Palo Alto picks new Human Resources director

Attorney Kathryn Shen to start her new position next month

Palo Alto will soon have a new leader in its Human Resources Department -- a veteran attorney whose experience with labor relations includes stints at Kaiser Permanente, Alcoa and Goodrich Aerospace.

City Manager James Keene announced Monday that after an "extensive search" featuring 83 applicants he has selected Kathryn Shen as the city's "chief people officer." Shen, who will begin her new job April 17, will direct a department that has been without a permanent head since Russ Carlsen retired at the end of 2010.

The City Council unanimously approved her contract Monday night. She will receive an annual base salary of $185,000.

An attorney with 23 years of business experience, Shen has spent the past five years in the Human Resources Department at Kaiser Permanente's Northern California Regional Office. She has also recently published an article in the industry journal, People & Strategy, which discusses the role of predictive analytics to promote skill and career development.

She had practiced law in Cleveland, Ohio, and later joined LTV Steel Corporation, where she worked in labor relations and human resources. She later worked at Alcoa, Inc., Goodrich Aerospace and ITT Industries before joining Kaiser.

"I'm looking forward to fostering an environment of innovation, collaboration and shared accountability to help achieve the City's goal of becoming the best high-performing city in the U.S.," Shen said in a statement.

Shen is joining the city's Human Resources Department at a particularly sensitive time for labor relations. The city is seeking benefit reductions from all of its labor groups and has recently declared an impasse with its negotiations with its largest police union. The impasse came just months after the city reached an agreement with its firefighter union after 18 months of tense negotiations.

Members of the council have indicated they will continue to seek benefit reductions from the unions, largely to account for the sharply growing costs of pension and health care. Recent reforms have included new requirements for employees to make contributions toward health care and a second pension tier for newly hired employees.

Keene said the interview process for the position included two interview panels of department stakeholders, Palo Alto's union representatives and Bay Area public sector leaders.

"We are delighted to have a person with Kathy's experience and credentials join our leadership team," Keene said in a statement. "Her background in staff development and workforce planning will be especially important as our organization regenerates itself over the next few years."

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Like this comment
Posted by City Manager Fan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 20, 2012 at 10:45 am

This appointment is a vast upgrade from recent years when the last permanent City HR Director was a political operator, hatchet man. A good appointment, City Manager Keene.

Like this comment
Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 20, 2012 at 12:55 pm

So we can't give current employees a wage increase over 4 years, but every new department head we get has a significant pay increase, 20K in this case.

Nice, I'm sure they can rationalize that in some way!

Like this comment
Posted by lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm

Great, another "yes" man for the Keene and Klein circus. Her resume includes being a lawyer in Ohio, so I guess if we need legal advise for litagation in Ohio the city is all set. Funny how residents complain about city workers salaries but feel comfortable with paying $200,000 a year starting salary for management applicants with limited experience. Keene and Klein continue their mission to create a top heavy organization spending millions on senior management pay and benefits.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I'm sure this woman is qualified but I am getting a little sick of reading about new city executives being hired with salaries like this.

In this case, it seems more than a bit insensitive to the blue collar types, who have been asked to take pay cuts in recent years, to hire an HR director with a fat salary.

Like this comment
Posted by Is anyone Every Going to
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 21, 2012 at 11:03 pm

Is anyone every going to actually report on King Keene's hiden salary where the Council actually pays him 50K extra into a hiden retirement account.

So I guess because they didnt want to give him a salary over 250K and pay retirement based on that amount they had to hide the extra retirement contrubutions into a fund no one else gets.

Everyone is hiding this fact. Go check out his full compensation!!!!

Like this comment
Posted by lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 22, 2012 at 1:23 pm

Criticizing Keene and Klein doesn't fit into the Weekly's agenda or sell ads for their paper. Reporting on Keene's "comfortable" relationship with Councilmember Klein or reporting on Keene's bilking of taxpayers money for his benefit and salary compensation (yearly bonus, taxpayer paid property tax on city bought house, auto allowance, etc., etc.) might be too much for a small newpaper like the Weekly. Notice how quickly this story on new senior management disappeared from main page of Palo Alto Online.

Like this comment
Posted by I said it!
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Mar 23, 2012 at 9:19 pm

Palo Alto officials need to be investigated for fraud. There is plenty of it going on.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident and Employee
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2012 at 12:12 pm

It's City Press releases from Jim Keene not Journalism, Klein and Keene are succeeding in making Palo Alto "Progressive" by utilizing the Weekly and Gennady Sheyer like a tool.
This is not journalism.
Where in this article does it say WHICH unions?
Where in this article does it refer to the NLRB case where in 2010 Kaisers Management and SEIU were in collusion to commit fraud on employees? Shen is a lawyer and would have known of this case - and as an HR personnel was she party to it?
The Weekly's continued publication of PRESS RELEASES from James Keene and Larry Klein without investigation are an outright attack on city employees and perform a perpetration of hostility and half truths for encouraging the public's ire.

Like this comment
Posted by Employee and Resident
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm

If you want real facts and figures go back to the Meeting minutes for last Monday the 19 and look at the councils budget report. The employees are already gouged enough for the city savings. & YET the Weekly did not publish that.

What are the effects of this? Employees have lost homes over these cuts. Employees cannot help their kids with college. Employees work in a hostile public environment where the citizens believe that the Weekly is truth.

Why does no one publish the real Keene and Klein "PPROGRESSIVE" plan to drive employees out?

Jim Keene and Klein are doing outright attacks on employees through the Weekly and you may think - so what? Are you aware of how many MANAGEMENT employees have come in at high salaries who have little expertise in their position? Look at the Development Center's newest manager who "has experience from the other side of the counter". Look at how the new IT manager hired 2 more managers underneath him.

How do issues like the Park land turn out to be the 150 - 260 million dollar waste treatment center run up? Yet no controversy on the cost?

How does arbitration become an issue about as the city lawyer says something about the fire departments lack of regard for citizens citizens right to choose" and NOT that arbitrators must INVESTIGATE both sides? Mediation is a great way NOT to investigate the city.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 15, 2012 at 8:43 pm

I am watching via tv an outrageous set of presentations "Discussion on Benefits & Strategies" tonight's council months after publication of this and was so dismayed by statements by Kathryn Shen that I booted my laptop and starting sussing around.

The staff report attached says she is "Chief People Officer" which sounds pretty Orwellian to me or something out of the George Clooney movie about the corporate hatchets who fly around to fire other people.

I question whether Jim Keane's tack on budget issues isn't going to result in we the taxpayers getting less for our dollar. How could we possibly be attracting the best people in such an anti-worker environment?

Web Link

It seems that Kathryn Shen's job is to help fire people, break their unions or be the fall person -- she has an at-will contract -- if the public decides that indeed Keane is on the wrong track. I am fairly mortified.

Like this comment
Posted by "Chief People Officer"
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm

When the City Manager hires a Human Resources manager and calls her "Chief People Officer" one wonders what other manipulation is planned or in motion.
It could be Mr. Keene's desire to be folksy and to talk down to us but it is really suspicious. Perhaps Mr. Keene just doesn't have a good sense of the English language. I wonder if her job description is different from the previous Human Resources manager.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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