Almanac

News - January 13, 2010

Big raises for reassigned city supervisors

by Sean Howell

The city of Menlo Park has restructured its management operations a move that city officials say will save money, though it will also result in significant pay increases for two management employees during a difficult budget year.

In taking over the community services department in addition to her duties as community engagement manager, Cherise Brandell will see an increase in salary from $106,000 to $146,000 per year, or 38 percent.

The city has also created a new position, deputy city manager, to be occupied by Public Works Director Kent Steffens. Mr. Steffens, who served as interim city manager for much of 2007 following the resignation of David Boesch, will see a 10 percent pay increase, from $161,000 to $177,000.

In part, the restructuring is an effort to compensate for the departure of former Community Services Director Barbara Santos-George in July, without making a new hire. Ms. Brandell will receive the full salary for the community services director position, and the city essentially won't be paying for the position of community engagement manager, according to City Manager Glen Rojas.

With the city unlikely to come up with a balanced budget this year and with negotiations ongoing with line-level workers, who have already volunteered to accept a two-year pay freeze the raises may not sit well with some residents and employees.

Mr. Rojas defended the raises, saying that they are the result of job promotions. "This shouldn't be looked upon as, 'they're getting raises, and we're not,'" he said, asked whether he thought middle managers and line-level staff members would be unhappy with the raises.

"This is part of a sustainable long-term budget, a long-term plan," Mayor Rich Cline said. "If you pull (the raises out of context), these decisions can look crazy. But if you look at it as a totality, this is actually an expense reduction."

Calls to Rene Morales, city workers' representative to the Services Employees International union, and to Sharon McAleavey, who recently negotiated a contract with a virtual salary freeze on behalf of the city's middle managers, were not returned by The Almanac's press deadline.

Reorganization

Mr. Rojas said he feels confident in Ms. Brandell's ability to handle the community services department because she supervised a "large staff" in the neighborhood services department in Battle Creek, Michigan, before arriving in Menlo Park in 2008. She made $75,000 per year in Battle Creek.

The housing department, which formerly reported to the director of community development, will now report to Ms. Brandell.

In his new role, Mr. Steffens will continue to oversee the public works department, but will spend more time working on issues related to high-speed rail and major land development projects, according to Mr. Rojas.

Assistant City Manager Starla Jerome-Robinson will directly supervise the community services, library, and personnel departments, freeing up Mr. Rojas to spend more time working to achieve "council goals," he said.

While several other city staffers in the community services and public works departments are taking on positions of increased responsibility, those employees are not receiving raises, according to Personnel Director Glen Kramer.

The city documented the reorganization effort in a December staff report, but did not report Ms. Brandell's raise. The Almanac learned of Mr. Steffens' promotion when it received a copy of a Jan. 4 memo sent to the city's department heads.

Mr. Rojas said he had intended to notify the press eventually.

Comments

Posted by what!!, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 7:29 am

Sean,

Did Mr. Rojas actually say that "he intended to notify the press eventually"? Eventually?

I know what her title is, but what does Cherise Brandell actually do? I'd like a story on her position...a day in the life of...in fact I'd like to know what she's done since her hiring that proves her position is necessary in the first place.

Thanks




Posted by Sean Howell, Almanac staff writer
on Jan 14, 2010 at 11:27 am

Sean Howell is a registered user.

That's not a direct quote. When I called him, a few days after the memo circulated, he said he was in the midst of figuring out how to notify the press about Kent Steffens' promotion, and that he wanted to give employees a chance to digest it first. I was trying to summarize, in the interest of economy.

Here's a link to a story we did on Cherise shortly after she was hired. It gives some insight into her thinking and the council's, but we haven't really done an evaluation of the position yet. And I'm not sure how the community engagement position has changed since the restructuring.

Web Link


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 14, 2010 at 12:40 pm

This misuse of taxpayer funds is disgusting.


Posted by Interested, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 14, 2010 at 1:52 pm

Wow these people make a ton of money. I'm sure their only concern in giving out these raises is how to deal with the criticism they expect to come from us taxpayers, which they think will just pass and be forgotten in time. In other words, they could care less.


Posted by outraged, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 2:42 pm

I have met and worked with both Kent Steffens and Cherise Brandell and they are both good people, but are not worth the enormous salaries and raises they received. Menlo Park is not in trouble yet, but will be in a few years. We need to seriously reduce our operating costs, preferably by eliminating as few people as possible. They could have been asked to perform their new duties for the same compensation, which would still be more than the private sector.

Governmental employees are not going to get it until they are forced to. We need leadership at the council level that will not tolerate this featherbedding.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm

This is exactly the kind of thing I've been talking about. An employee's salary is going from $106,000 to $146,000? This employee made $75,000 for doing a bigger job in Michigan and now she's making twice that in Menlo Park (and please spare me the story about the lower cost of living in Michigan - no one put a gun to her head when she took the job and moved here).

Our elected officials think this is perfectly appropriate in today's economic climate? Wait till they have to fund her pension, too.

Our elected officials should clean up their own finances before they intervene in the BMR housing market and question a developer's financial projections!

And you keep re-electing these people...


Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm

Rojas contract I have been told is up later this year. This should become an election issue. While the rest of the world, outside of government suffers, we see this kind of obnoxious behavior from our City staff. Personally I think the 3 years is all we can edure with this guy. Time to start a hunt for a new manager.


Posted by make a living, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 14, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Menlo Park bureaucracy is WAY too top heavy. I occasionally contact an employee to reports to X who reports to Y who reports to Z who reports to Kent Stephens who reports to Rojas. That's four layers of management above this employee for our little town of 30K. I believe other depts are similarly organized. No wonder they all feel entitled to a managers salary.


Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2010 at 6:35 am

The more I think about Rojas and his leadership the last 3 years the more I become disturbed.

Palo alto and other cites are reducing staff to get expenses into line with revenues. Do a google and see about City and county workers being furloughed or asked to take pay cuts.

Not in Menlo Park. We plow ahead and raise staff salaries, refuse to bring revenues into line expenses. Yes council can be blamed, but the leadership in this area is right on the City manager, and he isn't getting the job done.

Earlier, he pushed an agenda, that sought to tell us, our general fund reserve was too large, and that we should spend it down. Council didn't buy into that, but that shows you where his thinking lies.

Instead of looking hard at the police organization, he hands out huge wage and other perks to solve the problems there. This was supposed to get us a better department, better enforcement, less crime. It hasn't worked that way; crime is actually up.

His latest agenda is to push through the Bohannon Gateway project regardless of impacts to the community, especially regarding traffic, housing pressure and school impacts.

Now is the time for the council to act. I urge formation of an ad hoc committee (with citizen involvement) to do a review right now of Rojas' performance and report back within 60 days. I urge the City's finance committee to be given more scope and come back in 60 days with a broad report on the City's finances.


Posted by council watcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 17, 2010 at 8:40 am

Rojas is an empire builder. It is scandalous that he and a lifelong buddy of Bohannon are negotiating on the Gateway Project and council members are not involved.

We need a new city manager, and this time I hope the council can think outside the box. The career city managers all tend to be empire builders. We should be able to find a highly qualified private enterprise manager who could step into this role and bring some business-like thinking to running our city.

It should be an election issue but I suspect it won't be. Most people don't even know who Rojas is.


Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Since the present council chose Rojas, I would agree that the chances of their turning on him and not renewing his contract are not good. They blew it when they hired him, but like most politicians, admitting mistakes is political death.

It would take some real leadership to get rid of him and get MP back on track. From everything I see, he is empire builder, wanting more and more staff, and willing to raise their salaries, probably to make his over $200K salary plus perks, not look so out of place.

It really should become an election issue. Hopefully candidates will come forward, other than the present incumbents, and stop this nonsense. I would think a candidate running with a strong position that we need a new City manager, would get a lot of support; support from all sides of the political spectrum.


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 17, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Rojas makes (not earns) over $250k in salary and bonuses (housing and vehicle bonuses included) a year.

This should outrage you.


Posted by Disgusted, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 17, 2010 at 11:23 pm

"This shouldn't be looked upon as, 'they're getting raises, and we're not,'" he said, asked whether he thought middle managers and line-level staff members would be unhappy with the raises." - Glen Rojas

Why shouldn't this be looked at this way? Isn't this exactly what's happening? And now that you no longer supervise community services, library, and personnel, will you be taking a salary cut, Mr. Rojas? It seems your job just got easier. At 250K, you should be working your tail off, not handing off departments to other people so you can focus on "council goals."

And why are only your direct reports getting salary increases when others in the city are taking on additional work and having to swallow pay freezes?

This is disgusting. Council -- step up and clean house. If you want a lean organization , set an example with the city manager's office.


Posted by my view, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 18, 2010 at 7:53 am

It think 'old timer' has it about right. This council won't do anything about this. They hired Rojas and they will continue to praise him. Mayor Cline's comment that the raises in an overall picture really didn't cost the city money, make me wonder if he passed arithmetic in school. Many of my friends who supported him and Robinson, are now totally disgusted. November is not that far off, and like incumbents everywhere, they should be voted out of office.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2010 at 8:50 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The challenge is not voting the incumbents out of office - it is finding bright, capable, young people who are willing to take on the challenge of elected office.

We need new faces, new ideas and new blood - but where are they going to come from? There are far two few new entrants into the political arena. Hopefully a few will step forward.


Posted by honestly asking, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 18, 2010 at 1:49 pm

But this does save money, doesn't it? If we hire a new person to do a job, we pay salary and benefits and pension. If we can get away without the new hire and just pay $20k more to an existing employee to do the job, we save all kinds of money. If the existing employee is terrible she can be replaced, but that also costs money: recruiting, advertising, training. Unless someone is unbearably awful, the lowest cost option is keep her, get her to take over an open position and throw a little extra salary at her.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 18, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Honestly asking states "Unless someone is unbearably awful, the lowest cost option is keep her, get her to take over an open position and throw a little extra salary at her."

Throwing extra salary is a great description of how not to manage in tough times.

The fundamental question is can the city afford the position at all?
Where is the real belt tightening?
How long before this person gets an assistant?


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 19, 2010 at 9:05 am

Menlo Park did not hire a replacement for Barbara George, the former community services director. It looks like Cherise has expanded her role to take on that charge in addition to the community engagement activities.

Mr. Steffens did get promoted to tackle regional issues in addition to his current work as head of Public Works.

So let's do the math.

Barbara made 138K according to this paper.

$56K in raises.

Total reduction: $82K in just salary. Take into account the retirement of the eliminated position and it is higher.

So, I ask"My View" and others, exactly where are your facts?




Posted by not so new guy, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 19, 2010 at 10:57 am

Wow, we are "saving money now"???

Please tell me how or why someone should be paid more for taking on "more?" responsibility in a government position???

At best city employees work 40 hours a week. If her current "community engagement" position had slack time, maybe we should have reduced her to part-time or cut her salary. (I am still waiting to be engaged by the way.) The only thing I have seen is a survey result from a study (that was outsourced).

So now she is given more money and somehow going to get 2 jobs done. Seems to me like the jobs might be pretty easy if one person can do the work of 2. If this works, please cut 50% of all city employees and offer the remaining a small raise. Wow all the money we could save now.

It is truly sad how detached public servants have become.


Posted by council watcher, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 19, 2010 at 11:06 am

Translation: the city created a new position, community engagement manager, and paid someone a chunk of change to take on the job, only to realize that there wasn't much for her to do. So they segued her into community services, a department that is notoriously overstaffed.

Note with Kent's promotion, Rojas now has two people beneath him sharing his workload, though it's not clear that he needs one.


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 19, 2010 at 11:13 am

All of the anti-government worker nonsense aside, my post is still more factual than anything following. The city reduced salary by $56K. I am not debating the theory of government workers or how much or little one worked on teh job, that has no factual basis and is just a rant.

$56K is factual.

There are areas to cut further, but to spin this as an increase is insincere and Howell knows it.


Posted by isn't adding up, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 19, 2010 at 11:14 am

Council watcher writes: "Note with Kent's promotion, Rojas now has two people beneath him sharing his workload, though it's not clear that he needs one."

In fact, the assistant manager under Boesch, Audrey Seymour, worked only halftime. That might have been a little too lean (she always seemed exhausted), but now we have TWO people working as assistants to the city manager? Who's in control here? YOO HOO -- council members, where's your oversight?


Posted by maria, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 19, 2010 at 2:54 pm

I say to get rid of all the Coun cil members, except Andy Cohen the next time they run. The same for Rojas. The board of supervisors the same, except Broom and Gibsopn, as they do return phone calls. The others do not, or sayt they are going to and never do. Good riddance to Gordon!! He does not follow-up on things or even care to respond to the people who elected him. Can't wait to see him go!


Posted by Interested, a resident of another community
on Jan 19, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Please tell me how or why someone should be paid more for taking on "more?" responsibility in a government position???


just plain ignorant


Posted by Disappointed, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2010 at 1:21 am

The city will soon have some of the best sports facilities and parks of any comparable town on the peninsula - with a new pool, a new gym, upgraded playing fields, Bay Front park, and a renovated gymnastics center on the horizon. At the same time we face operational challenges with our child care and after-school programs and several of our program leaders have retired. Why aren't we trying to attract someone with a recreation and community services background to revitalize and lead our program?

The non-profit YMCA of Silicon Valley might be a reasonable private sector benchmark. They run 10 branches and one summer camp with gyms, swimming pools, licensed day care, sport leagues, after school programs, senior programs, etc for 190,000 participants annually. Their VP of Operations over all ten YMCAs and one summer camp gets paid $140k/yr. The Branch Executives running the individual Y's like Palo Alto get paid between $100k and $123k.

While it's great to promote from within and to combine positions where possible, Cherise Brandell does not seem to have the experience to be leading our $7 million per year community services program.

In this economy, the $146k salary, very rich benefit package, and tremendous facilities could and should have been used to attract someone with an outstanding track record in recreation and community services who could make the most of our resources.

Since we don't seem to need a full time community engagement manager, let's eliminate that $106k position instead.


Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 20, 2010 at 4:04 am

Although Mayor Cline, on occasion reads Town Square, don't expect him to take any leadership here. In fact, although I voted for him and Robinson, I am terrible disappointed that he seems to do nothing more than endorse whatever staff and Rojas propose.

The election of Brown in Mass., I believe is a signal that many incumbents will be removed from office this fall, even at City Government level. That would certainly be appropriate in Menlo Park, and certainly appropriate to not renew Rojas, since his contract ends this year.

I am just plain disgusted with Rojas. At $256,000 per year for his total package, Menlo Park needs a change. We don't need 3 people in traffic engineering either.

Council, right now, should create an 'ad hock' committee, to evaluate Rojas and City staff. The committee should be appointed by council and should report back within 60 days. They should investigate the policies and operations of the City. The committee should be supervised by a sub-committee of council, but not be from a "profession consultant" and members of the small committee (maybe no more than 5), should be from the community.

With a timely report, if need be, council could start a search to replace Rojas. If the committee finds all is well, then Rojas should be renewed.

Do I expect any of this to happen. Not a chance. "I can dream can't I?"


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 20, 2010 at 10:41 am

I disagree entirely with old timer.

I was encouraged to vote for these two and Bressler because they talked about a long-term plan for our El Camino area and downtown. I did not expect there to be miraculous contract renegotiations, I am a realist. But I expected less political BS and the divisive nature of our town was a mess when these guys ran.

I am happy with they way council works. I don't agree with everything. But I do see M2 development as a good thing, not a looming threat.

I see lots of people obsessed with the city manager for some reason. City managers make a lot of money in this area, give or take $10K or $20K and they are all the same. I don't see how someone new will make the change you want.

I also am very proud of the stand this council took on high speed rail.

I did not agree with Cline when he voted against the housing element. I did not agree with robinson when he proposed a tax raise in his speech last year. I do not agree with Boyle that high speed rail benefits outweigh the damage it can do.

But I still think this council has been a huge improvement from the last. Still got some big issues coming and I could change my mind in a second of they choke on these big issues.




Posted by for the kids, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 20, 2010 at 11:19 pm

Is the library on anyone's radar? Our children attend programs, we've met first-rate authors, and now we hear they're hosting events for middle school kids. Is the library now an afterthought or will Cherise Brandell have the authority to support it? We're all for streamlining city management, but we'd be foolish to let the library die in the process.


Posted by scott brown, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 21, 2010 at 7:43 pm

tired of same old OPM "Other People's Money" business as usual with overpaid administrative staff and a weak council that let's this city manager from Chino build his empire at our expense?
Time for a reckoning come this November.
Cline, Robinson and Boyle are as good as gone.


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 22, 2010 at 1:11 am

sack up and run, scott brown.


Posted by scott brown, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 22, 2010 at 10:00 pm

shirts or skins? You got no game Truth


Posted by Steve, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm

What can be done about these abuses of our tax dollars? What can a regular person do about this??


Posted by scott brown, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2010 at 8:37 pm

Steve, bring a couple of like minded folks and address the council at Public comment at the next council meeting. It is at the beginning of each meeting. Speak your mind and watch them squirm as a "regular person" questions their judgment as elected representatives of the public treasury.


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