Public Works Director Glenn Roberts, who retired from Palo Alto after reaching a legal settlement with the city in October, took a bow Monday night (Jan. 10), as well as a parting shot at newspaper accounts that he said grossly mischaracterized his departure.
Roberts, who directed the city's Public Works Department for 18 years, retired in October after the City Council approved a settlement giving Roberts $130,655 and a special proclamation in exchange for an immediate retirement and a promise not to apply for another city job.
The settlement stated that a "dispute has arisen between city and Roberts regarding the continuance of Roberts' employment with the city" and said the parties wish to "save the time expense" of potential claims and litigation.
On Monday, just after the council approved a special resolution of appreciation for Roberts, he went on a counterattack against media reports that suggested he'd been ousted.
He singled out the Daily Post, which erroneously reported that Roberts had filed a claim against the city (it later ran a correction), that he was fired and that he is making more money in retirement than he did while on the job.
Paraphrasing Mark Twain, Roberts proclaimed in his acceptance speech that "reports about my departure have been greatly exaggerated." He then quoted Twain again and said, "If you don't read the newspapers you are uninformed. If you read the newspapers, you are misinformed."
Referring to the Post stories, Roberts said he decided "not to let myself dwell about it, but to take it for what it is," namely fiction.
Roberts then alluded to Ernest Hemingway, notorious for his drinking habits, and extended what he called a "peace offering" to the Post to "help inspire them to better fiction" -- a bottle of "Johnny Walker" Scotch whiskey, which he submitted to the city clerk for safekeeping.
Roberts, 61, said he was approached by the city last year about the possibility of an early retirement and a buyout. He said he agreed because he felt a retirement would afford him more time to spend with his family. To make it happen, Roberts said city officials asked him to sign a settlement agreement, which he did.
"I never intended to sue the city," Roberts said.
Roberts' reputation took a hit over the past two years after the hasty and unpopular removal of 63 trees on California Avenue in September of 2009 -- an action that infuriated residents and prompted him to issue public apologies. Roberts also had to scramble last year to close a gaping deficit in the city's refuse fund -- a deficit brought about in part by the city's waste-reduction initiatives.
At Monday's meeting, the council focused on the positives and unanimously approved his resolution of appreciation.
The proclamation acknowledged his leadership in developing local parking structures, maintaining Palo Alto's streets, sidewalks and trees, and enhancing the city's emergency preparedness and pollution-prevention efforts.
Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd read the resolution, which was followed by a round of applause from the council and staff in the Council Chambers audience.
Roberts thanked the council and city staff, particularly the employees of the Public Works Department, for allowing him to have what he called an "extremely rewarding" and "extremely challenging" career in Palo Alto.
"This has been an incredible opportunity -- literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me -- that I could not have realized anywhere else," Roberts said.