City manager placed on leave, two other positions terminated in Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach City Manager Mark Danaj. File photo


Manhattan Beach City Manager Mark Danaj. File photo

In a unanimous closed session vote Thursday afternoon, the Manhattan Beach City Council placed City Manager Mark Danaj on paid administrative leave.

City Attorney Quinn Barrow gave only brief statement on the decision and no indication regarding its cause.

“In that this is a personnel matter, the City Council will have no additional comments at this time,” Barrow said in a press release. “Finance Director Bruce Moe will serve as Acting City Manager until further notice. Mr. Moe will work with City staff to continue to serve residents and businesses during the absence of Mr. Danaj.”

The move comes in the wake of the quiet purging of two high-level administrative positions last month. Both the economic vitality manager and the assistant city manager positions were eliminated, though the city did not make the decision public. Sources within City Hall confirmed the positions were eliminated, effective Dec. 1, at a budget savings of nearly $500,000. A public records request made for details of staff eliminations is in process with the City Clerk’s office. It appears that the economic vitality manager, Andy Sywak, has been reassigned within the city government, while assistant city manager Nadine Nader is no longer with the city.

Neither Barrow nor any members of City Council would comment further on either Danaj’s leave or the staff reductions.

But the moves, particularly staff reductions, are in keeping with campaign promises by councilmembers Nancy Hersman, Steve Napolitano and Richard Montgomery, all of whom were elected to council in March on campaigns that stressed greater fiscal restraint in city government.

“We study a lot, we delay a lot, and we spend money on things we don’t necessarily need. It’s time to get things done,” Napolitano said during his campaign.

Montgomery specifically talked of “reining in” hiring and questioned the creation of new staff positions, particularly criticizing the nearly $2 million low interest loan given to the assistant city manager to purchase a house. The economic vitality manager and assistant city manager were among the four new positions created under Danaj. Another new position, an information technology director, remains intact and has proven cost-effective, generating savings in the city’s telecommunications contracts; Danaj backed down from his original intention to hire a community engagement manager after facing public outcry over its cost.

Danaj was hired as city manager in July 2014. His base salary was $250,000 and his compensation package included up to $1.7 million in low interest loans to help purchase a home in Manhattan Beach. He’d previously been serving as assistant city manager in Fremont, California, and prior to that worked on staff for the City of San Jose. Due to his experience in Silicon Valley, he was regarded as a “next generation” manager particularly adept in technology and transparency.

“Mark is really well-versed in open and transparent government,” Mayor Amy Howorth said at the time of his hiring. “He’s really confident with technology and innovation. I think our city runs really well and we’ve got a terrific staff, and I don’t think we have giant systemic problems. But going from good to great is always a delicate balance and I think Mark is going to be the person to get us there.”

His initial three year contract was extended through 2020 at the same salary just a year into his tenure.

“You’re our man,” said former Councilperson Mark Burton at the time. “We like what you’re doing.”

Danaj earned his Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Notre Dame, and a B.A. in economics and political science from Marquette University. He is also a graduate from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government program. His MBA was somewhat unusual insofar as it’s more common for city managers to have a Masters in Public Administration.

The three staff departures —  if indeed Danaj’s leave is made permanent —  come at a time of flux in the City of Manhattan Beach. At the end of this month, police chief Eve Irvine will depart in order to take the helm of the Torrance Police Department, while fire chief Robert Espinosa will retire.



comments so far. Comments posted to may be reprinted in the Easy Reader print edition, which is published each Thursday.