Palo Alto to pay, honor 'retired' public works head
City's settlement agreement with Glenn Roberts calls for $130,655 in severance; official retirement 'proclamation'
Palo Alto Public Works Director Glenn Roberts will receive $130,655 and a special City Council proclamation in exchange for an immediate retirement and a promise not to sue the city.
The council announced Roberts' retirement just before midnight Monday, after nearly an hour in closed session.
City Manager James Keene issued a statement Tuesday morning acknowledging Roberts' 18 years of public service and wishing him "the best in the next phase in his life."
The city's settlement agreement with Roberts, made public Tuesday morning, indicates that Roberts' departure was neither voluntary nor amicable.
The agreement bluntly states that a "dispute has arisen between City and Roberts regarding the continuance of Roberts' employment with the city." It says the parties wish to "save the time and expense" of potential claims, arbitration and litigation.
Under the terms, Roberts would receive $130,655 and a "proclamation for Roberts upon his retirement consistent with proclamations issued for other employees who have retired voluntarily from City service in good standing."
In return, Roberts agreed to waive "any rights he may have had, or now has, to pursue any and all remedies available to him under any cause of action against the City" or any city officials. Roberts also agreed not to "apply for any permanent, hourly, consulting or any other position with the City, unless invited to do so by the City."
Roberts approved the settlement on Oct. 8. The council agreed to the settlement terms Monday night, at the end of its meeting. The closed session was listed on the agenda as "significant exposure to litigation."
Roberts' forced departure ends what has been a long and at times tumultuous career at the helm of one of the city's most complex and controversial departments. Last fall, Roberts issued a public apology after his staff authorized the felling of 63 holly oaks on California Avenue before the public-notice period concluded. Roberts vowed to do a better job reaching out to the public during future tree-removal operations.
In July, Roberts again found himself in the hot seat after Public Works officials discovered a $6.7 million deficit in the city's Refuse Fund — after Roberts' department listed a reserve of more than $6 million but neglected to tell the council that under state regulations it had to be kept for closure of the landfill. The council last month approved rate increases and cost-cutting measures at the city's landfill to help close the budget gap.
Several years ago, Roberts strongly advocated creating a major recycling operation known as the "Environmental Services Center," that was to be housed in a large metal building near the city's wastewater treatment plant on land dedicated for parkland once the landfill operation ends in the next year or so.
The ESC proposal — significantly different than the present, partially below-ground-level plan for a composting operation — divided environmentalists and community members until it was voted down by the City Council.
The department is currently in the middle of a heated dispute over the local landfill, which is scheduled to close in the next few years. A coalition of environmentalists is lobbying for the city to build a composting/waste-to-energy plant on the landfill site. Others argue that the landfill should be quickly filled and the site converted to parkland.
Roberts is one of several department heads who have either retired or announced plans to retire in recent months. City Attorney Gary Baum will conclude his tenure at the end of this month, while Library Director Diane Jennings said she would retire later this year. Fire Chief Nick Marinaro retired this summer.
Roberts is one of several Palo Alto department heads whose contracts include a six-month severance provision. Lalo Perez, director of the Administrative Services Department, also has such a provision in his employment agreement.
Keene, who took over as city manager in 2008 and who has the authority to hire and fire department heads, has been designating all his new executive-team hires as "at will" employees.
Keene said in his statement that he plans to name an interim public works director within two weeks. He also said Roberts had not filed a claim against the city, as had been erroneously reported by the Daily Post.
Roberts' 2009 salary was $179,902, city records show. His severance pay, Keene said in a statement, "is similar to the standard built into contracts for other Department Directors on the City's Executive Leadership Team."
"The administrative leave approved allows Glenn to retire, effective December 30, but also permits me to begin to plan the transition in the Department immediately," Keene said.
Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at email@example.com.