As the news of Palo Alto City Manager Frank Benest's impending resignation swirled out of the Civic Center, community members and city leaders took time to reflect on Benest's rocky tenure -- and look to the future.
Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell said she has taken "immense pleasure" working with the 58-year-old manager.
Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto said Benest "has guided us through eight years of balanced budgets, (and) through a significant restructuring while keeping our organization vital and open to learning and change."
She praised his innovation and national leadership in developing the next generation of managers.
Vice Mayor Larry Klein, expected to be mayor next year, wished Benest well and cited his "important contributions to Palo Alto, such as his commitment to affordable housing and his emphasis on succession planning" within the city administration.
"I also commend Frank for recognizing that this is an appropriate time for him to step down," he said. It means that "his successor can be more effective in helping us solve the numerous problems we face," and that the four new council members will "have a clean slate with a new manager."
One new councilmember, Sid Espinosa, said, "Overall I think that Frank has done a good job of working in a sometimes difficult city to work in."
But others noted Benest, known for a reticence to reach out to the community, wasn't in some ways the best fit for Palo Alto.
"I think that he's likely to find fulfillment in doing consulting and that he will be very well-qualified to do so," Councilman-elect Pat Burt said. "He would be in a role that is perhaps more gratifying and more suited for his skills and interests."
Several community leaders likened the city's situation to that of the Palo Alto Unified School District and said they hope a new manager will change the culture in the city just as new Superintendent Kevin Skelly has initiated positive change in the district.
Benest is held in high esteem as a local government professional and has served in the leadership of the California City Managers Department of the League of California Cities and vice president of the International City/County Management Association (ICCMA).
"Frank has developed a national reputation for his leadership in the city-management profession," Mountain View City Manager Kevin Duggan said.
Espinosa said he supports a national search and will pay particular attention to the candidate's reputation in his or her current city.
Councilman-elect Greg Schmid said he is looking for someone with experience and strong leadership capabilities.
The optimum manager would embrace community involvement and participation, Burt said.
"There are great challenges to serving Palo Alto, but it has some real attributes for the right person," Burt said.
The recruitment process gives the new council the chance to make a critical decision that will affect the city for years, he said.
"It'll be a time of great change for our city, but I think it's also a time of great opportunity," Espinosa said.