Frank was brought in when former City Manager June Fleming resigned back in the late 1990s. Fleming was known as a micromanager, absorbed with details and needing to make a lot of decisions by herself.
Indeed, I remember one time asking the city’s web page manager if the Rotary Club web site could be linked to the city’s web site and listed as a community resource, and that decision had to be forwarded to Fleming.
So Frank arrived because he was to be this new city manager who wanted to be “visionary” and less hands on.
And that’s the way it turned out. Early on, Asst. City Manager Emily Harrison became in charge of nearly all day-to-day operations, while Benest played the visionary role.
He also dealt with developers, including Stanford, and played a hard-line approach.
When his wife died a couple of years ago and then Benest subsequently came down with cancer, council members rightfully felt sorry for him.
That sympathy resulted in a new agreement with Benest that said the city would pay half his property taxes (on the $900,000 city portion of the $1.59 milllion house that Benest and the city jointly owned) and that Benest could remain in this house on Bryant Street until 2017, when his youngest would be off to college.
A very generous offer. Some in the community, including me, felt a bit too generous. And it means now that we have to get a new city manager, we may have to help the new manager buy another house in Palo Alto.
I was never quite sure of what Benest’s “visionary” contributions to the city have been.
The Weekly reports that his proudest accomplishments, according to Benest, were: continuing the budget-trimming efforts, doubling city funding of infrastructure maintenance, the Mayfield sports field/housing agreement with Stanford University and the creation of the Opportunity Center.
Fine, but some of these were not his original creative undertakings.
Rumors are that council support the last couple of years has been divided, with 5-4, then 4-5 then 6-3 votes in support of Benest.
The timing was right for Benest to resign. The support was fading, and eight years as a city manager is a great record.
I am sure we all wish him well.