After three decades, Palo Alto recreation chief says farewell

Greg Betts concludes storied career in Community Services Department

After a varied three-decade career that took him from a teenaged volunteer at Palo Alto's animal shelter to the director of the city's Community Services Department, Greg Betts is preparing for the next phase.

Betts, long known around City Hall for his genial manner and passion for enhancing the city's recreational programs and open-space preserves, earned a standing ovation and a resolution of appreciation from the City Council on Monday night after he concluded a 31-year career in city government.

The resolution, which was passed unanimously, lauds Betts for his service as an "innovative, compassionate and customer-focused leader who has developed successful programs, fostered strategic partnerships, enhanced community assets and achieved measurable customer satisfaction."

Betts began volunteering at the animal shelter in 1972 and became a part-time employee there as a high school and college student. In 1983, he became Superintendent of Animal Services, a position he held for the next 13 years. The council's resolution credits him with developing pet-adoption counseling and screening protocols, expanding animal control-service contracts with neighboring cities and implementing the microchip program for pet recovery.

In 1996, he joined the Community Services Department and after a few years as interim director he was hired for the permanent position in 2009. He has championed and overseen numerous park-improvement projects, including the renovation of Lytton Plaza, creation of the Heritage Park playground and the soon-to-be-completed completion of the Magical Bridge playground at Mitchell Park.

During Monday's ceremony, Betts was lauded by numerous colleagues who had worked with him over the years. Khashayar Alaee, who worked with Betts for nearly a decade, credited his Palo Alto upbringing for fostering his "innate love for the city and a keen sense of community values."

He recalled a time when Betts returned from a vacation in which he reported receiving "the best customer service he's seen his whole life." Betts returned with the name of the management firm that helped train the people who provided the service and asked Alaee to get an estimate from the firm so that it could train Palo Alto employees to provide a similar level.

City Manager James Keene praised Betts for his contributions to the city's executive team, a group of department heads that meets regularly.

"Greg has been a pioneer in building bridges across the organization, whether it's with public safety, Public Works staff, our office or whatever," Keene said. "He made a lot of contributions outside the realm of being a CSD director."

After receiving several plaques of appreciations and a huge round of applause, Betts thanked staff and the council for the opportunity to serve and said he felt extremely grateful for his career in public service.

When asked what he plans to do next, Betts indicated that he plans to remain heavily involved in community events, though now once again as a volunteer.

"I'm definitely looking forward to retreating to my volunteer roots," Betts told the Weekly. "Whether it's at the Palo Alto Art Center or the Nature Interpretive Center, I haven't yet decided. But I'll definitely be a judge at the chili cook-off."

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10 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 13, 2015 at 10:38 am

I have worked and known Greg for many years. All I can say is he will be sorely missed in the Community Services Department and throughout the City. His smile, cheerfulness and most wonderful personality have made even the hardest days easier. His leadership has been second to none and his willingness to listen and consider different ideas has made him a joy to be with.

Thank you Greg for being a great, wonderful, kind and beautiful person.

11 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:02 am

As a parent in the community, I have seen every day the evidence of his passion for excellence in serving the community.

Thank you, Mr. Betts.

10 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 11:32 am

I had the privilege of working with Greg Betts for a many years. He is truly someone special. He is the best boss I've ever had. His vision, leadership, passion, dedication, and kindness are what compelled me to stay with Palo Alto.

He has all of the attributes that are typically associated with very high performers- incredibly talented, Herculean work ethic, skilled writer and speaker, and a ceaseless drive to pursue excellence. What separates Greg from the pack of other very high performers is that he did it all with genuine kindness and care. He was a true leader. When praise was given for a job well done, he would consistently pass the praise over to his team. When mistakes were made (not by him) and problems occurred, he would consistently take personal responsibility. When we would have meetings in parks, he would greet every park visitor we came upon as if they were old friends, and he would always stop to pick up every piece of litter we passed. He would get his hands dirty and join volunteers in pulling invasive weeds (even when dressed in wingtips and a tie!). He treated the most entry level employee just as he treated his boss. He wasn’t selectively friendly— he was kind and friendly to everyone.

He was a leader I would follow, and a man I admire and respect. The City was incredibly fortunate to have Greg Betts as an employee. I was even more fortunate to work with him and count him as a close friend.

I lack the eloquence to adequately explain how unique and special Greg Betts is. I wish him a very happy retirement. He will be missed.

11 people like this
Posted by Ronna Devincenzi
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 13, 2015 at 4:34 pm

The accolades in the previous three posts say everything that I, as a California Avenue business district volunteer, noted about Greg for the past 10+ years. What a gentleman.

I had the pleasure of working with Greg, Don Piana, Robert Ward {and other wonder-workers!} in Parks and Community Services, departments that were healthy, from the top, down, making it fun to take part in "Civic Engagement" during their tenures.

These people are what made Palo Alto special; "Palo Alto"'s behind-the-scenes comment about Greg gives insight into the qualities that make him most particularly special. Susan Barnes (formerly Economic Development) and I would also pick up trash as we walked too, & often. So knowing Greg did that too says a lot about him. Wow. Way to go!

The beautiful thing is that all Greg’s staff was great to work with. I hope their legacy continues, and those city employees that remain active will have the same concern as Greg did for the community, and that THE COMMUNITY WILL APPRECIATE it, when they encounter special staff members, such as Greg (and Don, Robert, Suzanne, etc., all now retired.)

Greg proved that Palo Alto departments could be healthy, and from the top, down, with the result being a healthier & happier community that misses them when they leave. All these people have moved on, but they will never be forgotten & they are MUCH APPRECIATED!!!

To you and all your Parks and Community Services staff: Thank you, Greg.

9 people like this
Posted by David Smernoff
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jan 13, 2015 at 6:47 pm

I worked with Greg for many years implementing the novel public-private Stewardship partnership at Arastradero Preserve. The on-going success of the program is due to his leadership from within the City. His style, his can do attitude, his tireless efforts to find ways to make every aspect work, his kindness and inclusiveness, all coalesce into an irreplaceable asset that the broader community will indeed miss. All the best Greg in your retirement!

9 people like this
Posted by Olenka Villarreal
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 14, 2015 at 10:55 am

Yes to all the above accolades! While Greg started as my official City of Palo Alto contact when I embarked on a quest to build the Magical Bridge playground, I am proud to now call him a dear friend. Wherever he went, he brought with him his cheerful and delightful disposition and he represented our city so beautifully! As stated by others, a gentleman in every which way and a most wonderful man.

On behalf of all his friends from the Magical Bridge, we wish him a joyful retirement!

3 people like this
Posted by Joel
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 15, 2015 at 6:46 pm

Joel is a registered user.

Greg is one of the finest men I have worked along side of throughout my long life. He made the PARC commissioner's jobs full with presentations and fun outings concerning parks and recreation. A tireless leader who I champion for making the sensible decision to try new adventures. Congratulations Greg. When's the real party?

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