http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2011/03/25/city-manager-seeks-to-change-vague-hiring-policy


Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 25, 2011

City manager seeks to change vague hiring policy

Current Palo Alto system has created unusual category of managers

by Gennady Sheyner

Ned Himmel, Rich Malonee and Rob Braulik have little in common when it comes to professional responsibilities, but one wouldn't know it from looking at their job titles.

Himmel took over as the city's interim library director in October, replacing retired Director Diane Jennings. Mallonee heads the city's Office of Emergency Services, while Braulik helps the City Council keep up with California's proposed high-speed rail project. But the three share one characteristic; they are among the dozens of city employees whose official title is "management specialist" a nebulous designation that has become increasingly common at City Hall over the past three years.

Records from the Administrative Services Department show that in 2010, 73 employees carried the "management specialist" designation up from 45 in 2007. The list includes an attorney, a Fire Department deputy chief, planning consultants, traffic engineers, police dispatchers and Palo Alto's interim city auditor. About the only thing that links these officials is their vague title.

Taken as a group, the management specialists earned more than $3 million in 2010.

Not coincidentally, the number of management specialists at City Hall has been rising at the same time as Palo Alto's overall workforce has been on the decline. Dozens of workers have retired or have seen their positions eliminated over the past two years. Palo Alto eliminated 60 positions that were supported by its General Fund over the past two fiscal years, and 46 other positions have been held vacant to save money.

The overall number of positions in the General Fund has dropped from 730 in 2003 to about 580 today, City Manager James Keene told the council during its annual retreat in January.

The "management specialist" designation is Keene's tool to keep the city running despite the recent flux. Typically, the council approves all the staff positions in June, when it approves the annual budget. The budget document lists every General Fund position in each department. If the city manager wants to add a new position during the year, he has to bring it back to the City Council for approval a process that can take weeks.

Or, he can hire someone on a temporary basis and designate that person a "management specialist."

In an interview this week, Keene told the Weekly that the current policy for hiring temporary managers causes problems in regards to both transparency and recruitment. One the one hand, citizens looking at the city's long list of management specialists typically have no way of knowing what exactly these people do. On the other hand, newly hired managers and professionals aren't always thrilled about carrying a relatively meaningless, catchall title.

"When you're trying to bring someone into the organization, you want them to have a title that reflects what they're doing," Keene told the Weekly.

Interim City Attorney Donald Larkin illustrated that point at a Dec. 14 meeting of the council's Policy & Services Committee. He told the committee that his office recently tried to hire an employee to fill a temporary vacancy after a deputy city attorney left. But because the office wasn't allowed to hire a new deputy city attorney, the city had to hire a "management specialist" to fill in for the deputy city attorney.

"I don't know any lawyers that want to put on their resumes 'management specialists,'" Larkin told the committee. "We're calling them deputy city attorneys.

"They're management specialists on paper, but no one is calling them management specialists."

To deal with the problem, Keene has proposed reforms to create more flexibility for hiring temporary employees without having to use the "management specialist" designation. Keene's proposed reforms, which have yet to be reviewed by the full council, would allow him to assign new managers and professionals other positions without explicit council approval, provided that he stays within the council-approved budget.

He told the committee in December that given the city's shrinking staff and sizeable turnover, "We need to have more flexibility than we have now."

Keene said the Human Resources Department is now putting together a specific recommendation, which he hopes to bring to the Policy and Services Committee in the next month or two. He said he hopes to bring the issue to the council and make the necessary changes before the next fiscal year begins on July 1.

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

Comments

Posted by Curious, a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:23 am

Weekly - please publish the number of management specialists who are retired former City of Palo Alto employees.


Posted by Confused, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:46 am

> "They're management specialists on paper, but no one is calling
> them management specialists.

And who is responsible for this situation? Is it state law that mandates it? Or is it something that this, or a previous, City Manager decided to implement?

As usual, the Weekly has failed to dig into this topic. While it seems like another "mole hill that has been turned into a mountain", is there anything of substance going on here? And why is this news? Why is changing the title of an employee something that needs community input, or even, awareness?


Posted by eye wide open, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2011 at 11:57 am

Hey Curious, great request!!

"Or, he can hire someone on a temporary basis and designate that person a "management specialist." If the city manager determines what temporary is, he can hire as many people management positions as he wants WITHOUT council approval. Oops - a loop hole. Watch for that job title to increase under the current title or another title made up one to appear they stopped hiring management specialists.

"In an interview this week, Keene told the Weekly that the current policy for hiring temporary managers causes problems in regards to both transparency and recruitment." So if Keene was and is aware of this why does/did he allow it to happen and continue for so long?

"He told the committee in December that given the city's shrinking staff and sizeable turnover, "We need to have more flexibility than we have now." His staff reduction has been a vicious attack on public employees from the inside. Now citizens of Palo Alto, you should start hearing Keene (or some other high official) start saying, 'we need to raise taxes, increase fees, because we don't have enough staff to provide high quality services the community deserves. We need to recruit highly qualified staff, and that will cost.'

"Not coincidentally, the number of management specialists at City Hall has been rising at the same time as Palo Alto's overall workforce has been on the decline." No it is not coincidence. It is a well planned deception for appearance to keep the public uninformed and confused as to what is REALLY going on.

"Keene said the Human Resources Department is now putting together a specific recommendation, which he hopes to bring to the Policy and Services Committee in the next month or two. He said he hopes to bring the issue to the council and make the necessary changes before the next fiscal year begins on July 1." Why now is HR doing something? Why didn't Russ Carlsen (former HR Director who retired Dec. 2010) do this when he was employed and the problem was aleady known? Actually his replacement has been a long time city employee and this should not cost tons of money for consultants to figure out. HR Director should be able to compile information and analyze it without having to hire consultants to do it for them. Are not those skills listed on the HR Director job description?


Posted by eye wide open, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Unfortunately Confused, the lack of community awareness plays a huge role. This matters because of public funds. Your tax dollars are involved. Confusion is caused by citizens who faithfully believe city leaders are working for their best interest, when in actuality the public is being fed smoothly word-smithed information by city leaders. Unless there are active, aware citzens to hold city council and city manager accountable, confusion will continue making people disinterested in the whole matter allowing them to run the city under the appearance that they are really working hard for taxpayers best interest. Another tactic being played on the inside to employees as well as on the outside to PA citizens. And they are laughing at everyone all the way to the bank.


Posted by Confused, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm

> the lack of community awareness plays a huge role.
> This matters because of public funds.
> Your tax dollars are involved

Well, maybe. What's missing from the Weekly article, and follow-on comments, is exactly what the cost of this policy is to the General Fund. If the issue is that the City Manager can hire "management specialists" whereas he can not hire "xyz" employees, then why is that? Is this a City Council driven policy? And what is the real cost, in dollars, to the General Fund? What is the real problem here?

There has never been a meaningful operational audit of the City Government. Even though we spend 1+M yearly on salaries for a City Auditor, we rarely get much out of that department. We're long past needing a top-to-bottom audit of the City by an outside agency.

Rather than wasting time and money on a stupid ballot item to "undedicate" some park land, we should be using that sort of money to pay for an outside audit firm to start looking at how Palo Alto's government is managing our assets, and using our money.


Posted by Steven, a resident of Ventura
on Mar 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Keene has proven to be an extremely competent City Manager and deserves all the praise in the world. He knows "management specialist" is not a great title, but was forced to employ this loophole to keep the city running. He's also trying to fix things so he no longer has to use that title anymore. Give him credit and do not take a negative attack stance. We're lucky to have him.


Posted by Confused, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 25, 2011 at 4:31 pm

> He knows "management specialist" is not a great title, but was
> forced to employ this loophole to keep the city running

Again .. what is the problem here?

> To deal with the problem, Keene has proposed reforms to create
> more flexibility for hiring temporary employees without having
> to use the "management specialist" designation.

A temp by any other name is a still a temp.

So what exactly are these "reforms"?


Posted by watcher, a resident of another community
on Mar 27, 2011 at 12:15 pm

As a watcher of events in Palo Alto, I have seen first hand what at least one of these "manager specialists" do. When the city council voted to sub contract some of their business, they let go long time city employees. The idea was to save money. They moved the superintendant to another department where he became the 9th "management specialist" or lead man for 6 employees. For the first few months he had no particular job to perform. He now has a function that is redundant to the sub contractors' work. Are you happy with the way your money is being spent, Palo Alto? Oh and those employees that they let go are drawing your tax dollars on unemployment, too.


Posted by PAPD-Critic, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 27, 2011 at 2:01 pm

To: Posted by Curious, a member of the Gunn High School community, on Mar 25, 2011 at 9:23 am

Weekly - please publish the number of management specialists who are retired former City of Palo Alto employees.

Courtesy of Paloaltofreepress.com

CITY OF PALO ALTO
2009 GROSS SALARIES

Arunamata Anun POL Management Spec HRY 11/30/2009 27.43 59,611.22 15,178.63 17,950.53 92,740.38
Wallace Robin POL Management Spec HRY 7/17/2007 12/29/2009 38 17,489.50 0.00 0 17,489.50
Bierman Vicky POL Management Spec HRY 6/11/2007 38 14,430.50 0.00 0 14,430.50
Zook Bradley POL Management Spec HRY 4/10/2009 55 12,100.00 0.00 0 12,100.00
Wildermann Beth POL Management Spec HRY 5/7/2009 39.5 3,160.00 0.00 0 3,160.00
Peeples Amy POL Management Spec HRY 6/1/2002 38 2,812.00 0.00 0 2,812.00
Jacobson Barbara POL Management Spec HRY 8/14/2009 35.54 2,505.57 0.00 0 2,505.57
Vale Gabrielle POL Management Spec HRY 12/19/2005 39.5 1,896.00 0.00 0 1,896.00


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Mar 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

The title "management specialists" as used by city officials, is to designate a temporary worker or contractor brought in to fill an FTE position or any job the council or city manager wish to create without notifying the public. Many of these scab workers are neither management or regular employees and generally require limited technical skills and aren't expected to contribute to the organization. There is no limit as to how many of these temporary workers current management is allowed to hire. Even more disturbing is FTE positions now being filled with outside contractors and consultants earning wages double and sometimes triple of what a full time employee would earn. As for transparency, well, neither their salaries or job titles show up in salary data released to the public. One post denotes this management technique as "extremely competent", however, most would denounce the hiring of temps, contractors, and consultants to fill FTE positions and who add no validity or long term values or knowlege as a step backward to the taxpaying residents who expect and demand a competent and professional organization. Many would say the continuing exodus of senior management, and other longtime FTE employees, speaks volumes regarding the competency and organizational values of the current manager and city council.


Posted by Wondering, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 28, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Steven- Will you please elaborate about the specifics of why you think Jim Keene is such a good manager? How about a list of what he's done that's admirable? You've made a blanket statement, but I just can't think of much to back it up.


Posted by inside info, a resident of another community
on Mar 28, 2011 at 9:44 pm

I believe the fact that the "management specialist" position allows hiring without advertising to the public, is only allowed under 1000 hours (yet many have over 100k earnings) and seems to go under the budget radar, is crazy.


Posted by eye wide open, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 29, 2011 at 12:35 am

"I believe the fact that the "management specialist" position allows hiring without advertising to the public, is only allowed under 1000 hours (yet many have over 100k earnings) and seems to go under the budget radar, is crazy."

NOT. Inside Info, look at CMR 459:09, December 14, 2009, from the city website

Web Link (copy/paste into URL)

Keene already asked council to extend the 1000 hr employees beyond 1000 hrs back in 2009.

Also, to prove a point about word-smithing mentioned above, read the DISCUSSION section in the CMR. Excerpt from CMR: "The City must maintain the ability to provide services but with a higher degree of flexibility and responsiveness." Has anything really changed for the better since 2009? Nope. Flying under the radar.


Posted by who cares, a resident of Triple El
on Mar 30, 2011 at 9:02 am

...and so the spiral downward continues. If city manager keene's and city council's mission was to create a dysfuntional organization, well done-Mission Accomplished!


Posted by City Employee, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm

The city manager in late 2009 received city council approval for the extension of "1,000 hour employees", The city council then asked for the process to be reviewed in 6 months....was this ever done? This classification can be just as ambiguous.

"Management specialists" positions allow retired employees to return to work and take full time job duties...(often called "double dipping").

If there is no definition of the job description "management specialist" ...how does it reflect the actual work need for city process if these job duties are not defined?

Also the ability to hire for a "temporary vacancy" to integrate potential employee to the job may line up an employee of political or individual preference for the full time position rather than opening it to the public and "industry professionals".

"Shrinking staff"= more 1000 hr and management specialist staff with out benefits.
The dehumanization of city workers by the claims of great pay and benefits is a dis-service to all employees of the city. And allows the news media and public to demonize employees as has gone on the past 4 years in the country and Palo Alto.