chmielewski January 13, 2020

      Shea has no courage here. Her consultant is advising her to be neutral

  2. Mike Purl Mike Purl January 13, 2020

    Dummy leadership team with same pattern at multiple stops before Irvine. Falsely created a non-existent budget crisis (lied) so they could be “saviors”.

  3. Dee Fox Dee Fox January 13, 2020

    It scares me even more as to who would be his replacement. I mean selecting him to begin with was unbelievable with his history. It seems to me this council wants someone with a corrupt past so to be inline with what they are doing. I don’t know, I think let the majority live with him until his term runs out. Just think of who they would appoint … a member of FivePoint or StarPoint Ventures? Remember, Patrick Strader is on the Board of the Irvine Community Land Trust, and, has no accountability.

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