Editorial: Suddenly, a new manager

Without any public involvement, the No. 2 will become City Manager

Arguably the most important decision a government body, corporation or nonprofit makes is the selection of its CEO.

The chief executive runs the organization, hires the key managers and has tremendous power to influence policy direction while simultaneously being responsive to a majority of his or her board. Elected officials come and go, but ideally CEOs outlast them and provide important organizational stability and non-political leadership.

Public agencies therefore tend to proceed through a careful process when hiring a new leader, typically involving a search firm, a public discussion of the desired qualities and a selection process that includes participation from a small group of internal stakeholders and diverse members of the public who pledge to keep the identities of candidates confidential.

It's an imperfect system, since the general public and media are kept in the dark, thereby minimizing the opportunity for vetting, but it at least has a modicum of transparency and public participation.

This has been the process followed in every recent search for the chief executive of both the city of Palo Alto and the Palo Alto Unified School District. The City Council took this approach when it hired current City Manager Jim Keene in 2008, and the school board has done so in its numerous searches over the last 20 years.

But for reasons that aren't clear, after Keene's announcement a year ago that he would be retiring from the job upon his 10-year anniversary this fall, giving the City Council plenty of time to determine his replacement, two mayors failed to initiate the traditional public discussion or process for months, in spite of occasional prodding by some council members and members of the public.

Instead, in a decision that publicly appeared to have come out of nowhere, on Monday the city suddenly announced the promotion of Ed Shikada, the assistant city manager, to take over for Keene early next year.

Councilman Greg Scharff, who was mayor when Keene informed the council of his intention to retire, Mayor Liz Kniss and other council members all attributed the opaque process to the need to move quickly to pre-empt Shikada from accepting a City Manager offer in another city.

The council met on June 18 in closed session to discuss selecting Shikada, and after the meeting Kniss, as required by the Brown Act, announced the council had taken no reportable actions. Yet this past Monday -- a week later and without the council having met again -- the city issued a press release announcing Shikada's appointment. City Attorney Molly Stump said nothing was reported after the June 18 meeting because there is "a need to go back to the candidate before the decision is ripe for an announcement."

(Regrettably, this type of skirting of the Brown Act is commonly done by public agencies, including our local school district, by not taking a formal vote, even though a decision was indeed made to offer the job. An announcement could easily have been made that the council voted in closed session to negotiate a contract with a candidate for City Manager, and not doing so just adds to the mystery and opaqueness of the unusual process.)

While we understand the council's decision to appoint Shikada and head off his being recruited away by another city, the explanation that it had to move quickly and thereby shortcut any public discussion or participation rings hollow. The council's former and current mayors have had a year to initiate a process for replacing Keene, yet neither Scharff nor Kniss did so. Why not?

The delay ended up putting the rest of the council in the position of having to respond to the danger of losing Shikada to another city rather than run an orderly search process with input from the public.

Shikada is well-qualified and well-suited to taking on the top job in Palo Alto, and search consultants apparently advised the council that recruiting a better candidate would have been highly unlikely, as demonstrated by the fact Shikada was reportedly being courted by other larger cities with current openings. Another legitimate factor in selecting Shikada was the current turnover taking place among senior city executives, including Planning Director Hillary Gitelman, Chief Financial Officer Lalo Perez and Public Works Director Michael Sartor. As Councilman Tom DuBois said, filling those important jobs would have been more difficult without having made a decision on the new City Manager.

We think Ed Shikada is indeed probably the best choice to run the city, but the City Council did him no favors by not carrying out a proper process. Replacing a chief executive of a public agency should ideally be a fully public process -- one with finalists, or at least the ultimate finalist, revealed in time for members of the public and media to explore their backgrounds.

With Keene having generously given the council so much advance notice of his retirement plans, one can't help but wonder why steps weren't taken long ago to recruit and name his successor.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


31 people like this
Posted by Conspiracy!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2018 at 8:19 am

The Palo Alto weekly sees (or invents) conspiracies and issues everywhere. Shikada looks more than qualified. What would you have the city do? Launch a citizens committee? ..oh wait..

27 people like this
Posted by Skeptic
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 29, 2018 at 8:50 am

Skeptic is a registered user.

Making the right decision using the wrong process is not a good precedent. Often as not, the wrong process results in a wrong decision, which is the case with many of the City Council's decisions. It's time this November to start replacing the Council with members are truly responsive to the true needs of Palo Altans, and not just those who spend their time figuring out sneaky ways to bypass the law and good governmental procedures.

22 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 29, 2018 at 1:44 pm

I want to ask the writer of this editorial why he / she believes this decision needs to be run before the citizens of Palo Alto? In my view, we have a representative democracy, and we elect leaders who we trust to make decisions on our behalf.

18 people like this
Posted by Good choice
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2018 at 3:22 pm

Shikada is a good choice, and this editorial sings mud on him. Shame.

Everyone’s got their complaints about Jim Keene on his way out, but the council knew he was leaving and took a year and half to make a fundamentally good choice in selecting Ed Shikada. Sounds reasonable. Good on them.

Shikada has already had a positive impact in the city, especially on things like utilities and infrastructure, and I wish him all the best working as our new city manager!

18 people like this
Posted by The usual “editorial”
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 29, 2018 at 4:14 pm

Unfortunately the first two thirds of this editorial are spent attacking shikada and the city council. Finally at the end the editorial admits that he is the best choice and a decision had to be quickly. [Portion removed.]
And why does the weekly believe that every decision has to go through the never ending pall alto,process of vetting and discussing [portion removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 29, 2018 at 5:07 pm

Yes, the editorial was a little heavy on attacking the process, but from what I've seen so far, he is the right man for the job...and he's been doing a lot of work that that job entails very well so far.

3 people like this
Posted by Stew Pid
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 29, 2018 at 7:33 pm

@Barron Park Dad states:
"In my view, we have a representative democracy, and we elect leaders who we trust to make decisions on our behalf."

Agreed. We also don't elect them to do nothing about an obvious issue -- for a year.

2 people like this
Posted by resident3
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2018 at 8:59 pm

resident3 is a registered user.

This speaks more to where the Mayors' heads are, was there any plan? Just got lucky that someone qualified was around in the building? Is there an Agenda anywhere?

4 people like this
Posted by context
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2018 at 9:38 pm

To understand what is happening in Palo Alto you
have to put it in context. Keene suddenly announced that he was going to retire shortly before the last Council election because he thought a new Council majority was very likely going to take over and things were going to change, for him. Then, surprisingly,the new Council was in his favor (there should have
been an audit in some Downtown precincts,remember the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters was under a State audit last year),so there was no imperative for Keene to leave,no firm date set and the game just continued.Now the time to set a firm date has arrived. The City is in crisis and it
would be difficult to actually recruit a strong
candidate,and another election is coming, so Shikada is a logical choice and he had one foot out the door himself so the City had to pay up. The City needs somebody who is already plugged in to just keep things running and important policy issues over where this City is going are put off pending hopefully a new Council majority in the next election. We are in new territory and the way
things were handled in the past is of no
relevance and the entire Council knows it.

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Shake Shack to open doors at San Mateo's Hillsdale Shopping Center this weekend
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 2,083 views

Sure, the traffic mess in town is a complicated problem, but I want a solution
By Diana Diamond | 44 comments | 1,653 views

Premarital and Couples: What feeling is not allowed, and what do you use in its place?
By Chandrama Anderson | 3 comments | 1,114 views

A chimney pillow unboxing
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 891 views

Holiday Hot Spots – Local Flavor
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 795 views


The holidays are here!

From live music to a visit with Santa, here's a look at some local holiday activities to help you get into the spirit of the season.