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By Dave Boyce
Almanac Staff Writer
Her name doesn't appear on the outsides of any of the three graceful one-story wood-paneled buildings that rise in Portola Valley's Town Center complex, but their orderly construction through four years of financial and logistical challenges is due in no small part to the day-to-day efforts of Town Manager Angie Howard.
Ms. Howard officially vacated her Town Hall office on Monday, April 30, after 21 years with the town staff, including 11 years in the lead. Nicholas Pegueros, the finance and administrative services director for the town of Los Altos Hills, will succeed her.
Mr. Pegueros inherits a room with a view, one that his predecessor did not come by easily. Around the time a new Town Hall was being taken seriously, Ms. Howard was working about 400 feet to the east in a low-slung complex that, in the 1950s, had been an elementary school. Little had its builders known that it sat on a seismically active patch of ground.
That 2002 discovery would change Ms. Howard's routines to include overseeing, as part of a trio that included Councilman Ted Driscoll and Public Works Director Howard Young, a hugely ambitious four-year project to carefully take down the school and add the salvageable parts to a new Town Hall, library and community hall. For a couple of years, she managed things from a double-wide trailer.
The project was not without controversy from residents who strenuously contested the seismic findings and fought an arduous rearguard battle to preserve the elementary school, but that was politics and not Ms. Howard's bailiwick.
A small group of residents spent years trying to convince other residents to help raise $17 million to build the complex, but that was fundraising, also not her bailiwick. These issues did add background noise that might, at times, have gotten bothersome.
"Angie is sure to be remembered as the town manager who successfully brought our staff and town through the hectic years of the construction of our new Town Center," said former mayor Gary Nielsen in an email. "Managing a staff and the public is a demanding job. But in meeting these demands, I found her as someone who can be soft on the inside, but tough as nails on the outside when she needed to be."
"We have gone from an unsafe old town hall complex, to trailers, to a construction site, and finally to a new Town Center," Mr. Driscoll said. "Angie deserves a lot of credit for this stability during complex economic times and changing circumstances. The town is in a much more secure position now than it was a decade ago, and we should all thank Angie for her leadership and contribution to this improvement."
"Her greatest legacy in my view," said town historian Nancy Lund, "is the splendid result of her overseeing the deconstruction of the town center and the completion of the new buildings. I cannot imagine how many details must have passed over her desk during those years. It was quite an accomplishment!"
"I actually think she's been underrated, maybe because she's not flashy," Mayor Maryann Moise Derwin said when asked for a comment on Ms. Howard's tenure. "She didn't always deal in niceties and platitudes when dealing with the community and she could be downright abrasive at times. Nevertheless, she kept the place running like a well-oiled machine through good times and bad, and she kept her staff together, happy, productive and loyal."
Councilwoman Ann Wengert, in upbeat remarks at Ms. Howard's last council meeting on April 25, said that, among Ms. Howard's "terrific qualities that served the town so well," is a sentence she sometimes employed, one "that illustrates her wisdom and understanding" of her and the council's roles: "After multiple meetings and countless reviews of an issue before us, Angie would occasionally throw up her hands and exclaim: 'Would you guys please make up your minds!'"
"Her message was clear," Ms. Wengert continued. "The information had been presented; public input had been received and responded to; the analysis completed; and the issues fully vetted. Now it was the time for us to do our job."
Former Woodside town manager Susan George, asked to comment on Ms. Howard's departure, said via email that "she always had the concerns and wellbeing of Portola Valley at the top of her agenda and worked determinedly to solve problems and keep the waters calm."
Ms. Howard was "clear and straightforward" in her expectations of the council and the community, former planning manager Leslie Lambert told the Almanac. "She has always encouraged a very high level of residential relations/service which has continued to make Portola Valley such a wonderful place for all."