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City Manger Performance Review

Original post made by Fred Balin, College Terrace, on Jul 30, 2006

"It's peformance-review time for the city manager" Diana Diamond reminds us in the headline to her column of Wednesday.

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This little-known process, mediated over a series of several meetings via a paid facilitator, evaluation forms, and agreed-up rules over is underway.

For some time, Diana Diamond has been the leading press critic of city operations and her timely column on this issue is welcome.

I encourage every citizen who has been seriously engaged in city matters to read it carefully and then thoughtfully, fairly, and rationally add commentary to her column and this blog.

My comments follow.

On The Proposed Planning Reorganization
An appropriate policy-level debate occurred over the city manger's plan to insert an ombudsman ("deputy directoor") as a new free-standing No. 2 slot in the planning department at the expense of expertise in transportation.

What caused a great deal of the tension that Diana Diamond cites was that the new position had never been approved by council or posted for applicants, yet an individual had already been chosen for that position.

Also, the discussion followed a rash of departures from the planning department, including, as per my tally, at least 11 in the past year. In addition, following the release of the proposed reorganization in March, three former employees publicly wrote of their dissatisfaction in rather harsh terms. They not only criticized the proposal but spoke to concerns of morale, loss of professional expertise, bureaucratic interference, and lack of vision.? ?One of the three also raised disturbing allegations about intimidation and harassment within the department, about insults from developers who are not granted exceptions to rules, and senior management that condones the behavior and yields to the requests for exceptions. ??This is serious stuff.

On The Mayfield Agreement
The manager's "big win" in the Mayfield Development Agreement represents both sides of the conversation on his assertiveness.

A party to the upcoming negotiations with Stanford, he nevertheless convinced council to pass its responsibility over to him and select the environmental consultant. The forthcoming agreement would hinge on the results of the consultant's environmental impact report (EIR), which by law is to be an objective, disinterested study. City staff later directed the environmental consulting firm as to what charts the firm should use in their traffic analysis. The use of these charts, were part of a detailed set of objections from our neighborhood that challenged the methods, assumptions, data, and conclusions of the Mayfield EIR traffic study.

At the conclusion of 18 months of private negotiations with Stanford, the City Manager pushed the project through the city commissions and EIR review in a truncated schedule that limited the public's input and understanding. With that completed, the public response to council suffered through four late postponements on its way to the meeting in May, 2005.

[Correction to Diana Diamond's column: the entire council did not back the agreement. The vote was 5-1 with 3 members conflicted out. 5 votes (not a simple majority) were needed to pass. Council Member Yorko Kishimoto raised several amendments related to environmental impacts. When none were seconded, she voted against certifying the EIR and the agreement.]

Final Comments
The current council, and especially Council Member Larry Klein, have effectively, appropriately, and correctly begun to not only question but to reverse the imbalance between the city manager and council on key policy issues. The stipulation that a new deputy director have appropriate planning credentials and the the removal of the Fry's site from the Pedestrian Transit Oriented District (PTOD) are two examples.

The elevation of Curtis Williams from his long-time contract planner role to that of Director of Planning & Transportation brings an experienced, respected, and open professional to a vital post. His efforts in the extended PTOD community education and input process and his capacity to calmly accept and integrate divergent input brings a needed calming influence to recent business.

The council should set a goal for the City Manger to bring the highest levels of competence, integrity, and professionalism to the planning department, and ensure that those professionals get to do their jobs unhindered by internal bureaucratic or outside special-interest pressures. He needs to elevate morale and promote stability. In sum, he must create an organization in which the community has complete confidence. In a city strapped for cash and with bond issues and other tough decisions on the horizon, anything less casts a cloud on Palo Alto's future.

Fred Balin


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