PIEDMONT -- That new face at City Hall is number-cruncher Erick Cheung, Piedmont's new finance and human resources director.
The 37-year-old Pleasant Hill resident was hired four months ago to replace longtime finance director Mark Bichsel. Those were big shoes to fill, but Cheung is up to the task.
For the past five years, he was finance manager for the Contra Costa Transportation Authority, the agency that oversees the Caldecott Tunnel and other large projects. He was an auditor for Maze & Associates for eight years and was involved with helping the city of Richmond get back on track with its bankruptcy problems. He also served as the City of Belmont's assistant finance director.
Now he's not only overseeing Piedmont's finances, but serving as human resources director, a new challenge.
"It's not all just numbers; now there is a public aspect," Cheung said. "With the human resources issues, I think about it at night. There were no labor unions at the transportation authority, and hardly anyone attended the public meetings."
Cheung is sitting in on all the negotiations with the city's various bargaining units with outside consultant Janae Novotny. Cheung graduated from St. Mary's College in Moraga with a degree in finance. During his college years, he was a branch manager for Bank of America. He attained his CPA while working for Maze. He thought of becoming a lawyer, "but you had to read 300 pages of law a night. I realized law was not for me."
While he grew up in Concord, he and his brother were born in Hong Kong. His parents moved to the United States when he was 2½ years old. His father, a math teacher, left the Communist regime in China and escaped to Hong Kong, where he met Cheung's mother. The couple had two boys and wanted the best life for them in the United States.
"At first, dad worked as a janitor in Emeryville. But later he worked for Bank of America for 20 years," Cheung said.
His mother also worked in banking. Cheung's parents, now retired, instilled a work ethic in their boys. His brother and his brother's wife are pharmacists in San Diego.
Cheung took over at the busiest time of year for the city -- the budget season. He attended eight budget meetings while getting his arms around Piedmont's finances. Piedmont is atypical in that it has no commercial tax base to speak of.
"Its (finances) have been well-managed over the years with no Friday furloughs and other things cities have had to do," he said.
Mayor John Chiang and Councilman Jeff Wieler, both with financial backgrounds, have been helpful in sharing a historical perspective on Piedmont's finances, as well as a super support staff in the accounting office, Cheung said. His work in the public and private sectors have made Cheung a great asset to Piedmont, City Administrator Geoff Grote said.
"I thought his work on the budget was superb, as if he had been preparing the budget for years," Grote said.
"Along with his talent for the job, he is easy to work with and has a good sense of humor. He has established excellent professional relationships here."
Chiang is impressed with Cheung's abilities as well.
"Erick quickly picked up on the critical issues in working through the fiscal year and budget projections," Chiang said. "Erick is adept in dealing with spreadsheet models and assisting the City Council in looking at financial implications."
One challenge Cheung has yet to overcome? Getting his 7-month-old son to sleep through the night so his red-eyed parents can get some rest.