Huntington Beach Has Lost Five Executives in Four Months. Is the New Council to Blame?

Since the November elections ushered in a new Republican majority city council, Huntington Beach has been hemorrhaging leadership. According to Voice of OC, five of eight department directors have left since December 2022, creating a management vacuum in the city. 

The new council majority has pursued a tenuous housing fight with the state, banned the Pride flag on city properties, and eliminated socially-conscious prayers before city council meetings.

A source who spoke to Voice of OC backed up suspicions that the new council’s zealotry is driving public servants away.

“They’re not doing any real work anymore, it’s all these sort of performative fights,” the source said. “Doing good for the community has taken a backseat. I know multiple folks who are looking to leave.”

Conservative city leaders have their own suspicions. They believe former city manager Oliver Chi, who became Irvine’s top administrator in 2021, has been actively recruiting people to join him.

Three of the department heads who have left Surf City in the past few months have gone to work for Irvine. One went to Menlo Park and another to Palm Desert.

Chi denies encouraging anyone to follow him to Irvine and says he actively encouraged some of them to stay.  

Councilmember Gracey Van Der Mark told Voice of OC that she asked former staff members whether actions by the council were responsible for the turnover. They said no. She was left with the impression that higher pay was the primary factor. 

Regardless of the cause, it’s not a good look for the council. 

“Am I concerned about the fact that five people have left? Yes. Yes I am,” said Councilmember Rhonda Bolton, who is not part of the conservative majority. “To have five executives leave in the space of a few months is unusual, and the only thing that has significantly occurred in that period of time is this change with the city council.”