|James Keene, a former city manager of both Berkeley and Tucson, will be Palo Alto's seventh city manager, Mayor Larry Klein announced this morning.
Keene won the support of all nine City Council members, Klein said.
"I think he's a real leader," Councilman Sid Espinosa said. Keene, 57, embodies all the management qualities the council had sought, Espinosa and Klein said.
Keene embraces the city's goals of environmental sustainability, technological leadership, civic engagement and fiscal responsibility, Klein said.
Keene, whose selection had been a closely guarded secret, was introduced at a 10 a.m. "press conference" at City Hall today, an event that was attended by a full house of nearly 140 city officials and staff, community, business and neighborhood leaders, and citizens in addition to reporters and editors.
A self-described "college town guy," Keene also has experience with large development projects in Arizona and Virginia.
Klein said he expects Keene will have a more "hands-on" style than outgoing City Manager Frank Benest.
Keene said he loves the Bay Area and California and is passionate about enabling democracy and supporting a viable community.
"The managing part of it is just the things you need to do," Keene said.
He is widely described as intelligent and told the community Thursday he has lots of energy, but with no intent to force his personal goals on the city.
"I don't come here with a template or a plan for Palo Alto. This is your community. What I would do first of all is just be everywhere," meeting people and listening, Keene said of his initial plans.
"I hope I'm going to carry on a tradition here as a public servant first of all, being respectful of everybody."
Keene will begin work Sept. 2 and Benest will remain as manager until that time, Klein said.
Keene will be paid $240,000 a year, receive a $600 monthly transportation allowance and have a housing package similar to Benest's — a shared arrangement with the city owning most of house.
There is a difference in the housing deal: Although Benest can remain in his Bryant Street home until his youngest child graduates from Palo Alto public schools, Keene will need to sell his house within 18 months after he stops working for the city, Klein said.
Keene currently lives in Rockridge, an Oakland neighborhood a short distance from the Berkeley city limits. But he said he intends to move to Palo Alto, perhaps renting first.
Keene currently works with the International City/County Management Association and is president of the Alliance for Innovation, an organization focused on improving local governments.
He was the executive director of the California State Association of Counties from 2005 to 2007.
In 1996, Keene was hired as the Berkeley city manager, a position he held for four years.
Former Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean had nothing but praise for Keene.
"I think he would be a super city manager for you," she said Thursday. "I found him very easy to work with."
During Keene's tenure, Berkeley passed a bond measure to seismically retrofit several city buildings.
"He handled that superbly," Dean said.
Keene is focused on economic development and is very supportive of new technology, she said.
He also has a "middle of the road" management style, she said.
"He really understands the nuts and bolts of issues, the details, the policy implications, but he also understands that he has to build a management team," she said.
She said she doesn't know why Keene left Berkeley in 2000, even though the council was often divided and contentious.
"Many of us felt a big loss" when he left, she said.
Keene then moved to Arizona, where he worked as the city manager of Tucson for five years.
Klein said council members were particularly impressed that Keene takes time to sample the jobs within organizations he leads. For example, he has worked on a garbage truck for a day and also spent a day in an animal shelter, even participating in euthanasia, Klein said.
In both Berkeley and Tucson, Keene met regularly with university leaders.
"Jim said (the meetings) were not necessarily oriented to a particular issue or project; they were just trying to stay ahead of the curve," Klein said.
He said he doesn't believe Benest currently meets regularly on non-project matters with Stanford University representatives.
Klein agreed that Keene isn't perfect, but declined to discuss any of the new city manager's weaknesses.
Klein said he did not have any concerns that Keene has moved between jobs too frequently. Most managers of other cities only stay for four or five years, although Palo Alto managers have had longer average tenure, he said. Keene said he was questioned about length of stay and that he hopes to stay a decade.
Keene displayed a keen sense of humor at the Thursday morning press conference, joking that no one had thrown any tomatoes yet.
"I have good reflexes," he said.
He also jokingly acknowledged the challenges of the job while answering a question about his future residence.
"I might not ultimately have a lot of credibility (with you), but you have zero credibility if you're not in the community," he said of the need for a manager to live in town.
As a former city manager, Keene said he receives many job inquiries.
"I always say 'No, I'm not interested,'" he said. "And then when I got the call about Palo Alto — that was different."
He said he was convinced after talking with longtime friend and colleague Benest and after meeting the council members, who he said work well together and are focused on the best interests of the community.
Keene said he enjoys running. He lives with his wife, Iris, and has two grown children, Jamie and Josh.
"I think one of the best things about Jim is his sense of humor. He has a really good sense of humor. I hope people get to know him and to experience (it)," Dean said. He also enjoys movies, she said.
Benest announced his retirement in late 2007 and will have served for eight years.
• VIDEO: New city manager introduced at press conference
• Keene's opening comments at 'press conference'
• Keene's Q&A at June 26 'press conference'
• View the press release (PDF)
The new manager's unedited comments from the Thursday morning press conference.
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