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Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce replaces CEO David MacKenzie

Former Mayor Judy Kleinberg to take the reins of business group

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The Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce will have a new CEO after its current leader, David MacKenzie, was asked to step down this week, the Weekly has learned.

MacKenzie will be replaced by Judy Kleinberg, an attorney who served for two terms on the Palo Alto City Council and was the city's mayor in 2006. The announcement about the new CEO was made Thursday at the Chamber's board meeting, said Jon Kiya, chair of the board.

MacKenzie, who was hired on an interim basis in July 2012 and later assumed the permanent position, confirmed that Friday was his last day as the Chamber's top executive. He declined to discuss the reason for his departure or comment on whether the move was voluntary.

Kiya told the Weekly that the board had been considering a leadership change for several months. The move was made this week after the Chamber's officers learned about Kleinberg's interest in the position. Kiya said the board is grateful for MacKenzie's two years of service but said the board is "also thrilled to have Judy join the Chamber."

"She is a proven leader and has a long record of accomplishments in nonprofits as well as in city government," Kiya said. "Judy is a person of influence and is highly respected in our community."

Kleinberg, who in 2010 became program director for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, specializes in nonprofit law. She had previously served as vice president of InSTEDD, a startup focused on disaster response. She had also served as vice president of Joint Venture: Silicon Valley, a policy-analysis organization that addresses the region's economy. She is also a past vice president of California Women Lawyers.

Kleinberg said she was drawn to the Chamber by the opportunity to "help build a 21st Century version of the Chamber of Commerce in a unique community." Palo Alto, she said, is different from any other community both because of its proximity to Stanford and its eclectic mix of global businesses, startups and mom-and-pop shops.

Kleinberg said she sees the organization as being "a real community member, not solely serving the interest of business."

"We're a member of the community and we're here for the benefit of everyone in the community," she said.

To develop the organization's priorities, Kleinberg plans to approach the different types of businesses and ask them each what they'd like to see from the Chamber.

In assuming the top role, Kleinberg will become the Chamber's fourth top executive in three years. MacKenzie took on the Chamber's top role after the departure of previous CEO Paul Wright, who resigned from his position after holding it for just six months. Wright was hired to replace Paula Sandas, who served as the Chamber's CEO for less than three years before resigning in September 2011.

Kiya lauded MacKenzie for stepping into his role "at a critical time for the Chamber" and for doing a "great job in elevating the Chamber to the current platform for growth." He praised MacKenzie for leading the nonprofit's move to its new location at 101 Lytton Ave. He also said MacKenzie "made it clear to the board when he took the position that he did not want it to be long-term."

Even so, the transition was abrupt, with MacKenzie learning only earlier this week that he would be replaced by Kleinberg. Her appointment, Kiya said, was announced to the board Thursday and is "effective immediately."

"The transition point had come to find a leader to take the Chamber to the next level," Kiya said.

When asked about the quick transition, Kiya said the Chamber decided to act because it was "presented with a great opportunity with a person of very high quality and experience and a long-term member of the community."

Related content:

Palo Alto Chamber names MacKenzie interim CEO

Sandas resigns as Chamber of Commerce CEO

Paula Sandas to lead Chamber of Commerce

Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce CEO resigns

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4 people like this
Posted by Revolving door keeps turning
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2014 at 9:55 pm

And the revolving door keeps going round and round. Former Government officials trade in their knowledge and access, to advocate for organizations that lobby the City Council. It is a long list.
Ethical people in our city government are harder and harder to find.

4 people like this
Posted by Spinning
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2014 at 11:42 pm

@Revolving - she's been out of office for over 6 years, so that would be a pretty slow revolving door. And I'm kind of skeptical that she did two terms on the City Council so she could cash in with a glamorous Chamber of Commerce job. You might be listening to too much talk radio.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe Ross
a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 20, 2014 at 4:27 am

A fantastic choice.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe Kott
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2014 at 9:20 am

Joe Kott is a registered user.

Congratulations to Judy Kleinberg, a distinguished civic leader, thoughtful, experienced, and enlightened.

3 people like this
Posted by chamberexpert
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

4 leaders in 3 years. Troublesome for sure. This is a failing of the board of directors. What happens when the board is "presented with a GREATER opportunity with a person of HIGHER quality and experience and a LONGER-term member of the community."

Now on to the role of the Chamber of Commerce. Its primary purpose should be to represent the interests of business within the community. I would expect to see mention of economic development, business development or something related to helping businesses succeed in the headlines. The first two pages of search results for the Chamber over the last 4 years is dominated by chamber leader resignations, honoring of a hot dog vendor, honoring of community volunteers and fighting the hotel/motel tax.

The only economic/business development focused activity in any of this is the fighting of the hotel/motel tax, a tax that should have a large portion dedicated to promoting Palo Alto as a tourism destination but that instead is deposited into the City's general fund. I would expect to see news reports of the Chamber fighting to have a large portion of this fund dedicated to tourism development.

Come on Chamber! Focus on your job. You should have done a national search for a leader that will refocus the chamber on business and the economy. I will be interested to see what your new CEO with a background in non-profits (read no experience in business development) will take your chamber.

Like this comment
Posted by CW
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2014 at 12:33 pm

It doesn't seem as if moving from the prestigious Knight Foundation to the chamber of commerce is a step up. At best could you say it was a lateral move. It appears she was job hunting when the chamber hired her? Why is she leaving Knight?

3 people like this
Posted by Revolving door keeps turning
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 21, 2014 at 2:47 pm

The Chamber has moved to very fancy digs in the new 4 story building on Alma corner Lytton provided by developer Boyd Smith, and introduced by Council member Scharff.
BELOW MARKET RATE office space to an organization (defined so that it fits the Chamber of Commerce). (Minutes May 14, 2012)
Paul Wright, President of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, stated from a planning and economic development perspective, the proposed gateway project benefits, etc.(p.18)
The building is underparked by 22 spaces.
Vice Mayor Scharff felt the project was a public benefit in itself (p.23)
Below Market rate new offices for the Chamber of Commerce.

4 people like this
Posted by Moving-the-Deck-Chairs-On-the-Titanic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2014 at 9:09 pm

> I would expect to see news reports of the Chamber fighting to have a large
> portion of this fund dedicated to tourism development.

Let's not forget that the City Council spent a lot of money on Destination Palo Alto, back in 2007--

Web Link
Destination Palo Alto is a collaborative project that involves the City of Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Weekly, Palo Alto Online, the Chamber of Commerce, the Palo Alto Downtown (business improvement district). Support sponsorship funding comes from Stanford Hospital and Clinics, the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online and the city.

If memory serves, the city spent about $250,000 on this boondoggle. Has there ever really been much of a return on investment for this rather sizable cash outlay? The TOT increase will not be spent advancing business, or tourism, if it is approved by the voters. It will be spent increasing salaries--which will in turn, increase pensions.

Why Judith Kleinberg wants this job is a bit of a mystery. She has a lot of executive experience in non-profits, and has been associated with a few private sector organizations that promoted business, not she didn't seem to stay at these jobs very long. It's also not exactly clear what she achieved in these private sector roles (such as TechAmerica (formerly AeA~American Electronics Association).

Given how often in the past the Chamber of Commerce has been little more than a shill for the city government, it will be interesting to see if Ms. Kleinberg is going to be trying to use her prior influence at city hall to help the developers who carry a lot of weight in the Chamber.

Given the demise of retail in the downtown area--it's not really clear in what direction the Chamber can go if most of the buildings become only offices for lawyers and financial types.

Guess we'll just have to wait and see how long this lady stays in this job.

2 people like this
Posted by Carroll Harrington
a resident of another community
on Sep 21, 2014 at 9:19 pm

I moved to Capitola just last year, but before that I was an active member of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce since 1990 when I started my business Harrington Design. I served on numerous committees and was horned to receive the Athena Award in 1993 and Tall Tree Top Professional in 2009.

My philosophy has always been you get out of the Chamber what you put into it.

The staff and board have worked ardently to represent Palo Alto businesses both in the community and at legislative levels by providing a number of programs, including Business Advocacy and :Public Policy Forum, Ambassadors, Leadership Palo Alto, Business Referral Network, SCORE, EPIC and monthly mixers. A good example of Chamber effectiveness was when the reusable bag issue came up several years ago. The Chamber hosted a series of meetings facilitated by Phil Bobel from the City of Palo Alto to discuss this issue and make a recommendation to the City. It passed unanimously.

I think Judy will be an outstanding President and CEO and will bring her skills both as a public official and nonprofit executive to take the Chamber to a new level, ready to meet the challenges of the changing Palo Alto business community. Congratulations to Judy and the Chamber Board!

2 people like this
Posted by Longtime Resident
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 22, 2014 at 11:01 am

Having business ties in Palo Alto, what is happening in the Chamber since Paula Sandas is distressing. She did a good job as did Sandra Lonnquist who served before her. MacKenzie seemed effective & personable, having the background to know what he was doing. With him, I thought we had a winner.

But I remember having read somewhere the Chamber took a stance on a recent issue that differed from the City's stance. I cannot remember which issue it was.
Perhaps this move is The Long Hand of the Law, reaching in as "payback" to MacKenzie, initiated by the City of Palo Alto, over him showing spine by standing up to them. That is just a guess.

Judy Kleinberg is a nice lady and she may want this position. But does never knew how to represent everyone in the City when she was on council. So she would not know how to represent all PA businesses either, at least not like Lonnquist, Sandas and MacKenzie knew how to carry that out.

The new scenario smells to me like the one surrounding the Downtown Merchants Association several years ago, when it replaced its CEO while that person was doing a good job, the move coming as a shock to everyone. This sounds like politics. Politician Judy is at the ready, as most politicians are. She'd play ball with the City well.

2 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 22, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Yes - revolving door of a sorts. Kleinberg was Mayor, then soon head of various Silicon Valley corporate lobbying groups for several years. Now the Chamber which is at least consistent with her corporate lobbyist orientation. And her new office will be located in the so called Gateway building at Lytton and Alma - a PC. Her office space will be subsidized as a "public benefit" in exchange for the developer getting the PC. How a lobbying group for private business gets our public benefit is just another example of the giveaways by this City Council. Holman is the only incumbent that voted against this project, and rightly so. Remember that when you fill out your ballot.

Like this comment
Posted by Revolving door keeps turning
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 22, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Paula Sandas is another example of the revolving door. As a member of the Planning Commission she voted for every development that came before it.
Then she went to work for the Chamber.
Lanie Wheeler is also a former city council member on the Chamber board.

2 people like this
Posted by Missed this one
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 22, 2014 at 12:58 pm

"The building is underparked by 22 spaces"...the building is underparked by 22 spaces...the building is underparked by 22 spaces...

No more arguments that we Downtown Northerners should expect THIS (by virtue of our proximity to Downtown).

Have we had our EPIPHANY yet? Yes. And it's a new 86 room hotel on Hamilton with zero parking spaces.

Enough already. Ridiculous. VOTE people!

5 people like this
Posted by In bed together
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 22, 2014 at 1:21 pm

The overlap and outright conflict of interest at these organizations is so blatant that it is a surprise the residents haven't come out in force sooner or at all.

City Manager in bed with Landowners.
Council in bed with Developers.
Chamber in bed with special interest.
Downtown Association a subset of the above.

Look at the board at the PACC and PAD organizations. None of them small business owners but rather: Attorneys, Hotel Managers, Bank Employees, Realtors, Accountants.
If the staffer is not a yes man, then they're axed, execution style.

The real blame lies with the residents and business owners who have turned a blind eye for far too long.
Demand answers and don't rest till you get them and Gennady ought to be sent out to do real investigative reporting and blow the city government wide open once and for all.

5 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 22, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Most certainly the City isn't happy about the Chamber's opposition to November's Measure B hotel tax increase. There's a lot of money at stake: all the way from the fees for setting up the COPs (Certificates of Participation) to the string of projects that might happen if it passes. The City's infrastructure plan is well over a hundred million dollars.

Diana Diamond came out against the hotel tax increase (see: Web Link), so Klein and friends (Berman) are worried that Measure B might not get the simple majority it needs to pass. If Kleinberg can keep the Chamber's opposition low key, most voters will be fooled into supporting the horrible idea that is Measure B.

Ms Diamond says she opposes Measure B because it's not a bond measure and the funded projects are suggested rather than stipulated. That's true, but the bigger problem is that Measure B financing uses COPs (Certificates of Participation). The COPs would be over $60 million in debt backed by the City's general fund. If the anticipated hotel tax revenue doesn't appear, the City will have to cover the COPs payments with the City's general fund.

An infrastructure bond wouldn't have carried this risk. Further, a bond would carry a list of projects that MUST be done, instead of merely suggested. Vote NO on Measure B!

3 people like this
Posted by Helene
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 27, 2014 at 1:38 pm

The Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce is very insignificant in this town. I owned a small business for twenty years before I sold it. I was a member of the Chamber and never felt it represented small business or did anything for my business. The mixers are fun, but just an excuse for a get together. The Chamber is as much as a joke as The Better Business Bureau.

Mr. MacKenzie was DISMISSED without notice or preparation. Doesn't sound like the kind of operation I would want my city to be a part of. This all sounds very fishy and attempt to promote Ms Kleinberg's political ambition. We have so many politicians who won't accept a new face on the City Council or at the Chamber. Time for many of them to move on and not come back.

No one who is an incumbent for the City Council should be re-elected. Look what they have done with development and the non-transparent dealings with 27 University. Get rid of all of them. They had their terms and have only disappointed us.

1 person likes this
Posted by Lisa Costa
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Oct 1, 2014 at 5:54 pm

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