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See-sawing support for Benest over the years

Original post made by diana diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Nov 27, 2007

Frank Benest has resigned. In some ways that is no surprise, because council support and unhappiness with Frank's performance has see-sawed over the years.

Frank was brought in when former City Manager June Fleming resigned back in the late 1990s. Fleming was known as a micromanager, absorbed with details and needing to make a lot of decisions by herself.

Indeed, I remember one time asking the city's web page manager if the Rotary Club web site could be linked to the city's web site and listed as a community resource, and that decision had to be forwarded to Fleming.

So Frank arrived because he was to be this new city manager who wanted to be "visionary" and less hands on.

And that's the way it turned out. Early on, Asst. City Manager Emily Harrison became in charge of nearly all day-to-day operations, while Benest played the visionary role.

He also dealt with developers, including Stanford, and played a hard-line approach.

When his wife died a couple of years ago and then Benest subsequently came down with cancer, council members rightfully felt sorry for him.

That sympathy resulted in a new agreement with Benest that said the city would pay half his property taxes (on the $900,000 city portion of the $1.59 milllion house that Benest and the city jointly owned) and that Benest could remain in this house on Bryant Street until 2017, when his youngest would be off to college.

A very generous offer. Some in the community, including me, felt a bit too generous. And it means now that we have to get a new city manager, we may have to help the new manager buy another house in Palo Alto.

I was never quite sure of what Benest's "visionary" contributions to the city have been.

The Weekly reports that his proudest accomplishments, according to Benest, were: continuing the budget-trimming efforts, doubling city funding of infrastructure maintenance, the Mayfield sports field/housing agreement with Stanford University and the creation of the Opportunity Center.

Fine, but some of these were not his original creative undertakings.

Rumors are that council support the last couple of years has been divided, with 5-4, then 4-5 then 6-3 votes in support of Benest.

The timing was right for Benest to resign. The support was fading, and eight years as a city manager is a great record.

I am sure we all wish him well.

Comments (19)

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2007 at 7:40 pm

I too wish him well, but gone. Too much got past him.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Walter: you are back? I missed you... Ok so Frank is Gone Now what???

Forget all the wroung he has done???

Do you think this is right?? Or pay the piper????


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2007 at 7:09 am

We can only hope, probably in vain, for a bread and butter manager instead of a visionary.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by george
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Nov 28, 2007 at 2:36 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 28, 2007 at 10:46 pm

Walter, I hear you on that one. "Visionary" - good heavens. We're a little city of 60,000 souls with aging infrastructure, iffy tax base, and high-cost city government. Let others guys chart the future - the vision I have is someone who can manage costs and get things done.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Five-Years-Is-Enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 29, 2007 at 1:14 pm

> The support was fading, and eight years as a
> city manager is a great record

Well, eight years is long enough, anyway .. maybe even too long.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tuesday Morning Quarterback
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 29, 2007 at 9:20 pm

Notice that not one of the above posters is applying for the City Manager's job. This appears to indicate - shall we say - that they are amateur in their opinions?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Five-Years-Is-Enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 30, 2007 at 11:52 am

> Notice that not one of the above posters is applying
> for the City Manager's job.

And you know for certain that none of the posters will not apply for the job before the application period is closed?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 8:13 am

The most visionary thing he did was negotiate staying in his 58%-city-owned house until 2017!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tuesday Morning Quarterback
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 12:30 pm

"And you know for certain that none of the posters will not apply for the job before the application period is closed?"

Yup! Wanna bet?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2007 at 12:37 pm

Frank Benest was hired as City Manager because the City Council members who hired him mistakenly thought that he would immediately take on the infrastructure repairs and improvements June Fleming had neglected. Instead, Benest turned to building his resume.

For years, Benest consistently overshot the mark, and tried to push through over-ambitious proposals which were doomed to fail where properly scaled projects would have been fairly easy to pass. Nothing is easy now; that's the price of Benest's ambitions. The solution to that is not more of the same.

Perhaps with Benest gone, residents can get the attention of Council members so that Benest isn't replaced with a clone. Palo Alto could really use a City Manager willing and able to push projects sound enough to be funded by passing bond issues.

Council's interest in funding the police station without gaining public support makes me fear Council has the wrong idea of the reasons for the multiple failures during Benest's tenure. They still admire his arrogance and indifference to public support.

If a project lacks public support, it's because it's badly flawed. It's not because we voters are dumber than Frank Benest.

As long as Council shows mistrust of the residents, and a desire to evade the limitations placed on them by bond issues for large projects, then I will mistrust Council, and any City Manager they hire.

Looking for a way around passing a bond for a new police station is insulting to the point of folly. I would expect that of Benest. I'm sorry to see it appeals to Council.

It would be helpful, and actually compassionate, if Council would tell Benest to retire now, not in June. Send him the salary due until June, but send him home at once. He has very little support from the community, which wished him gone long before the Council did.

Not that I lack sympathy for his personal problems, but what has that to do with the damage he has done and will continue to do?

He is a man of great intensity when considering his own interests, his reputation and the inconvenient self-interest of current residents. Please, give him the money; get him out.



 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tuesday Morning Quarterback
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:19 pm

Carole Mullen's analysis of Frank Benest's tenure is so gar off the mark that it begs a meta-analysis.

Ms. Mullen overlooks the fact that our citizens are *very happy* with Palo Alto's government. Just look at the audits of citizen satisfaction.

Also, what high level manager is NOT interested in makingi sure that s/he is prepared for the next step - with resume building a part of that process. The latter behavior is engaged by the best and brightest, Ms. Mullen - it's called ambition. Ambition is a driving force in those who excel.

In fact, and in addition to our satisfied citizens (following a severe blow to the Silicon Valley economy), our City Manager has managed to keep our reserves in tact, and accomplished many other positive goals - all this in a hyper-critical political environment that practically begs for the creation of a term more severe than "Catch 22" to describe the pitfalls of being part of it.

Another way to say this is that even in spite of the hypercritical citizenry extant in Palo Alto, Mr. Benest managed to succeed, and survive. This is no small accomplishment.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

"Council's interest in funding the police station without gaining public support" is a great idea, because the police station DOES have public support. The MAJORITY of Palo Altans support this infrastructure build, and even though it won't cost Ms. Mullen a wooden nickel if we go to private certificates of participation to pay for the police station, she and others who agree with here (the minority) will oppose it anyway, because "they know better".

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:43 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tuesday Morning Quarterback
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 1:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2007 at 4:06 pm

My objections to the fervent majoritarians is that they want to fire the voters. Rule by management No controls. Low standards.

Consensus isn't a perfect defense against poor decisions, but it's the best we have.

In major projects, the government should be required to produce proposals which persuade more than a bare majority of those who have to live with the results.

Respect for the governed requires a city's employees to accept the priorities of the governed. Consensus is an effective barrier to careless design and manipulated elections.

I think that, in Palo Alto, a bond issue for upgrading Mitchell library would not have great difficulty in meeting the two-thirds requirement. Turning it into a blank check for tearing up every library in the city - well, that might also pass, but it is a risk. And it ought to be a risk. Otherwise, every desirable proposal will be padded, heavily.

A properly scaled redevelopment plan for the Albertson's parcel would have gone through years ago because the neighborhood would have accepted it.

If a project of small size needs a mere majority, a Gentlemen's C, that might not have consequences. Major projects impact the distant future. They ought to be superior, not barely acceptable. Perhaps a 60% requirement would be sufficient to keep out the mediocre and deter the grandiose. That's a separate issue.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Five-Years-Is-Enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2007 at 4:46 pm

> Yup! Wanna bet?

A statement was made by the poster that clearly could not be backed up by facts. Hard to believe that this poster would pay up if it turned out he lost his (yet unplaced) bet.

No reason to waste time betting with such people.




 +   Like this comment
Posted by Tuesday Morning Quarterback
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 1, 2007 at 6:22 pm

"My objections to the fervent majoritarians is that they want to fire the voters"

Wrong, we want to fire the vocal minority. It's been a tiring battle trying to woo them. We have better things to do - like create a sustainable future - than listen to the ramblings of old ideas.

btw, I'll take that bet - it looks like the more timid among us are already thinking up excuses. (like not getting paid). Assumptions, assumptions...so many unfounded assumptions.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Five-Years-Is-Enough
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 1, 2007 at 8:12 pm

> like create a sustainable future

If we all had a nickel for every time we've heard this tired, old canard.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carol Mullen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 1, 2007 at 8:13 pm

If you were a real believer in majority rules, you'd need to have issues put to a vote.

There's every reason to believe, even according to the polls, audits,etc. on which you base your claims to know who's in the majority without benefit of an actual count of the electorate, that an upgrade for that library is a higher priority for more people than a new police station.

You express support for doing an end run around this large number of people, and pushing through a project which you favor. The will of the people, as in Orwell's 1984.

The Mitchell library backers deserve their chance to prove you wrong. They've been working at it a long time. Diana Diamond is right about the Art Center as well. It isn't fair, and of course it isn't democratic.


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