By the time City Manager Frank Benest retires at the end of June, Palo Alto should have selected or be very close to hiring his replacement, according to Vice Mayor Larry Klein, widely expected to be the city's next mayor.
But who that might be is anybody's guess.
"I wouldn't rule anybody in or anybody out," Klein told the Weekly.
He said the city is likely to hire a consultant to help conduct a national search, perhaps beginning the process as soon as Dec. 10.
But the council will want to hear from the public soon: Klein and Councilman John Barton said they're going to advocate for significant community involvement before conducting a search to determine what type of manager the community would like.
Barton said he has only general characteristics in mind so far: someone with integrity who is hard-working, community-minded and a team player with experience.
Councilman-elect Sid Espinosa said he is going to look particularly carefully at the community a candidate would be leaving.
He would like to find a candidate leaving behind citizens who are satisfied with the city's operation and city staff members who think favorably of the candidate.
Councilman-elect Pat Burt said he's looking for someone who views the Palo Alto community -- and its involved, demanding citizens -- as an asset.
"As tough as we are, there are great challenges to serving Palo Alto. It has some real attributes for the right person," Burt said.
Palo Alto is regarded as an innovative, complex city with benefits such as Stanford University, good weather and great schools, several local-government management experts said.
"I think Palo Alto is very well positioned to have a good selection," Mountain View City Manager Kevin Duggan said. "It's an interesting community and an interesting job."
Duggan said he's not interested in applying, however, as Mountain View offers many of the same amenities.
"You have a lot of regional and big issues that are facing the city that will be attractive to managers," Menlo Park City Manager Glen Rojas said.
Rojas, who has only been on-the-job for a few months, said he's also not interested in managing Palo Alto.
"I'm very satisfied here," Rojas said.
Bill Garrett, the executive director of the California City Management Foundation, said he thinks Palo Alto will look for a manager who is "seasoned" but not yet ready to retire.
Palo Alto has a great reputation, he said.
"One of the things that's frequently attractive to city managers are college, university settings with people who are involved with the community and know a little bit about government," Garrett said.
By looking in the Bay Area, the city might be able to save money on housing subsidies, he said.
The high cost of housing would be one of the most significant factors that might keep someone away from Palo Alto, several experts said.
"The housing market is a real issue," outgoing Councilwoman Dena Mossar said. "For some it's very tough to come to Palo Alto."
Neither Duggan, Rojas nor Garrett said they know of anyone who has expressed interest in working in Palo Alto.
Palo Alto isn't the only city looking for a top manager. Positions are currently open in Modesto, Lincoln, Petaluma, Ukiah, Grass Valley and Chico.
And although manager candidates are out there, the profession has been hit particularly hard by Baby Boomer retirements, according to Michele Frisby, spokeswoman for the International City/County Management Association.
"It's a small field simply by the nature of the profession," Frisby said. "We don't see hordes of individuals getting into the local government-management field."
Menlo Park, for example, had about 21 applications for its recent vacancy.
She said the average city manager tenure is about seven years, but in California that number drops to about four years, Garrett said.
Klein said a candidate from within California or the Bay Area would have an advantage, but he didn't know of anyone he plans to ask to apply.
The candidate will come from outside the city. Administrative Services Director Carl Yeats, who has managed cities in southern California, is retiring in December and although he's staying on as a fiscal consultant on the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions, he said he isn't interested in becoming city manager.
"No," Yeats said Wednesday. "Once I retire, I couldn't come back and be the city manager."
And Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison, known for her tough, results-oriented style, was penalized with a three-week unpaid suspension in March for repeated harassment, favoritism and retaliation. Harrison did not respond to a request for comment.
Mossar said she didn't think the city was going to have any trouble attracting a qualified candidate, although she doesn't have anyone in mind.
"The city manager world is a closed world. I can assure you that qualified city managers across the country will know that Frank is retiring," Mossar said.
(Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.)