|James Keene's opening comments at introductory press conference, Thursday, July 26, 10 a.m., Palo Alto City Hall
(Applause following introduction by Mayor Larry Klein.)
I had no idea there would be this many people here. I'm honored to be here and wanted to tell you a little bit how I got here. For the past year and a half I've been working for the International City and County Management Association and also serving as president of the Alliance for Innovation, which is a consortium of about 400 cities and counties focused on innovation in local government – actually with the goal of transforming local government.
As a longtime manager I get lots of these calls about a city manager job that would be open here or there and I always say, "No, I'm not interested."
And then when I got the call about Palo Alto, that was different. And I talked to Frank Benest, who was a longtime friend and colleague, about Palo Alto, and everything he told me was encouraging about the community.
I've certainly been over here often through the years. I live in Rockridge, just about 200 yards south of the Berkeley city limits. I was the city manager of Berkeley for about 4 1/2 years and so I'm over there, I'm over here a bunch.
But I love California. When we left for Tuscon – another college town, home to the University of Arizona – the whole time, as challenging as that job was, that's a city of over 500,000 people, fast growing, the whole time we pined for Northern California and coming back here and that's why I came back to work for CSAC (the California State Association of Counties, of which he was executive director fro 2005 to 2007) was at least partly here. Liz Kniss (Santa Clara County supervisor) was one of my board members when I worked for the California State Association of Counties in Sacramento.
But I especially love the Bay Area. I think that the future is still being written in California, for the world, and the opportunity to come to a community that has defined itself as a leader in education, in technology and innovation, in health care, in a community, you know, a lot of times when people would say "just try Palo Alto" to I'm sure prospective candidates, there might be a lot of people who say "Oh, jeez, I don't know if I want to go there because there's so much citizen involvement."
What has motivated me in public service has been actually the fact that I'm really interested in seeing, "Can we really have a viable community anywhere and everywhere?" and "Does democracy really work?"
And the managing part of it is just sort of things that you have to do as a city manager and be supportive of that. I hope that I carry on a tradition here of being a public servant first of all, respectful of everybody. I could tell you I had no idea exactly what to expect from the mayor and council before I went into the interviews. And I heard very good things from Frank and other people about what a fine group of people this mayor and council are.
But you never know that until you meet the folks. And what really cinched the deal for me was the fact that I saw accomplished people, intelligent, who could work together, and certainly seemed to have the best interest of Palo Alto first and foremost always. So I'm going to let you know I'm here committed to serve the mayor and council, to work with the staff on behalf of all the citizens of Palo Alto.
I have a lot of energy. I told the council and some of the community members I'm in the twilight of a mediocre athletic career. So my running is getting slower and slower but I still run all over town and even in Berkeley I still run up the Berkeley hills. I live over there and the city staff still gets graffiti calls from me and things on park benches and things like that.
So I just pledge to do my absolute best and I'll be happy to answer any questions or however you want to do this, Mr. Mayor. Anybody, anything?
I just would say I'm a college-town guy, yes. I told the community group in the interviews that I lived as a teenager, I lived in Princeton, N.J., so I was a "townie" and I think that's what transformed me.
And so I was county manager in northern Arizona, in Flagstaff, that's a college town. Then I moved to Berkeley, and then Tuscon, and I basically moved back to a college town and I came to Palo Alto because of all of the dynamics that are here.
And actually now looking out at everybody out here in the audience I'm really honored to be here and what a great group of people – I mean really, really nice. Nobody's thrown a tomato at me yet. I have good reflexes, so. ...
Question-and-answer period follows.
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