Interior view of a city council meeting showing council members and staff seated in a semi-circle facing a person speaking at a desk. They are behind desks with nameplates and microphones, in a wood-paneled room with an American flag to the side.
Then-Vallejo City Manager Michael Malone (seated second from left on the dais) listens to a presentation during the April 11, 2023 meeting of the Vallejo City Council. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

The Vallejo City Council has narrowed in on two top contenders for permanent city manager, Open Vallejo has learned.

A headshot of a bald man with a close-cropped beard, smiling at the camera, wearing a suit, a light blue shirt, and a plaid tie. He appears professional and approachable, standing against a blurred natural background.
Andrew Murray Credit: City of Pinole

During a closed session meeting last week, the council selected Andrew Murray, an interim official in Berkeley and former Pinole city manager, and Gillian Haen, Vallejo’s assistant city manager, among its preferred candidates for the position, according to sources with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Haen is reportedly the council’s second choice.

The sources who spoke with Open Vallejo on condition of anonymity did so to discuss sensitive internal personnel matters.

The city manager, who reports directly to the city council, supervises all city departments other than the City Attorney’s Office.

It is unclear when the permanent city manager will begin work, as background checks and salary negotiations are still ongoing, sources said. Interim City Manager Beverli Marshall is expected to oversee the city’s day-to-day operations until then.

“Let’s just say we’re moving forward with the process as fast as we possibly can,” said Mayor Robert McConnell, who declined to discuss any details of the council’s closed-session meeting in a phone call Thursday. 

More than thirty people applied for Vallejo’s city manager opening, McConnell wrote in a Facebook post on April 15. The council narrowed that group to six finalists, who were interviewed by panels of city council members, some Vallejo department heads, and community volunteers.

A lone woman sits in a large auditorium with rows of empty seats around her. She is looking down at her phone, engrossed in its content. The setting suggests an atmosphere of isolation or reflection amid a public space.
Assistant Vallejo City Manager Gillian Haen attends a Vallejo city council meeting on Feb. 13, 2024. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

The city hired Bob Hall and Associates, a California executive recruiting firm, to lead the search for a new city manager. The firm hosted virtual and in-person forums in March to “gather feedback directly from the residents of Vallejo,” according to a meeting notice, and launched an online community survey to collect input from residents. The city conducted interviews in private and has not disclosed any candidate names, including the finalists. 

The process was at times marked by tension, sources said. Earlier this month, a member of the community panel filed a complaint with the city’s human resources department following the candidate interviews, according to an email obtained by Open Vallejo. The community member alleged that a member of the recruiting team warned the group to expect “very lengthy responses” from one of the candidates, a Black woman, ahead of her interview, and instructed the panel to interrupt the candidate to “keep the interview going.” 

The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“No other candidate was introduced to the panel with such warnings throughout the day,” the panel member wrote in the email. “It is very unfortunate that she was the only candidate that was introduced with prejudice.” 

In response, Human Resources Director Stephanie Sifuentes thanked the panel member for her “thoughtful reflection,” and noted that she would share the feedback with the city council.

A city at a crossroads

A poster on a utility pole, with a cartoon illustration of a man in a suit, overlaid with text and hashtags calling for his removal from office. There is a QR code at the bottom, and the background shows a blurred street scene.
A flyer calling for then-Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff’s removal from office is seen taped to a utility pole on Sept. 14, 2020 in Vallejo, Calif. Nyhoff abruptly resigned in July of 2021. Credit: Geoffrey King / Open Vallejo

Murray previously worked as city manager in Pinole, a roughly 18,000-person city in Contra Costa County, from January 2020 to September 2023. He was initially hired on a three-year contract, which was subsequently extended. The city announced that Murray would leave “to pursue other career opportunities” eight months after his original contract expired.

Murray, who now serves as the interim public works director for the City of Berkeley, declined to comment for this article when reached by phone Friday. 

Pinole appointed Neil Gang, the city’s police chief, as interim city manager while the city searches for a permanent replacement.

Murray has worked in government for nearly two decades, according to his LinkedIn profile, with previous roles as an assistant city manager in Pleasant Hill and assistant to the city administrator in Oakland. Before that, he spent seven years with the City and County of San Francisco. He also held senior positions at the University of California’s Office of the President and the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

Haen has worked as an assistant city manager in Vallejo since 2021, according to Transparent California. She started working for Vallejo in 2019 as a community development director under City Manager Greg Nyhoff, who resigned in July 2021 amid allegations of corruption, bias and mismanagement, according to court records. 

Haen previously worked for an engineering firm, a local tribal government, and the City of Santa Rosa as a city planner, according to her LinkedIn profile. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

The new appointee will replace Michael Malone, who retired last week after serving more than two years as city manager, first in an interim capacity and later in the permanent role. Malone stepped into the position after the resignation of Anne Cardwell, who was interim city manager for just over two months following Nyhoff’s resignation.

Anna Bauman is an investigative reporter with Open Vallejo.