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PA city manager apologizes for flag-lowering comment, supports local policy

Original post made on Aug 25, 2007

Dear Editor:

I have just returned from a two-week vacation. In the last few days, I have come to fully appreciate the concern felt by firefighters about how the City of Palo Alto recognizes firefighters in other jurisdictions who have died in the line of duty. Specifically, I would like to address two issues:

1) My comments as reported in the local press;
2) City protocols for flag lowering and firefighter participation in memorial services honoring fallen firefighters.

It was reported in the local press that I made an uncaring comment while discussing Palo Alto’s flag lowering protocols. I do not recall making such a statement. Assuming I did make it, I can certainly understand how it was insensitive and hurtful. Therefore, I would like to apologize for my comment and the harm that it caused.

When the issue of protocols was raised at the City Council meeting on July 30, I immediately asked Assistant City Manager Emily Harrison to review our existing policy. Emily has had three meetings to discuss a new policy and I am currently working with her, Fire Chief Nick Marinaro and Police Chief Lynne Johnson to finalize recommended policy changes by the end of this month.

My goal is to allow more flexibility for participation of public safety personnel in memorial events and authorize the lowering of flags even when the President and Governor have not ordered flags to be lowered.

I believe that formalizing these policies and procedures will allow us to properly and respectfully honor our fallen public employees.

The City appreciates the inherent risks in public safety work. I also understand the value of the collective grieving process involved in honoring those who have died in the line of duty. Hopefully, our new policies will allow the flexibility needed to honor the fallen.


Frank Benest
Palo Alto City Manager

Comments (15)

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Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2007 at 5:04 pm

How convenient that Frank does not recall making those comments. Well I think that he should give us the truth one way or another--either he made those comments or else the newspapers are lying. Which is it, Frank? I do not think that he should be allowed to straddle the fence with his non-response.
I am sure, however, that the city council will reward him again--this time for his "honesty". How about a big bonus and salary raise. Then the council can go pat themsleves on the back for a job well done

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Posted by Publicus
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2007 at 5:35 pm

Not So Fast,

Have you ever posted a positive comment on any topic? Just wondering ...


Like this comment
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 25, 2007 at 6:00 pm


Yes I have. If you think that Benest is alright, then you will see my comment as negative. if you think Benest is one of the symptoms of what is wrong with the city then the comment will not be considered negative.
Why are you wondering?

Like this comment
Posted by Publicus
a resident of another community
on Aug 25, 2007 at 6:28 pm

Not so Fast,

Appreciative inquiry is a way to explore and communicate positive insights. What do you LIKE about About Mr. Benest? About Palo Alto? About the world around you?


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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 25, 2007 at 7:46 pm

Thanks Publicus. While NSF is sometimes (not always) acerbic, I tend to agree with him here - to say "I don't remember making the comment" suggests, without saying it, that he may have been misquoted and makes his apology ring hollow.

I personally dislike that tactic - I'd prefer he either say "I never said anything like that" or admit he did and make his apology. Oh well.

Like this comment
Posted by Slipped tongue
a resident of Ventura
on Aug 25, 2007 at 8:25 pm

Haven't we all made a slip that we wished we could retract? Who exactly remembers what they said 3 weeks ago? Acknowledging our mistakes and moving forward are signs of good leadership.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 25, 2007 at 9:18 pm

NSF, I say let's give Mr. Benest the benefit of the doubt. Even if his apology is nuanced, it does serve the purpose of repairing personnel rifts - that's a good thing. Let's let it rest at that, and continue to move our city forward.

Like this comment
Posted by Extreme Unions
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 26, 2007 at 6:47 am

Ever wonder the firefighters' union is too powerful actually so much that it could be detrimental towards its governance.

Like this comment
Posted by A Firefighter
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2007 at 5:49 pm

To Extreme Unions,

This is not about a worker's union, but about honoring two firefighters that die while trying to save a older couple in their home. It would be good for you if you research the WHOLE story (about the comments and the flag lowering)[portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2007 at 11:52 am

So let me get this straight. Frank is apologizing for something he says he did not do? Then why apologize. The City Counsil told Frank to? He knows he put his foot in his mouth again. However in got to the public.Without the City or Firefighters Union being able to cover it up? Where did the comment come from in the first place. Is he lying to cover his B--t again? "Assuming I did make it" I think it is YES/NO.. If you have to assume Frank or do not remember making this comment. Would you not first ask, when did I make this comment,who is saying I made this comment, what proof do they have that I made this comment. Smoke and Mirrors. This comment had to come from some where?

Like this comment
Posted by That was an apology??
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2007 at 12:57 pm

I agree with the Firefighter!! I think that Frank's apology was pointless. He apologized to make his Counsil happy, and he didn't mean it. And when it comes to people's lives being killed while at work, you can't do that. Where is the apology for the family members who were insulted, where is the apology to the other firefighers in Palo Alto and Contra Costa County, where is the apology for the heartache that he has caused a lot of people. Frank still needs to be FIRED!

Like this comment
Posted by Fireman
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2007 at 8:27 pm

Also, If you can not remember what you said # weeks ago? Maybe you should not be a City Manager? Give me A BREAK.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Southgate
on Aug 28, 2007 at 9:46 am

I believe that since cities endorse the policy of Mutual Aid (when other fire and police departments pitch in during times of crisis) we should also give respect by lowering flags and sending personnel and equipment to honor those who have died in the line of duty. To me it's the other side of the coin of Mutual Aid.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Californian
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2007 at 4:20 pm

I ran across this website while I reading articles about the two brave Contra Costa firefighters who lost there lives in the line of duty, and I was appalled by the "apology" letter that Palo Alto city manager Frank Benest wrote. He was quoted as making those remarks in a Palo Alto Daily News article dated July 31st, 2007; but yet he does not remember making the comments. Also, he hides behind his belief that if the president or Governor does not order flags to be flown at half-staff than there is no need for the city of Palo Alto to do it. The truth is that in a press release dated July 31st, 2007; Governor Schwarzenegger did order that the Capitol flags be flown at half-staff for the two line of duty deaths. Also, the CAL FIRE director and the CA state fire marshal ordered that flags be lowered to half-staff for all of their stations and facilities throughout California. Numerous other California cities and districts did the same. Mr. Benest, there was nothing "willy-nilly" about this response. It was a lead for you and the city of Palo Alto to follow and you missed it - period. Mr. Benest at best you are inept and incompetent; or at worst you are soulless and corrupt. Which is it?

Like this comment
Posted by Captain OFD
a resident of another community
on Oct 13, 2007 at 11:09 pm


Coming from a military family I understand the reluctance to lower the stars and strips to half staff. The standard for taking this action is very high. You have however, made a poor decision, you should have at least, half staffed the US flags at the Palo Alto fire houses. If you still wanted to just follow the federal guide lines for US flag ettiquite at a minimum you should have developed a fallen firefighter relief banner system years ago after past conflict over these matters.
If you did not think that sending an Engine to the procession was a acceptable use of taxpayer funded equipment you should have participated in covering the Contra Costa County fire houses. The master mutual aid system may some day be required in Palo Alto and you spit in the systems face.

You should apologize now and in public, be a man admit your mistakes come to a compromise for future events and defend your position properly. Come on, you could have sent a few reserve staff vehicles with off duty uniformed members.

As a city manager I am shocked at your apparent totally lack of negotiation skills. If you handled this so badly, I can only image the constant poor service you must be providing your city.

Maybe you should resign.


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