James Keene Q&A at introductory "press conference" June 26, 2008
Q. George Browning: When Frank Benest first got here he had public meetings, at least two that I know of, and they were very well attended. Could you do the same thing so that we could meet you a little more personally?
Keene: Absolutely. And downstairs actually, (Santa Clara County) Supervisor Liz Kniss asked me, because we know each other personally, "Well, what would I do my first hundred days here?" And I said, "Well, I really don't want to be presumptuous. I don't come here with a template or a plan for Palo Alto. This is your community. My job is to get to know the community." So that what I would do, first of all, is just sort of be everywhere, meeting everybody, listening. That also goes with all the city staff. That's one thing (I've done) everywhere I've worked. And it's to be very outgoing with all the city staff at every single level and listening to them also. So, yes sir, you will see me.
Mayor Larry Klein: Let me add, I'll introduce you so you can recognize people. George Browning was the questioner. And George has done a variety of things over the years and follows us closely and has been very concerned about police issues, among others, and he's somebody you'll want to get to know. Diana Diamond here is … the associate editor of the new newspaper in town, the Palo Alto Daily Post.
Diamond: What is your compensation package?
Keene: Well I don't have a binding agreement yet with the council. So, the salary that the council is bringing me in at is $240,000 a year.
Klein: And newspaper number two, Kristina Peterson from the Palo Alto Daily News.
Peterson: Do you have to relocate to Palo Alto?
Keene: Yes, I have to relocate. Yes, the City Charter requires the manager to live in the community — but it's really impossible to be effective if you're not in the community. And you don't have much credibility, actually. I might not hold a lot of credibility with you, actually [laughter. But you have zero if you're not actually a member of the community.
Klein: And Jay Thorwaldson from the third newspaper, the Palo Alto Weekly.
Thorwaldson: And this is (Staff Writer) Becky Trout.
Keene: I am a Mac addict by the way, if that counts for anything.
Jay: Well we've got two Macs here, so we outnumber the other papers with the Macs. ... First of all, welcome to Palo Alto and thank you for answering the questions. And we were on your trail; we were close to Berkeley. ... The first thing, I think, is what do you see as the foremost priority that you're going to concentrate on as you join the city and this complex community?
Keene: Well, I really don't have a. ... The question was, "What are the foremost priorities that I would concentrate on as city manager?" But you know, I really wouldn't want to wait to address those, but obviously the kinds of priorities that the council has identified. I mean, those were things that I paid attention to. You have this kind of project-based work, like the public safety building and the library. But really, the issues (of) environmental protection, sustainability, and civic engagement and economic health, all of those are fundamental, both for this community and obviously for the state and world as a whole.
On economic health, I was glad to see it phrased that way because the city has its own fiscal challenges, like almost every community across California. Those are going to get more complex as the years unfold. So, how we stay viable as a city and ultimately as an economy itself is — I know there's been a big concern for Frank and the staff and that's going to be something we're going to have to deal with — but longer term … how does Palo Alto truly position itself as a leader on issues of sustainability and real civic involvement and participation in problems? That's sort of what I'm after.
Thorwaldson: I have a specific follow-up question. We've been discussing and debating the issue of fiber-optic communication, fiber to the home or fiber to the premise or fiber to the small business in this town for about a decade and a half. And, from the Berkeley experience, or the international, how vital is having really super high-speed broadband with connectivity in a community to its economic and sustainability over the long haul? Do you have an opinion on that?
Keene: Yes I do. … I think it's important. I mean, just again if you look at it's not just enough for Palo Alto to be good and ignore the rest of the country, as well all know. You know, our access is emaciated to high-speed broadband and lags (compared) to many countries in the world. You go to, say, South Korea or other places where it's almost ubiquitous and it's much different here.
I think, both realistically and symbolically, the investment in education and increasing our technological capacity is something in a global environment we've just got to be focused on. Now … I don't know all the cost numbers or details as far as what it means to bring fiber-optic to Palo Alto. Fundamentally, I do think you have to keep moving forward as a community, to build on everything that makes this community so great.
Klein: This is Ronna Devincenzi, head of the California Avenue Development Association, which is our business group on California Avenue.
Devincenzi: Thank you. I'm Ronna Devincenzi. I was wondering: This council chose in January civic engagement as their top priority and we're coming up on July. I was wondering if, in Berkeley, you ever had that as a council priority.? And if so, or if not, what, if any, strategy would you have to implement this specific issue of civic engagement? Because, in this community, I'm a volunteer, there are a lot of people who are volunteers.
Keene: Well , I'd say in Berkeley I don't know if the council ever expressed it as a goal but I think that it's just an underlying value in the community — pretty much nonstop. Same thing in Tucson. Sometimes there are formal ways to deal with it, as it relates to say neighborhood associations and business groups and that kind of thing.
For example, in Tucson, we had, I think, 160 registered neighborhood associations who we would work with. In Berkeley, we might have had as much as 75 neighborhood associations. You can imagine that for a city that's about 80 square miles of land. But … it's the informal connections, whether it's just with individuals or with groups of people. We've used lots of different ways as far as kind of, you know. …
And first of all, I think you have to meet where they are. So that is in their neighborhood, and it's necessary and it's constant. It's, I mean, I don't think civic engagement is something that, in one sense, you ever accomplish and arrive and say, "OK, good. We're done with civic engagement."
It's a matter of the relationship the city takes its leaders and staff with the community.
But it also has to do with the responsibility of the citizens themselves. To be involved with and care about and participate in their community. There's technology that can be used, but most of it's basically face-to-face work.
Devincenzi: I guess specifically my question was, "How would they be heard in order to see what the citizens' engagement (does), to see it actually culminate in something that would actually be profitable for the community?" So how would they be heard and actually result in something?
Keene: I apologize, I'm not exactly sure I understand the question. The challenge is, how to deal with what Harlan Cleveland (a diplomat and educator who wrote the 2002 book, "Essays on the Future of Leadership") described as, "How do you get everybody in on the action and still get action?" You know, that's always a challenge.
But I think that … there's a due process in democracy. I've watched the council meetings on the web. Not all of them, but enough of them to get the sense that council is deliberate. There's an opportunity for the public to make decisions or have input. There could be a lot to study but the decisions do get made.
Keene: The question is, have I committed to staying here for a certain number of years and are there things, specific things, that I think can to be done in Palo Alto?
I've had a lot of conversations with the mayor and council about how long I will be here. And I think we're trying to structure some things also here in my agreement that I'm committed to stay here and I want to stay here for a decade, OK? This is the last, in the arena, kind of work that I'm going to do. And so my wife and I talked very thoughtfully about where to do that and that's why we chose to be here in Palo Alto.
As far as what to do specifically, fist of all, the good thing about being an outsider again is that I can mirror back to you what called you to Palo Alto yourselves for the first time.
And also this is an incredibly beautiful, special community. And when you come into the community you have a very distinct feeling that you're in a special place. And, you know, it really makes you feel good.
There are a lot of really great assets in this community. … I know there are issues between the city and the university. But Stanford University is a huge asset. I used to say that in Berkeley — That most of the people in Berkeley wouldn't live there if Cal wasn't there, no matter how problematic it is. And it helps to shape that. So obviously what happens when some of these big projects that are out there, both between the health center and the shopping center expansion or those kind of plans, those are key things that are going to have to be dealt with.
I think the downtown is quite nice. It's very charming. It's very, very kind of livable and walkable. I don't have a good sense of how it is sort of in the evenings or how many people are on the street or that sort of thing. But I always think that a vibrant downtown is always critical to the health of the community. And even the pockets of kind of low-density, scaled commercial centers around town that I've been sort of touring. Those are important and to be sure, they're vital. But again, I think that there's just a lot of visiting and listening that I will do.
I guarantee you that when you ask me this question again in October and November, I'll be way more specific about this.
[Questioner: Will the city help you buy a house here?
Keene: I hope so (laughter). Unless you could do something, or target a significant reduction in one house, I would like that. I wouldn't want that across the city as a whole because that would create problems for the city also and all of you.
Klein: Ray Bachetti. Ray is the new participant on several of our task forces. He was on our police building task force and he's been a prime member on the civic-engagement priority. And Ray is retired but he has a variety of high commissions at Stanford. Ray. …
Bachetti: Welcome to the city. ... John Gardner is one of the patron saints around here, and one of his premises was that you need engaged, vital argument to get things done. But unless there is an underlayer of interests in the common good and commitment to it, you're likely to get anarchy rather than the kind of solutions that benefit everyone.
And I was wondering whether in your previous experiences you have worked on notions like the common good and what it means in terms of making civic engagement really vital and beneficial to the long-term well-being of the city.
Keene: Yes, sir, I have. John Gardner, I mean, Common Cause John Gardner. … Actually I've quoted him in many talks that I've given over the years. Absolutely. And … I don't want to sound like a college lecturer or anything here, but it's the citizens the community ultimately belong to, not just the residents but the citizens. And citizenship has some requirements. Which is to participate — but it's also to participate in a way that supports getting to some sort of resolution.
And the fact of the matter is, it can't be accomplished just by the mayor and council themselves or the city manager and staff. The citizens have to take ownership in that. And we've used a lot of different approaches over time that I think help facilitate that, but again it's a constant sort of effort. This is a relationship effort, so there's no particular type of technique.
But I do think that I'm comfortable in representing where the city staff could be on a lot of issues to the community and also comfortable in being able to ask the community back for help in kind of reaching a decision. There, like I said, there's no particular way of doing it; you just have to keep showing up and keep working at it. I just think that I'm so impressed with the mayor and council and I think there are just tremendous possibilities here.
Klein: Are you a reporter also? I can tell you have the little notebook.
Daily Post reporter: What are people there going to say about you when they're asked for some of your strong points? …
Keene: Well I think the sort of general view you'll get is that I really cared about the communities that I worked in and I devoted myself entirely to the community welfare and the community being better and nobody ever questioned, well, "Did I care about Berkeley?" and "Did I care about Tucson?" Or anyplace that I've ever been.
Well, that being said, there are some people there who are going to say, you know, "Well I didn't like him at all." And there are other people who are going to say that they thought I was the greatest city manager they ever had.
So I hope that when the council does that, they remember Abe Lincoln's line that "You can tell more about a person by who their enemies are than who their friends are." So I earned all of the enemies that I have (laughter).
Klein: This is Aram James and Aram is always telling us that we ought to get [ventages?
James: That is one issue, of course, you don't get them in Berkeley.
Keene: We don't have them in Berkeley, that's right.
James: Arguably, from what perspective do you think the police department has been out of control in the events that have been preceding? What can you tell us about your relationship with the police department in Berkeley? What are some steps to rein in the management if it proceeds to be out of control?
Also they have a very strong community presence, Cop Watch as an example. Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with Cop Watch and what you would do if you thought that the police chief here in the city of Palo Alto was out of control and has been responsible for the culture of misconduct in the department? What would you do right now to end the relationship like that?
Keene: Well, unfortunately for the answer, I've just always had the good fortune to work with extremely good police departments and worked with good staff and good chiefs so I've never had the situation where I haven't had the utmost respect for the chief. Now, that being said, you know, Berkley is a complicated community to work in and I've worked through a lot of issues — we had lots of issues in Berkeley all the time. So Cop watch folks, I don't know, what would cop watch folks say about me? Well, (I was) probably not … on the top of their list as far as … getting invited to whatever event.
But, you know, the city manager is responsible for all of the staff being professional and doing their duty and their job, whether it's the police chief or the parks worker out on the ground crew. And I'm committed to professionalism and excellence and I would expect that that's what the culture in Palo Alto has been.
So, I'll have to wait and sort of see. We didn't have tasers, you know, in Berkeley. We didn't fly a helicopter over the city. The police chief had to call me to get the OK. We didn't have police dogs, we hardly had pepper spray, all of those sorts of things. We had an excellent police force and chiefs in the area.
Klein: Sandra Lonnquist, who is the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce.
Lonnquist: I'm just curious as to what people would say about you in terms of the relationship with the businesses and the communities that you've worked in and how you plan on working together with the business community to ensure that city services continue at the current level? …
Keene: I think that, when the mayor and council talk to members of the business community, the president of the chamber, in Berkeley when I was there and others in Tucson, I would say that I have a good reputation with the business community. I mean, business is important in any community and that in my view it's not a question of neighborhoods versus businesses. (It's) both. You need strong neighborhoods and strong businesses. It's absolutely essential.
Klein: Melissa Baten Caswell, who is a member of our school board.
Melissa: Hi. I was just wondering what your experience in Berkeley was in terms of working with the school district and what your hopes are … to have a relationship going forward with this school district?
Keene: I think I had a close working relationship with the superintendent in Berkeley when I was there and actually with the. … It was pretty much a revolving door with the principal at Berkeley High School. But with each of those principals I've always felt that, even though education isn't the direct purview of a city government, education is absolutely one of the most fundamental needs in a community.
So working with a school district is critical and being supportive and working together and I certainly got the sense that, during the interviews that I had with community members, the pride in Palo Alto schools and the concern that people have with education and schools in this community is just way, way up there. And that was important to me.
Klein: Maybe just one or two more questions. I think that people are telling us it's time to leave since about half the audience has left.
Q.: Hi. I'm one of the technicians with public works. (Keene: "On the staff here?") Yes, 22 years. I work with other communities as well. I've seen how these cities in the past have improved on their buildings. They spend a lot of money upgrading and building fire stations and libraries and so forth. How much is that are you planning to getting involved with? Upgrading our fire stations and libraries and even our fences and stuff pulling down?
Keene: Thank you. Well, this whole question of building and maintaining the infrastructure of the community and its buildings and libraries and police stations and streets and all of those things is extremely important. Most communities have this problem, this tension between, you know, how much money do we have and where does the money go? I know that the city has quantified an infrastructure backlog of $400 million, for example. … I've been dedicated to maintaining infrastructure everywhere I've worked. That being said, it's been a difficult issue and a challenge. But for example, in Berkeley, when the city had really I'd say neglected street pavings for 30 years, it was huge. And it got to the point, I remember, where Wavy Gravy was running for City Council. His campaign slogan was, "A chicken in every pothole." He didn't get elected but it was a darn good campaign slogan, if you remember hearing about that.
But I've been part of all of that. We used some seismic bond measures in Berkeley, for example, to both build and upgrade all of our fire stations. That's how we did the new public safety building. We did a new combined police-and-fire public safety building downtown that I was part of. We did the same thing with City Hall, and similar kinds of things in Tucson.
So it's important. And I also know that it's important for you all in your work. So, you know, you've been here 22 years, you've dedicated yourself to your profession and craft and doing the work and I know that when you're in your position, you want to be doing a good job for the community and that means you want to be repairing things and improving things and making them better.
So I know it's also important to your work. I'll be out to see all you guys regularly, too, out in the city.
Klein: Last question.
Questioner: To that question, Sharon Erickson, when she left, suggested updating the Adamson Report, which was done several years ago, like around 10. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that report. (Keene: "I'm not.") But it identifies the infrastructure within the city and some things were inadvertently left out and whatever. Is that something that might be on your radar screen?
Keene: Sure, absolutely.
Questioner: Thanks for that (applause).
Klein: Thank you all for coming out this morning. We all look forward to building an even better Palo Alto.
Keene: Thank you very much and it was delightful to see everybody.