Town Square

No bonus for Benest

Original post made by Diana Diamond, Palo Alto Online blogger, on Aug 5, 2006

Well, it looks like Palo Alto City Manager Frank Benest will not be receiving a bonus this year – unless the City Council reverses its very own recommendations at its Aug. 7 meeting.

I am not at all surprised.

In the packet this weekend, the council recommends on paper that the four council-appointed officers – Benest, City Counsel Frank Baum, City Auditor Sharon Erickson and City Clerk Donna Rogers — receive no salary increase other than the same percentage the other managers in the city get, which is akin to a cost-of-living increase, about 3 percent, as I recall.

But the surprise here is the bonuses – the council will give a $6,000 bonus to Erickson, $4,000 to Baum, $3,000 to Rogers, and absolutely nothing, as in zero, to Frank.

The council had problems with Frank this past year. Some members complained he was not on top of things as he should be, others pointed to the Utilities Department scandal.

But the meeting last Monday showed that there were other difficulties.

At his initiative, Benest presented to the council a list of ways to cut $1.3 million in costs and generate $5 million in revenues ($3 million for infrastructure and $2 million for retiree benefits). But the council was less than thrilled at his report.

Kleinberg complained his ideas were not creative enough, that the $2 million was insufficient, and that staff, meaning Benest, should be more innovative in generating ideas for increased economic development before resorting to more new taxes for residents.

Councilmember Bern Beecham agreed the list was insufficient. “Either we come up with additional ways of finding money, or we'll be cutting services in three or four years,” he said, adding that he heard of a lot of these ideas months back. He had hoped for some fresh new ideas.

Benest was hazy, at best, on some of his proposals. He said he could cut $500,000 in staff services, but when asked what they would be, he said they hadn’t been specified yet.
And he suggested the city could generate $450,000 a year by charging residents for non-emergency sidewalk repairs. Yet when that idea was presented earlier to the council’s Finance Subcommittee, it was met with a lot of resistance, with Councilmember Dena Mossar saying she did not think the community would go for this.

So the council didn’t go for many of Benest’s ideas, either.

And the city manager, who has been here now for seven years, is going without a bonus this year.


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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Aug 6, 2006 at 10:28 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

I forgot to mention that Benest got the council to agree that the four council-appointed officers would get automatic annual increases equal to the inflationary increase in the consumer price index. A few years ago he built the automatic increases into his contract and those of the three other council-appointed officers. So the council had to give him this increase this year.

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 6, 2006 at 10:09 pm

Children, do you know what Emeritus means?

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Posted by Art Kraemer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 7, 2006 at 9:40 am

It appears that the bonuses for the auditor and the city clerk are well deserved, but in light of recent events, the bonus for the city attorney should be reconsidered. It seems that our legal staff is quite willing to recommend contracts to the City Council without the proper "due diligence". Just as in the Enron case (although that was before the present city attorney) the legal staff recently recommended that the city sign a contract with Palo Alto High Partners that has incorrect dates and penalty clauses against the city that could potentially wipe out most of the contribution to the city's below market housing program. The legal staff is supposed to protect the city not just blindly accept the work of outside legal firms as they did here and in the Enron situation. It's time for the City Attorney to put a stop to such sloppy work.

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Posted by Diana Diamond
Palo Alto Online blogger
on Aug 8, 2006 at 8:53 am

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Benest got his bonus

In a 4-3 vote Monday night, the City Council decided to give City Manager Frank Benest a $4,000 bonus, which brings up two big questions for me.

Why do our council-appointed officers need bonuses each year, when they all are making rather nice salaries, with Benest getting more than $200,000 a year? Does the council feel he has done such an outstanding job that he deserves a "bonus"? Or are bonuses considered simply an award for doing one's job? How many people in private industry get a bonus each year, in addition to a cost-of-living raise?

At last night's discussion, one council member rationalized her vote to give Benest a $4,000 bonus by saying it was only 2 percent of his salary, while another said he hasn't had particularly good years recently and so needs a bonus.

All totaled, the council awarded $17,000 to four people. But it is cutting out Brown Bag concerts because they cost the city too much.

And a comment about clarity: In the council packet sent out before Monday's meeting the council subcommittee listed a "no recommendation" for Benest. The chart in the council packet said City Auditor Sharon Erickson was to get $6,000, City Attorney Gary Baum was to get $4,000; City Clerk Donna Rogers was to get $3,000; and Frank was to get ----, and by his name was written "No Recommendation."

In the interest of clarity, I would suggest in the future such a chart should have a notation that says the council was divided and could not come to a decision regarding a bonus for Frank,hence it had no recommendation.

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Posted by David Lieberman
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 8, 2006 at 9:45 am

Gary Baum gets a bonus?

The Gary Baum who recommended the city pay Enron $20 Million because he was afraid of litigation? The Gary Baum whose idea of open government is to keep everything the city does secret and is willing to go to court to keep it secret?

Instead of getting a bonus he should be fired.

When he was hired one council member (perhaps the current mayor) said that she was convinced the city had found the best person for the job. I suggest they could have thrown darts at the Lawyers page of the phone directory and gotten a better city attorney.

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Posted by Gary
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2006 at 8:59 am

Raises???? How did they approve 17K for four people?

We need to wake up and demand that this practice of rewarding failure stops....maybe they are learning this behavior from the current Federal administration.

Shame on you again City Council !!!!

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Posted by A Kid
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2006 at 6:22 pm

Well, Benest did get a bonus..........I know, that sucks. He should be fired.

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Posted by Incredulous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2006 at 8:37 pm

Who here wants Benest's job? Here it is in a nutshell: Report to nine bosses with huge egos, each of whom has a different political agenda, and 60,000 supervisors/residents, all of whom think they're smarter than you. Juggle competing interests before a highly critical public on TV every Monday night and on weekends, when you're not working at the office, take phone calls at home from belligerant reporters and residents who feel entitled to tell you how to do your job.

Forgot to mention: Any success you have will be claimed by your bosses and any mistakes (even if they're somone else's) will be loudly and publicly denounced. Oh, and your worth an an employee and a person will be discussed in online forums by people who have never met you.

Any takers?

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Posted by Walter E. Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2006 at 10:51 pm

I hsve no problem if the council wants to give Frank a gift - just not out of public funds. Let them take up a collection.What they have done is morph bonuses into the base.
Will this bonus effect Frank's retirement?

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Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 11, 2006 at 8:35 am

The guy is running (CEO) a multi millon dollar "company" and you are worry anout a $4000 bonus? Give me a break! I agree with Incredulous, you could not give me that job, even at 2-3 times his salary.

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Posted by TS
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 11, 2006 at 11:23 pm

I have a feeling that council is unhappy with Benest. I got that impression from a comment a council member made to me and two other people a few months ago. This council member was defending Benest in a half-hearted way, saying words to the effect that Benest could have better people skills but it was OK because he didn't really run the city anyway -- that was Emily Harrison's job.

The fact that a number of his recent proposals were rejected by council and that council denied him a bonus are also signs that council is unhappy with Benest.

The truth is probably close to this: Council wishes they had another city manager but Benest hasn't done anything bad enough in council's view to fire him. Firing him is probably a drawn out, ugly process, as it is for all public employees. In his case, the firing process would be even more difficult than for the typical city manager because the city would have to evict him from a home they helped him purchase. Benest would be smart enough to hire a lawyer and threaten to sue, which would result in a monster six-digit payout by the city. Council doesn't like Benest any more but doesn't want to go through the ordeal of firing him.

One more thing -- remember the utilities scandal? I hear the next department to have a scandal is planning and community development.