After an unusual 2.5-hour closed personnel "evaluation" session by the City Council Monday night, City Manager Frank Benest still had his job.
But it may be hanging in the balance.
His evaluation was continued until Tuesday night, Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto announced at 10:20 p.m. Monday.
Benest's evaluation was scheduled just last week by Vice Mayor Larry Klein, on behalf of the Council-Appointed Officers (CAO) Committee of the council, which unanimously requested the session.
The abrupt scheduling of the evaluation fueled speculation that Benest, hired in 2000, may be nearing the end of his term as manager of the city's 1,074-employees.
Last December, the council held a special two-night evaluation of Benest, his second evaluation that year -- a rarity for the four council-appointed officers (the city manager, city attorney, city clerk and city auditor).
"It's our responsibility to have oversight of the management," then-Mayor Judy Kleinberg said of the session, downplaying reported council dissatisfaction with Benest's performance. Some council members reportedly were concerned that he left too much day-to-day management to Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison and others.
Benest defended his management involvement, citing the hiring of Diane Jennings as library director and Valerie Fong as utilities director; ongoing negotiations with Stanford Shopping Center, auto dealers and Stanford Medical Center; finalizing the contract with labor unions; and budget cost-cutting.
He said he was taking the lead on land use, business, police, the budget, transportation and labor relations, while Harrison managed other areas.
Earlier, in August 2006, a $4,000 bonus for Benest barely received enough council votes. The bonus was openly opposed by then-Vice Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto and council members Klein and Dena Mossar.
Two recent situations have reportedly turned up the heat on Benest, insiders say. One is a recent summary report showing that numerous recommendations by City Auditor Sharon Erickson haven't been addressed over several years, and work hasn't even started on some recommended corrections.
The second is a controversy that surfaced last week about Benest allegedly ordering initial reports on personnel investigations be done orally, purportedly to skirt the state's Public Records Act -- in this case relating to a harassment/hostile work environment investigation of an un-named high-level manager. Benest has denied there has been a change in policy or that he had any such intent.
Earlier investigations of the Utilities Department and last spring of Harrison also have shaken confidence in Benest as a hands-on manager of a complex city, according to council members.
Benest earned $230,000 in 2006 and would have nine months' salary due if he loses the job, according to the city. Benest earlier secured the right to remain in his Bryant Street house -- which is jointly owned by the city -- until 2017 or until his children are through school in Palo Alto.
Six votes are needed to terminate the manager, according to the City Charter.