Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - November 5, 2010

Transforming City Hall

A wave of retirements has left Palo Alto with gaping vacancies and huge opportunities

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto's Fire Chief Nick Marinaro became the first major City Hall domino to fall when he retired in late June, after 37 years of service.

City Attorney Gary Baum went next. After six years of dispensing legal advice at City Council meetings, which routinely dragged well past midnight, Baum departed to pursue a career in private practice and to save his wife from being a "Monday night widow," as he told the council last week.

Baum's departure coincided with the retirement of Library Director Diane Jennings, a 24-year veteran of the city's library system. Jennings, who helped kick-start the library system's dramatic renovation, is leaving Palo Alto for Santa Fe, N.M., just as the voter-approved reconstruction of local library branches is beginning to take shape. She now intends to monitor the rebuilt Mitchell Park library through a webcam.

Public Works Director Glenn Roberts made no public announcement about why he's suddenly leaving his post after 18 years in the department or where he's going, but his settlement with the city suggests that Roberts' sudden departure wasn't entirely his choice. The city approved six months of severance pay, totaling $130,600, in exchange for Roberts' retirement and a promise not to apply for another job in Palo Alto. In mid-October, Roberts was placed on administrative leave effective immediately, leaving headless the department charged with overseeing some of Palo Alto's most controversial projects.

The task of handling all the departures (and all the subsequent arrivals) would tax any Human Resources Department. In Palo Alto it could soon become trickier because Human Resources Director Russ Carlsen himself is on the way out. Carlsen, who turned 65 in September, told the Weekly he is preparing to leave at the end of next month to pursue a doctorate.

It's not just the top department heads submitting resignation letters. Workers represented by the Service Employees International Union, Local 521, and mid-level managers have been retiring at a startling rate over the past few years. Between January 2007 and January 2009, 115 city workers left the city — more than twice the number projected by the city's finance staff. The surge of retirements added $25 million to the city's liability for retirees' health care benefits.

Since then, the flow of workers out of City Hall has continued unabated. In 2009, 87 city workers retired, according to the Human Resources Department. The city expects the number of retirements to reach 60 in 2010.

But it's the ratio of departures within City Hall's highest tier that has been the most significant. Of the nine department heads reporting to City Manager James Keene, four have either already left or plan to do so later this year. Three others — Planning and Community Environment Director Curtis Williams, Community Services Director Greg Betts and Police Chief Dennis Burns — only became permanent department heads in the past year-and-a-half, after years in senior management of their respective departments. Burns is also filling in as interim fire chief until Marinaro's permanent replacement is hired. (The other two department heads — Utilities Director Valerie Fong and Administrative Services Director Lalo Perez — started their positions in 2006 and 2007, respectively.)

The sudden rash of retirements may seem to an outside observer like a case of a new city manager cleaning house and installing his own administration. Keene joined the city in 2008. But Keene told the Weekly most of the workers who left did so voluntarily, after reaching their retirement age.

Demographics are largely to blame for Palo Alto's sudden leadership turnover, Keene said. It's been nearly half a century since John F. Kennedy urged Americans in his inaugural speech to "ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country." Many workers in the 1960s and 1970s took his advice and joined the public sector. Now, these Baby Boomers are hitting their retirement age and moving on to other things, Keene said.

"It's pretty unbelievable," he said, referring to the number of retiring executives. "But this is just the reality of the Baby Boomer generation coming of age."

Age, however, isn't the only culprit. The Great Recession has taken a bite out of Palo Alto's tax revenues, even as the city's health care costs soared. The city responded to these trends by snipping away at employee salaries and benefits.

A year ago, the city capped off five months of grueling and ultimately fruitless negotiations by imposing its final offer on SEIU workers, who make up more than half of the city's total workforce. The new terms, which the union vehemently opposed, require workers to start making contributions toward their health care costs.

Palo Alto also became one of the first cities in the area to institute a two-tiered pension system, with new employees getting "2 percent at 60" pensions (their pension payments will equal 2 percent of the highest salary earned, times the number of years of service, with retirement at age 60). Existing workers remained under the existing "2.7 percent at 55" pension formula. Keene also froze salaries for all non-public safety employees; eliminated the bonus program for managers, professionals and department heads; and changed department heads' employment to "at will" status.

These moves have significantly improved what was once a bleak financial outlook. On Oct. 5, when the council's Finance Committee discussed the city's long-term financial forecast, council members were astounded by the new projections, which incorporate the recent changes to pensions and health care contributions. The city's previous forecast, which did not include these measures, projected years of steep budget deficits in the city's General Fund, ranging from $9 million in fiscal year 2012 to $16 million in 2017. The new forecast, which contains more modest salary increases, projects a $1.4 million deficit in 2014 and a surplus of $400,000 in 2017.

Councilman Greg Scharff, who sits on the Finance Committee, said the new numbers have given him confidence that the city is on the right track.

"The previous numbers were scary," Scharff said. "I wouldn't say we're out of the woods, but when you look at these you see the problems are manageable.

"I feel, frankly, that Palo Alto is on the right financial track and that we've made huge progress and that things are actually looking up."

Mayor Pat Burt told the Weekly that the council agreed with Keene that these compensation adjustments were the "necessary and responsible" things to do to reduce expenses during lean times. They also, however, had an unwelcome side effect: They gave many of the city's most experienced and knowledgeable workers an incentive to leave. Burt and Keene both said the new employment conditions played a role in the recent wave of retirements.

"Certainly, given some of the questions and concerns people have expressed, this has to be a factor in these decisions," Keene said.

The flood of retirees leaves Palo Alto in a sudden recruiting frenzy with various executive search firms combing through candidates in search of the city's next fire chief, city attorney, public works director and library director. It doesn't help that some of these departing managers, including Jennings and Roberts, have left at a time when their respective departments are undertaking massive projects that will significantly impact the city's future.

Jennings is departing just as the city's $76 million reconstruction of its aged library facilities is zooming ahead. Three of the city's five libraries (the Mitchell Park, Main and Downtown branches) are slated for dramatic renovations in the coming years thanks to Measure N, which voters approved in 2008. The College Terrace branch is due to reopen this Saturday (Nov. 6) after more than a year of renovations.

At the Oct. 25 council meeting, watchdog Bob Moss pointed out that the city is now "doing more to modernize, renovate and expand our libraries than we've done for the previous 50 years." He thanked Jennings for her ability to accept community concerns and to integrate these concerns in the city's plans for its new libraries.

"She's done a really fine job and our libraries are the better for it," said Moss, who sits on the Library Advisory Commission. "Unfortunately, she's leaving and we'll be the worse for it."

Roberts' replacement will immediately step into one of the city's most contentious and complex debates — over whether the city should build an anaerobic digestion plant in Byxbee Park. The landfill that currently occupies the Baylands site is scheduled to close in the next year or two, at which time the land would revert to parkland.

A coalition of environmentalists hopes city officials will build a waste-to-energy plant on the site — a facility that would burn local food waste, yard trimmings and sewer sludge and convert it to electricity. Another equally vociferous coalition thinks this idea stinks and wants to see the space revert to parkland, as promised.

The new public works director will also take charge at a time when the city is reforming its fee system for garbage collection. Garbage rates went up by 6 percent last month, largely to cover the cost of the city's financially draining "zero waste" program. The new cost structure, which will be unveiled next year, will likely call for even higher rates for garbage collection and possibly new fees for recycling, public works officials have said.

Keene acknowledged that the new vacancies, as well as the task of filling these vacancies, should slow things down in City Hall over the first half of 2011. It doesn't help that his assistant, Kelly Morariu, resigned last month to accept a job as Hayward's assistant city manager.

"Clearly, in the short-term, over the next six months it will be a challenge," Keene said. "It has to have some effect on our response and our workload."

At the same time, Keene and the council embrace this transition period as the perfect opportunity to transform City Hall. Keene told the Weekly he hopes to take advantage of the recent departures and arrivals to make the organization leaner and more efficient.

"We'll have to be able to function in the long-term more like a Silicon Valley business would," Keene said.

This trend is already visible in the Community Services Department, where three of the four division managers retired last year. Keene took this opportunity to reorganize the department and eliminate one of the divisions. Open Space, Parks and Golf now belong to the same division, with Rob de Geus — the only division manager who didn't retire last year — overseeing all three functions.

Palo Alto has also begun to outsource some of the jobs traditionally performed by city workers, including printing documents and maintaining local parks and facilities. Two weeks ago, the council approved a 30-month, $1.85 million contract with the company ValleyCrest Golf Course Maintenance to maintain the Palo Alto Municipal Golf Course. The contract took effect Nov. 1.

De Geus estimated in a report that the move to ValleyCrest would save the city $500,000 over the course of the contract. It also prompted four city workers to retire, he told the council.

De Geus, who joined the city in 2003, has seen his range of responsibilities morph and expand over the past two years. In addition to managing a newly expanded division, he also served on the city's labor-negotiations team during last year's painful wrangling with the unions over workers' benefits. He is also Palo Alto's point man on Project Safety Net, a community initiative to promote youth mental health after a string of teenage suicides on the Caltrain tracks.

In the next few years, workers like de Geus, 41, could become the norm rather than the exception. Keene said the changes in City Hall's organization could create opportunities for city workers to have broader powers at a younger age than they would have had 10 years ago.

"Over time, some people might be able to have more responsibility and authority in an earlier phase in their careers and at a younger age," Keene said.

The restructuring comes at a heavy cost. A smaller staff means it takes longer for the department to institute new programs or manage existing ones. Earlier this week, members of the Parks and Recreation Commission told the City Council that the city's recreation staff, and de Geus in particular, are "overworked." Commissioner Sunny Dykwel said the city's effort to promote youth well-being is already suffering from insufficient manpower.

Dykwel said the newly reconstructed Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto gives the city a perfect venue for hosting events for youths. Unfortunately, the Recreation Department no longer has the staff to manage or coordinate these events, she said.

"It's been increasingly difficult to sustain some of our youth programs as staff capacity is stretched ever so thin," Dykwel told the council at the Nov. 1 meeting.

She noted that over the past seven years, Palo Alto has eliminated seven position from the Recreation Division alone — a 40 percent staffing reduction.

Keene acknowledged the wave of retirements means larger workloads for staff and longer turnaround times for some projects.

"We're in a real challenging situation," Keene said. "Everyone is working a whole lot harder, and we have to be realistic about what we can achieve in the short term and what we can't."

He maintained, however, that as the city adapts to the retirements, the long-term benefits will far outweigh the costs.

Burt agreed. The recent wave of retirements will allow Keene to install his own management team to lead the city toward a leaner and more efficient future, Burt said.

"Any time you have a number of senior people change in a similar time period, it becomes a greater challenge to focus on replacements," Burt told the Weekly. "It's also an opportunity, however, for Jim to be able to identify some candidates who are strong and who are well aligned with his vision and with the direction he's taken as an organization."

Keene's recruitment drive coincides with council's search for the city's next city attorney — one of four positions that reports directly to the council (the other three are city manager, city clerk and city auditor). The council last month appointed the firm Bob Murray & Associates to help it identify possible candidates.

Burt said he expects the council to consider its applicant pool for the position in mid-December. Council members would then interview the top candidates and possibly reach a decision on Baum's successor early next year.

As for the other vacancies, Burt said the council intends to give Keene free reign to recruit the department heads. He said Keene's recent moves, including his appointment of Dennis Burns to succeed former Police Chief Lynne Johnson and his recent hiring of Pamela Antil as an assistant city manager, have given him confidence in Keene's judgment.

"I don't expect Jim to always make perfect decisions, either in his hires or in the other decisions he makes, but from what I've seen, I continue to expect a really good batting average, as well as a few home runs," Burt said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by PA Resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2010 at 9:23 am

Overall this is a well written and informative article but it could have gone further. For example the other cover story from this issue was about the City Manager's "bold" new initiative to increase customer service and reform the City's permitting process which is known by local planning wonks as the "Palo Alto Process." It would have been insightful to cross reference that story and ask the City Manager how this "Brain Drain" is going to affect his vision for the new permit process.

Keene says that the new vacancies, as well as the task of filling these vacancies, should slow things down in City Hall over the first half of 2011. Well that's also supposed to be the roll out period for the new and improved permitting process. How will service levels be increased when the most knowledgeable and experienced workers are leaving in droves? Who will be providing this high quality customer service when all the veterans of the permitting game are retiring and leaving in droves for greener pastures? Temporary employees and consultants? How will the City recruit and hire high quality permanent replacements for these valued workers after thoroughly gutting city employee's compensation?


Posted by Joseph, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 5, 2010 at 10:13 am

Good article....


Posted by Carroll Harrington, a resident of Community Center
on Nov 5, 2010 at 11:21 am

Excellent reality check and overview!


Posted by PA-Needs-A-Good-House-Cleaning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 12:16 pm

> Burt said the council intends to give Keene free reign to
> recruit the department heads.

The City Charter gives the City Council no room to involve itself with the running of the City government--outside of certain "policy" decisions. In fact, it's a misdemeanor for a City Council member to try to become involved. It's a shame that Burt doesn't know this .. it's also a shame the Weekly doesn't know this.

The underlying issue is that the City's pension system is incredibly lucrative. The City has been paying the non-public service personnel something like 2.7 x years-of-service when they retire. When the CalPERS COLA is added in, this provides people whose salaries are over $100K a very tidy nest egg.

For the individuals named in this article, the pension base will be between 100K and 150K, so the following are the pension payouts for these individuals in the future:

Pension 10-Year Total 20-Year Total 30-Year Total
$100,000 $1,116,872 $2,478,332 $4,137,944
$150,000 $1,675,307 $3,717,498 $6,206,916

This is a lot of money .. to be paid for not working. This is money that few people in the private sector will see in their pension plans. Moreover, people in the 50's are young enough to start another career, or move to another municipality and possibly into another Director-level slot for 10-15 more years.

Given these financial inducements--there is little reason to stay in Palo Alto when they can make more money in retirement than they made working.

Without people's understanding how much money is involved in the pension giveaways, articles like this one are not very helpful in understanding why things always seem to be in one kind of a crisis, or another, at 250 Hamilton.


Posted by Garry Wyndham, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2010 at 12:21 pm

A really good article.

But are we really surprised that people are retiring in large numbers? We've made it so financially attractive to retire at 55 (2.7% pension for each year of service) that it would be astonishing if they chose to stay.


Posted by Mr. Clean, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Yes, Keene is clearly cleaning house.

New people with a new perspective are sorely needed to change City Hall culture.

Some departments need a thorough scubbing from top to bottom after the last several years of scandals and foul-ups.


Posted by More change needed, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:16 pm

We need to go further. There are many qualified managers that could do this job at the posted salary amounts without having the significant retirement incentive. We should move more towards self contribution with a % match much like many non-government employers provide. When you retire you are off the books.

These departures will continue as public outrage over exorbitant retirement benefits raises the perceived risk that something might be taken away.


Posted by Eric, a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Many of you see the retirements of the City's Management staff as a good thing. To a certain extend I agree with you, however, the City is loosing much of it's institutional memory. Steve Emslie will be the only one left with any kind of longevity.


Posted by Ano Nymous, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:37 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Elena, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:39 pm

I laugh when I see "brain drain" and "Palo Alto leadership" epitheths here. I'd call these departurers "Palo Alto opportunities" to adjust its budegt to reality. According to City of PA 2009 report (pubicly available here Web Link
salary of the departed Glen Roberts was $170,845 and Diane Jennings, Library Director, was $179,902. This is a opportunity for the city fo Palo Alto to bring in young talent at half the cost. There are many graduates looking for a job these days, after all what is so complicated in Library Director job that a recent college graduate with good time management and people skills can't do? It is time Palo Alto comes up with more creative ways of recruiting - for example, bring in young people who do not demand big $$$ salaries. There should be an open contest for these jobs.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Right...let's get some young folks with no experience whatsoever to run the city.

Palo Alto, be care what you wish for.

Also...take a look at your own paychecks. What does it cost for a family to live in PA?


Posted by Fiscal conservative, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:48 pm

"The new forecast, which contains more modest salary increases" - why is PA giving ANY salary increases ????


Posted by Elena, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Neighbor, your advice to "take a look at your own paychecks" is completely irrelevant unless you want to build a communist society where everyone's paycheck is the same.
I would take a bright young man or woman without experience but with good common sense and desire to change over an incumbent bureaucrat any day! Or a good admin.
You must be one of those overpaid government workers who want to protect the jobs, salaries and benefits at any cost.


Posted by Mr. Clean, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Eric,

That "institutional memory" is of a laundry list of scandals and foul-ups over just the last several years involving the City Manger's Office, the Police Department, the Public Works Department, the Utilities Department, the Administrative Services Department, the City Attorrney's Office and on and on.

Many big egos have come crashing down in a big "thud" as a result. Lots of impromptu "career" changes too. A few, like the former Administrative Services Director, got out of Dodge just in time before the **** hit the fan.

Time to finish the thorough housecleaning the Keene with the support of the Mayor and City Council have underway right now. Scour out the palce from the first to the seventh floor. Cut costs too.


Posted by Deep Throat, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 3:09 pm

Fire Chief Nick Marinaro was not the "first major City Hall domino to fall".

Police Chief Lynne Johnson retired shortly after Jim Keene became City Manager: Web Link

The graphic accomanying the article could have shown Johnson's photo with an "X" instead of showing Dennis Burns.

Community Services Director Greg Betts and Planning Director Curtis Williams were both Interim Directors when Keene was hired, but did not become actual Department Directors until appointed by Keene and confirmed by the City Council.

The only department heads remaining who were appointed to their positions by former City Manager Frank Benest and confirmed by the City Council are Lalo Perez and Valerie Fong.


Posted by Anon, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm

So many opinions, but how many of you actually have any idea what you are talking about? How are you able to get a flavor of the festering culture you always speak of unless you work there?

General statement to, well most of the posters on this forum: You expect so much more than you are willing to give. Put in your resume for any one of the vacant positions, stating that you are willing to only earn $60k with no benefits. Go ahead. Put your money, your livlihood, your family, your 3 million dollar home where your mouth is. Obviously there are no skilled positions at City Hall, so you should be able to easily handle any of the vacancies. No? Not willing to actually walk the walk?

Didn't think so.


Posted by Mr. Clean, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Deep Throat,

You have provided accurate information. Whatever the thin veil thrown round it, what has been going on now for a couple of years is plainly a major house-cleaning. Emily Harrison, Lynne Johnson, Glen Roberts, Gary Baum, Carl Yeats, and others are all out the door. Russ Carlsen will gone by the end of the year. These people were all running amok at 250 Hamilton Avenue jockeying with each other for power and glory just a few years ago.

Some of them left in the throes of a scandal or just afterward. That list includes Harrison, Johnson, Roberts, and Baum. Yeats and Carlsen were or have been careful not to leave their fingerprints on the back door knob (so to speak) for the sherrif to collect as evidence. Yeats was the craftier of the two, having talked the gullible Council into approving the 2.7% retirmement formula just the year before he (conveniently) retired himself. He still collect checks for "consulting" with the City of Palo Alto. Slick!


Posted by Jake, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 3:36 pm

"anon"

Thank you for your comments, it's getting a little old listening to certain people make statements of FACT as to what people do or don't do, how easy it is, "I would do that for $100,000 a year" etc.
The City of Palo Alto had position after position open or openings happening all the time until the last few years.
I see very few if any residents of Palo Alto applying for or working for the City of Palo Alto.
If it's such a great place with such great money and benefits then I'm guessing we will see some of these people who post here working for the City soon to take advantage of all the money and perks.


Posted by realist, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Do you really think a new grad for half the price as Library Chief could cut the mustard? The Friends of the Library would eat her for breakfast.


Posted by PA-Needs-A-Good-House-Cleaning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2010 at 4:51 pm

> The Friends of the Library would eat her for breakfast.

This group has been one of the most pernicious to library management. While they have generated a small amount of money over the years, their contributions do not come close the the total amount wasted on the library sites in this town--and their vision of the future is myopic at best. Hopefully any new library managers will be supported by the City Manager to do his/her job without having to supplicate himself/herself before this bunch of Luddites.

With libraries moving onto the Internet, and marvelous readers now on sale at just about every location conceivable--the idea that a city needs brick-n-mortar libraries is now history. It is difficult to believe that library use will not tail off in the coming years--leaving any new library Director with a new set of problems. Rather than having to kiss various body parts of this (at time almost vicious) buck of people, he/she will be having to come up with plans to justify the library's existence.

As to Jennings leaving at this time. It's clear that librarians are not particularly good administrators of large programs. (Remember a former librarian who was Palo Alto City Manager). So, having multiple managers of any large program is a technique that is used in the private sector. One manager for the beginning of a large project. A "middle manager" and an "clean up" manager. Governments don't seem to understand that as much as the private sector does. It's possible that the City Manager was able to recognize the need for a "project-oriented" manager in the library, and used this opportunity to get one.


Posted by Questioning, a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2010 at 5:53 pm

The letter in the latest edition of the Palo Alto Weekly from Ronna Devencenzi, former President of the California Avenue Area Development Association (CAADA), castigating City of Palo Alto top brass is devastatingly on target.

Weak top leadership with no vision, instead a focus on pushing the blame downhill to line staff when anything goes wrong. A cover your behind above all else mentality. Crafty, carefully scripted frame-up jobs in the guise of internal investigative reports, each designed to shift the blame away from the brass.

Endless spin and snow jobs. Scant honesty, little integrity, zero courage. No accountability for anything that goes wrong. Responsibility? Nobody's home in the top echelon.

That has been the culture of Palo Alto City Hall senior management for years. When will it all end?


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2010 at 6:29 pm

I wonder if City Manager Keene would work for half his $227K salary.
If not, hire one of those right out of college folks who will.
You people are so silly.


Posted by Jane, a resident of University South
on Nov 5, 2010 at 9:17 pm

What you fail to point out is that in the immediately preceding few years, we also lost many managers, so it's an even greater brain drain than you point out. For example, Greg Betts, the current Community Services Director is just about the only one left of all of the heads of the different subdivisions. They've all left recently, and along with them, the memory and the gained experience.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 6, 2010 at 2:29 am

If I was just finishing college, let me think if I would want to work for Palo Alto...

Google Job: Average salary in my field $80,000. A lot of possibility for upward mobility/career development, free shuttle transportation to/from work, show up/leave when I want, free food all day, free gym, rock climbing at work, swimming at work, volleyball at work, on-site doctor, on-site dentist, on-site car wash, on-site oil change for my car, and when my back hurts I just get a massage right in my work building...

City of Palo Alto Job: Average salary in my field $90,000. Good health benefits and retirement.


Hmmm, I think I'll go for the Google job thank you.


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2010 at 8:19 am

Tim (Downtown North),

You forgot free daycare, free dry cleaning.


Posted by anon, a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2010 at 12:40 pm

The Tim's are right on target. But, that isn't what this thread is supposed to be about. Seems every thread whittles down to it at some point, but city salaries and benefits are not the issue here. The issue here is that city hall is draining. There are some challenges ahead for the people left behind. There is also great opportunity for the organization to shift to a leaner more effecient one. Get some new blood that will look at the way things have always been done and find better ways to do them.

That being said, I still haven't heard any of the know-it-alls saying they would apply for half the wages and none of the benefits as they always claim city workers should get. Still waiting...


Posted by Tim, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 6, 2010 at 1:00 pm

To anon,

The problem is that if these young people are not pay a good salary (over $100K) and good benefits, they will get their "feet wet" on Palo Alto's dime and move on to a better city or company.
This was proven many times in the police dept, until they give them a 30% raise a few years back.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Nov 6, 2010 at 2:35 pm

Elena and all the other folks alarmed about PA salaries -- note that in health care and all benefits have been included in the totals. Salaries, like other things in our economy, are market driven. Do you think that you can get city leadership for 30k/year? Only if you outsource all city management to India. There's a thought for a TV series or movie.

You comment.... "Neighbor, your advice to "take a look at your own paychecks" is completely irrelevant unless you want to build a communist society where everyone's paycheck is the same...." ARE YOU FOR REAL? No one said everyone's check should be the same. God Forbid!

Elena -- what's a fair salary that YOU would accept to manage/supervise 12-400 people, work 40-60 hrs/week including citizen "meetings" and complaints, do dept./functional budgeting and be accountable for the department decisions....and be beholden to the Palo Alto Process... Oh yes, and pay Peninsula cost of living, housing costs/rents, and have a family?

Betcha it's 100+K and change.


Posted by Fran, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2010 at 10:39 pm

<The problem is that if these young people are not pay a good salary (over $100K) and good benefits, they will get their "feet wet" on Palo Alto's dime and move on to a better city or company.

So True.


Posted by Elena, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2010 at 9:23 am

RE " what's a fair salary that YOU would accept to manage/supervise 12-400 people, work 40-60 hrs/week" - I'd it for $70K with all the benefits it comes with. And there are many absolutely awesome admins who are very organized, great planners and have excellent communication skills. In the industry they make $60-$70K without the retirement benefits.
Google jobs are available for very few very select graduates, but there are thousands college grads who could the job. Do not overestimate the challenges of the job, let's say of a Library Director. Big deal, really!


Posted by Sameera, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Nov 7, 2010 at 9:26 am

<The problem is that if these young people are not pay a good salary (over $100K) and good benefits, they will get their "feet wet" on Palo Alto's dime and move on to a better city or company>
True if you hire really good ones, but hire average and they will stay. They will be happy they have a job.


Posted by PA-Needs-A-Good-House-Cleaning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 7, 2010 at 10:14 am

Government is different from private sector organizations, as they are required to provide services to the public in general, rather than to paying customers, and are not intended to "make a profit". Additionally, government entities are not intended to "go out of business" -- -- "failure is not an option".

This means that those in charge must manage governmental organizations so that there are no "irreplaceable" individuals, and that the organization do not become so structured that they cannot easily adopt to changes in the economic environment, or in the political environment, that surround these organizations.

If there is a "brain drain" at City Hall a year after a new City Manager is appointed, what are we to make of this? Is it a problem, or simply a long overdue house cleaning? But more to the point, why should we, as residents, be concerned because Department heads "move on", remembering that any organization that becomes so intractable that "things happen" only because a small number of senior people yield enough power, or organizational knowledge, to see projects, or processes, drawn to complete speaks volumes about the failures of that organization, rather than the prowess of those who manage to get "City Hall" to finally do its job.

Lest we forget, it is the job of the City Manager not only to "manage" people, but also the process. It is the job of the City Manager to define not only processes, but also to construct a framework of checks-and-balances, internal reporting/evaluation, so that the City Manager can come to understand where the bottlenecks in the "process flow" can be found, who his/her strong managers are, and who his/her weak managers are. It is the City Manager's job to create frameworks so that the so-called "institutional history" of the City does not resident only in the minds of a few key individuals. It is the City Manager's job of the City Manager to insure that these sorts of problems are identified, and corrected as quickly as possible.

Of course, the City Council has a responsibility, albeit limited, based on the Strong City Manager/Week City Council form of government here in Palo Alto, to oversee, the City Manager. The City Council does have the power to review the City Manager as frequently as necessary, and as he is an "at will" employee, to replace the City Manager when deemed appropriate. And, the residents have the right to recall the City Council at any time, if it becomes clear that the City Council is not exercising its powers appropriately.

Unfortunately, things have become out-of-kilter in Palo Alto. None of the checks-and-balance mechanisms have been applied in an inappropriate/timely fashion in the past, leaving us with a very unproductive/unresponsive city government.

If this City Manager is worth his salary, he will make wiser choices for the Department head replacements that he will be selecting than have been made by his predecessors. He would be well advised to select from outside the City staff, if at all possible. The idea that Department heads have worked in the Palo Alto City government for 30+ years is further evidence of why things are so out-of-kilter here. Given the practices in the US military, and the private sector, in general, tenures of three-five years seems to be typical. City government might require a slightly longer tenure, or perhaps five-six years, but certainly suggesting that Department heads should have 15-20 years of "on-the-job" training in order to function successfully should be seen as one of the root problems with our current problems at City Hall.

Hopefully this "brain drain" will be seen as a turning point in Palo Alto government leading to better staff decisions and more effective use of the money intended to provide public services and infrastructure.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 7, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Less hiring, more service sharing:

Web Link


Posted by Clean Sweep Needed, a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2010 at 8:41 am

Let's finish the clean up at City Hall.

Almost all the department heads and deputy department heads of only a few years ago are now gone. Many left under a cloud. Now is the time to complete the sweep out.

End all the scandals once and for all. Bring good, efficient government to Palo Alto.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Nov 8, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Good luck and best wishes to employees who leave this terribly dysfunctional workplace. Residents, city management, and city council make sure that employees understand that they are not welcome and are a burden and liability on the city's future. City Manager Keene, whose "the glass is always half empty" motto has driven both management and city workers to resign or retire in mass numbers. I can only hope that residents and city management will be satisfied with contract and temp employees who have no allegiance to the city or petty whims of city council requests. Good luck, I hope you get what you want.


Posted by PA-Needs-A-Good-House-Cleaning, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm

> Good luck and best wishes to employees who leave this
> terribly dysfunctional workplace.

Time and again, we, the residents and taxpayers, are confronted with evidence that the City of Palo Alto's workplace is actually "dysfunctional", based on comments on blogs (like this one), and from little "windows" into City Hall--like the Utilities Probe and the suspension of the City's Assistant City Manager.

But what to do about it? The elected City Council seems totally dedicated to special interests, or indifferent to changing the status quo, or just unqualified to understand the situation.

Without periodic audits, we (the residents and taxpayers) are held hostage to a system that seems more dedicated to "serving itself" rather than the public at large. The current Charter limits what the City Council can do, but the Charter could be changed--if there were enough political will to put the City on a better foundation. Unfortunately, there are not very many leaders here in Palo Alto who are not simply spokespersons for one special interest group, or another.

The growing financial crisis here in the US, and CA, offer a way out, as it becomes clear that the cost of "business as usual" is now unsustainable. Sharing/merging municipal services seems to be a "doable" first step in dealing with the cost issues. However, it will take a sea-change in the approach to management of municipal workers to deal with this issue of "dysfunctionality". It's a shame that we don't have any hard evidence as to what the truth really is about what the City of Palo Alto workplace is really like.



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