Palo Alto will soon have a new leader in its Human Resources Department -- a veteran attorney whose experience with labor relations includes stints at Kaiser Permanente, Alcoa and Goodrich Aerospace.
City Manager James Keene announced Monday that after an "extensive search" featuring 83 applicants he has selected Kathryn Shen as the city's "chief people officer." Shen, who will begin her new job April 17, will direct a department that has been without a permanent head since Russ Carlsen retired at the end of 2010.
The City Council unanimously approved her contract Monday night. She will receive an annual base salary of $185,000.
An attorney with 23 years of business experience, Shen has spent the past five years in the Human Resources Department at Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Regional Office. She has also recently published an article in the industry journal, People & Strategy, which discusses the role of predictive analytics to promote skill and career development.
She had practiced law in Cleveland, Ohio, and later joined LTV Steel Corporation, where she worked in labor relations and human resources. She later worked at Alcoa, Inc., Goodrich Aerospace and ITT Industries before joining Kaiser.
"I'm looking forward to fostering an environment of innovation, collaboration and shared accountability to help achieve the City's goal of becoming the best high-performing city in the U.S.," Shen said in a statement.
Shen is joining the city's Human Resources Department at a particularly sensitive time for labor relations. The city is seeking benefit reductions from all of its labor groups and has recently declared an impasse with its negotiations with its largest police union. The impasse came just months after the city reached an agreement with its firefighter union after 18 months of tense negotiations.
Members of the council have indicated they will continue to seek benefit reductions from the unions, largely to account for the sharply growing costs of pension and health care. Recent reforms have included new requirements for employees to make contributions toward health care and a second pension tier for newly hired employees.
Keene said the interview process for the position included two interview panels of department stakeholders, Palo Alto's union representatives and Bay Area public sector leaders.
"We are delighted to have a person with Kathy's experience and credentials join our leadership team," Keene said in a statement. "Her background in staff development and workforce planning will be especially important as our organization regenerates itself over the next few years."