Jestin Johnson in a suit and tie with a brick wall in the background.
Jestin Johnson. Credit: Courtesy city of Oakland

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao announced on Wednesday that her office has picked Jestin Johnson to become city administrator, which oversees and manages the daily operations of Oakland’s departments, from police and fire to parks and planning. If confirmed by the City Council, Jestin will take over from the interim city administrator Steven Falk, who has been in the role since March, and G. Harold Duffey, who also served in an interim capacity earlier this year.

“Jestin Johnson has an exemplary record working with cities, organizations and residents to elevate services, address concerns and bring people together,” Thao said in a statement on Wednesday.

Johnson comes to Oakland from the private sector, where he worked as IBM’s corporate social responsibility manager. Johnson had almost two decades of experience working in local governments in Georgia and Arizona. He previously served as deputy chief operating officer in Atlanta, where he led the development of capital projects. Prior to that he worked as the assistant county manager for the Unified Government of Athens-Clarke County in Georgia, where he oversaw 10 county departments. Johnson managed over $190 million in state and federal funds for the Georgia Department of Public Safety, Veteran Services, and State Board of Workers Compensation. He was also a city manager in Bisbee, Arizona and management assistant to the city manager in Tucson. Johnson is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.

“I get energized working with people and collaborating on solutions to even the toughest problems,” Johnson said, adding that he’s excited to work with the mayor and city council to “innovate, improve and streamline” the city’s government.

Johnson’s appointment requires confirmation from the City Council. A vote will likely be scheduled for the next council meeting on May 16. If he gets the greenlight, Johnson starts on June 5.

Johnson’s appointment comes just a week after Oakland’s Fire Chief Reginald Freeman retired to pursue a job in the private sector. Earlier this year, Thao fired Police Chief LeRonne Armstrong after a watchdog investigation blamed him for failing to discipline officers in misconduct cases. On top of these vacancies, Thao needs to find a permanent head for the Department of Violence Prevention. All of of these departments would report to Johnson. If successfully appointed, Johnson will join the city at a critical moment in Thao’s administration. Oakland faces a historic $360 million deficit in its General Purpose Fund. Earlier this month, Thao unveiled her proposed budget for the next two years, which zeroes out the deficit by freezing hiring, cutting services, and consolidating several major departments. Assuming Thao’s budget is passed, Johnson would be charged with overseeing department mergers with a department suffering numerous vacancies. 

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Johnson as an assistant city manager in Tucson. He was a management assistant to the city manager.

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic,, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.