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By Erin Glanville

About this blog: While state and federal politics dominate the headlines, local issues have an enormous impact on our everyday lives. This blog will attempt to shine a light on topics of public interest and facilitate greater participation in the ...  (More)

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What Are Menlo Park?s Priorities?

Uploaded: Dec 17, 2014
A year ago, I reported on a Menlo Park city department head retreat held in Half Moon Bay that cost taxpayers $11,412. Retreats and off-sites can be helpful for organizational team building, progress reviews, and goal setting. The blog I wrote last year, however, questioned whether city management might have been able to keep that discretionary spending in Menlo Park rather than Half Moon Bay. After all, Menlo Park has a "shop Menlo Park" initiative, and I questioned whether or not city leadership was being hypocritical by failing to model the behavior that the initiative was encouraging.

This year, I thought I would take a second look at how our city's management team handled their annual meeting and the results are pretty interesting. Twenty-one members of the senior staff again returned to Half Moon Bay's Beach House hotel. According to information obtained through the city and exchanges I had with the City Manager, Alex McIntyre, the event took place November 6 and 7th with attendees actually only staying one night at the hotel. The total cost this year was up significantly to $18,460. According to Mr. McIntyre, the $7,000+ increase was due, in part, to the addition of a facilitator's services.

I asked Mr. McIntyre whether or not the city had investigated a venue located within Menlo Park that would keep tax dollars within the city. He responded that the city had only looked into the Stanford Park and Rosewood hotels because "we knew that they have the only conference space, food service and sleeping accommodations for such an event." Mr. McIntyre went on to write that "once "Menlo Gateway is built, it might provide a more cost effective means for meeting our workshop needs."

Unfortunately, it seems that the city overlooked a very affordable, albeit less luxurious, local location that the city has used as recently as 2010, 2011 and 2012 for its staff retreats: the Vallombrosa Center in Menlo Park. In general, those "commuter retreats" (day retreats in which attendees did not stay the night) cost approximately $25 per person vs. the $875 per person spent this year in Half Moon Bay.
? In 2010, under then City Manager Glen Rojas, a one-day retreat for "executive management" cost a total of $768, which included meals and use of the conference center.
? A one-day retreat held March 4th, 2011 for 50 city employees cost a total of $1,000 per the invoice.
? Lastly, an April 13, 2012 retreat at Vallombrosa, which Mr. McIntyre attended, cost $1,400 for 56 attendees.

Feedback captured in the retreat debrief notes did not express any issues with the center; in fact, it was mentioned that the group should "utilize [the facility more during unstructured time."

Given the local, convenient and affordable nature of the center, I asked City Manager McIntyre why the city did not return to the Vallombrosa Center and he stated that it was not considered because it did not have overnight accommodations. In fact, it does. Private rooms go for $155, which includes three meals and the cost of the conference rooms. Mr. McIntyre was surprised to hear of the availability of overnight accommodations. If the city felt that an overnight stay was critical to achieving the objective of the retreat, holding it at Vallombrosa would have cost approximately $3,255.

Beyond the missed opportunity for substantial savings and tax revenue retention, spending $18,460 ? or $876 per person-- to attend a two-day, one night retreat is rather staggering. At a time when city leaders are discussing eliminating some youth programing and raising surcharges on other programs (which are already significantly higher than those of surrounding cities), it is an interesting decision.

I'm wondering how this kind of choice reflects on Menlo Park's priorities. I'm also curious about what has changed since 2012. True, the local economy has improved, but the simpler, more cost effective retreats of 2010-12 reflected greater respect for taxpayers. In every case where I was able to review agendas and debrief notes from the more cost-effective retreats, comments were positive and objectives were met. There's a high probability that the same could have been accomplished for less this year. A lot less.

Lastly, what signal does this send from the leadership team to the organizations and department team members they supervise? On the surface, at least, it sends the message that "shopping Menlo Park" while being cost-effective and careful with tax dollars is not a priority.

Democracy.
What is it worth to you?

Comments

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 8:06 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Erin - Excellent fact finding and a well written story. Thanks.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Half moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 8:30 am

The City manager looked into using two luxury hotels in Menlo but decided on a luxury hotel in Half Moon Bay for the retreat. I have a few questions for him. Why do the Menlo staff need overnight accommodation? Why didn't they elect to spend dollars in Menlo? The Vallambrossa center would have been perfect. Now that Ms Glanville informed him that they do indeed provide overnight accommodation, what will be the excuse next year?


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Another MPCSD parent, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 9:39 am

Wow. Thanks for reporting on this.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by lessons learned, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 9:45 am

lessons learned is a registered user.

Outstanding investigative reporting, Erin! But be prepared for the 'anti-change,' 'stuck-in-the-past,' and 'no-growther' labels to start showering down on you. P.S. My own experience with such retreats is that it's often possible to get meeting space donated, but I doubt that's an option the city even considered.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Nancy , a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 10:02 am

Erin, Interesting article, thank you. Very distressing to hear this of the city manager and staff. Are there no budgetary guidelines or constraints under which city staff operates for these kinds of expenditures? This in addition to the lack of alignment between internal priorities and those espoused externally ("Shop Menlo Park"). Clearly there was little energy spent on finding less costly alternatives within Menlo Park, even if that might have meant altering plans (e.g. not sleeping overnight). Who's paying attention to these things, if not the city manager?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 10:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

unlearnable lesson states "But be prepared for the 'anti-change,' 'stuck-in-the-past,' and 'no-growther' labels to start showering down on you." You will wait in vain for such remarks about Erin's excellent reporting unless you write them yourself using some other silly name.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Executive Assistant, a resident of another community,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I just booked my company holiday party at a hotel in Palo Alto. There are 65 employees/guests attending, from 6-11pm. The price for the cocktail hour, passed appetizers, champagne toast, buffet dinner and dessert, open bar, DJ/dance floor, 6 casino tables, and floral arrangements, in a huge ballroom with 20-foot ceilings? About $17,000. And sleeping rooms? I negotiated a rate of $109/night. Come on. I'm a nobody. Surely the City of Menlo Park can negotiate even better than I did! And I'll bet IN Menlo Park, to boot. Thanks for the report, Erin!


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Hard to fathom, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 12:56 pm

This is a bit difficult to digest: Our city manager knew about the existence of the Vallombrosa Retreat Center in Menlo Park, made an assumption that this retreat center had no overnight accommodations (really?), and didn't bother to take the thirty seconds to call and confirm that assumption? That's a rather stunning piece of information. This is especially true given the fact that Mr. McIntyre attended a retreat there in 2012. You can't visit the Vallombrosa Center and not notice all the housing on the property. Can't be done... Wow. Mr.McIntyre, in case you're reading this, it's easy to get questions answered at Vallombrosa: 650-325-5614. It's listed.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Kevin, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 2:38 pm

Or from a link on their home page with the convenient title, "Overnight Accomodations".


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Half moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 4:13 pm

The City Manager - and the Council just don't care about this wasteful spending. The answers McIntyre provide when questioned are arrogant if not down right deceitful. Disgraceful. I am saddened by yet another example of our City showing little respect for the residents and taxpayers.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Surprised?, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables,
on Dec 17, 2014 at 8:08 pm

This is the same city manager who callously [portion flagged for objectionable content and removed -- please keep to currently known facts]. He has no integrity. He should be out of a job immediately; our city can do better.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Leadership, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 10:20 am

Last year I remember Mueller spoke out against this kind of excess. I was surprised to see it happen again. McIntyre spent even more money! I wondered how that could happen. Then I was told Carlton, our new Mayor, attended the retreat. Is that true? Can someone confirm if any other City Councilmembers attended the retreat?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Erin Glanville, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

Leadership, Mayor Carlton was not an official "attendee" of the retreat. She was asked to come to speak to the group for an hour, which she did.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Leadership, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 10:53 am

Thank you for the clarification. It sounds like you spoke to Carlton, but you didn't quote her in the article? Did she say anything regarding the cost of the retreat? Did you ask her if she asked why the retreat was in Half Moon Bay again, when she was invited to speak? Did she ask how much the retreat cost? How far in advance was she invited to speak?


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Erin Glanville, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 11:14 am

Leadership, I saw Mayor Carlton was on the agenda and confirmed with her that she did speak. At that time, I did not have all of the information I had requested from the city. Now that the information is presented, I will be, like you, very interested in the Council's reaction.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 2:20 pm

The priorities are the same as always: doing the least amount of work and enjoying the plushest benefits, on the taxpayer dime.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Half,moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 2:58 pm

This update that Mayor Carlton not only knew about this retreat but spoke to the staff during the event is disturbing, unless she reprimanded them for the expense and for taking the retreat out of Menlo again. Please keep us updated, Erin. And thanks again for reporting on this.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Amy, a resident of another community,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 6:40 pm

The Vallombrosa Retreat Center is "owned and operated by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco," according to its web site. Would spending money there really benefit Menlo Park? Do they pay any taxes to the city?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Erin Glanville, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 7:12 pm

Amy, Good question. I don't know the answer but can try to take a look.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Net Difference, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Does it matter if the V. Center pays taxes to the City. The money saved going there would have far exceeded the tax returns whether they pay taxes to the City or not.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by priorities, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 8:30 pm

Post flagged for inappropriate content. Please keep to the topic.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Lots of options, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 18, 2014 at 10:04 pm

There are many places the city could have gone and not spent over 18K. They could have used conference rooms at Onetta Harris for free or close to free. The only options that were explored were expensive ones. That is frustrating.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joann C, a resident of another community,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

Makes me wonder what other peninsula cities such as Redwood City, San Carlos and Belmont do for their retreats? Is it just Menlo Park, or is this kind of spending happening all over the peninsula?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joann C, a resident of another community,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 8:53 am

Makes me wonder what other peninsula cities such as Redwood City, San Carlos and Belmont do for their retreats? Is it just Menlo Park, or is this kind of spending happening all over the peninsula?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Half moom bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 8:55 am

McIntyre says he looked into having the retreat at Rosewood or Stanford Park - both in Menlo. What was the reason for going to a fancy hotel in Half Moon bay instead? I'd like to know what sort of deal he was offered from each of those local hotels.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Curious, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 9:19 am

I'm curious if this is only the tip of the iceberg? Is this mentality part of the city culture? Are consultants overly used? Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky that they didn't go to Hawaii, London or Paris.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Half moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 9:20 am

Palo Allto retreat at local community center Web Link


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 10:28 am

Thank you Erin for reporting on this important issue. The Almanac is known for being very friendly to the local government and unions. I would expect reporting like this to come from the Post or someplace else. Again, thanks! It is much appreciated. Hopefully this will result in something changing in city hall. I am outraged at the largess that the city manager is exhibiting.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by good grief, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

If this was an issue that people really cared about, somebody would have complained at a city council meeting. If one of the commentators here can post a link to the video of such a complaint during public comment, then this is a valid issue. If not, it is simply pandering. The only time I can remember Erin's blog generating actual interest at a council meeting, is when she rallied some folks that don't live in the city to demand discounts at our gym (which was built with Measure T funds, which came out of the pockets of Menlo Park residents). If people want to spend all their energy complaining about non-issues, they can... this is a free country... but the city has a great deal of work that is piling up. The Post recently reported about the CIP delays. These delays cost the city real money.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mike Keenly, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Erin, Awesome work. One of the best and most researched pieces I've read in the Almanac in a long time. Mike


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Public Comment, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 5:22 pm

Good Grief - Last year Councilmember Mueller was quoted in the press unhappy with how much money was spent on the retreat in Half Moon Bay.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Half moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm

Just wait till they hire a consultant to study whether or not the city manager should be planning these types of retreats - or at least develop some talking points and comments to threads like these in support. sounds crazy, but this is how our city manager operates. Seems like Mayor Carlton is going to have a difficult time denying that she knew about this retreat like Mueller did last year.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by good grief, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm

PC, when the press calls, it is appropriate for the mayor to respond, even when no resident cares enough to comment in public. If Mueller decides to run for re-election, Erin can write a special post about this issue to remind voters. I predict this will not be the "big issue" of 2016.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Half moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 7:52 pm

good grief, try and stay on topic. Yes people would care..if they KNEW. Fool me once, shame on you..this is twice and we are happy that Erin is doing her job. your posts sound like they're coming from city hall, I know sounds Nutty and I would never have guessed that the city would pay someone to troll here, but then there are some damning emails that were discovered recently. Fiscal responsibility and transparency is lacking. Sure hope they're not paying you overtime.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by minutes, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 10:22 pm

Erin's previous post on this topic, "Walk The Talk: A Missed Opportunity For Leadership In Menlo Park", was on Nov 14, 2013 ( Web Link ) but did not generate any public comment. The only comment that came close, around that date, was a request for more City staff. I've pasted a summary below... Oct 1, 2013 - Elizabeth Houck spoke regarding the Sharon Heights Country Club wells project - Todd Brahana spoke regarding the O?Connor School and against allowing vehicular access through on Oak Court - Lora Christen spoke regarding to the O?Connor School and maintaining bike and pedestrian safety - Virginia Richards spoke regarding O?Connor School and maintaining the character of the neighborhood - Noel Berghout spoke regarding the O?Connor School and cut through traffic on Oak Court - Adina Levin spoke regarding the need to update technology for Council meetings to allow easier access and viewing through mobile devices Oct 15, 2013 - Scott Marshall spoke regarding the need for more City staff - Omar Chatty spoke regarding pedestrian safety and the extension of BART Nov 19, 2013 - Adina Levin spoke regarding bicycle safety at the intersection of Bayfront Express and the potential housing site at Haven Dec 3, 2013 - NO PUBLIC COMMENT Dec 10, 2013 - Jack Morris spoke regarding parking issues at dance studio on Oak Grove Avenue next to Foster?s Freeze Dec 17, 2013 - Web Link - Robert Alexander spoke regarding the General Plan - Adina Levin encouraged the Council to look at current economic trends in the workplace when making design decisions in order foster optimum success for businesses, and to preserve and protect wildlife habitats in the surrounding natural areas


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Martin Lamarque, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven,
on Dec 19, 2014 at 11:17 pm

Thank you for such illuminating post. Remember, this is the City manager whose brilliant idea of paying a consultant to mislead people on Measure M is under investigation. I wouldn't expect anything of substance from our Mayor on this. Obviously no one sitting on the Council is showing much consideration for mere residents.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 20, 2014 at 8:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"brilliant idea of paying a consultant to mislead people on Measure M is under investigation." Wrong. There are no facts to support your libelous statement.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Erin Glanville, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Dec 22, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Erin Glanville is a registered user.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Erin Glanville, a Almanac Online blogger,
on Dec 22, 2014 at 12:24 pm

Erin Glanville is a registered user.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 24, 2014 at 8:28 am

Let's be serious. Going to Half Moon Bay wasn't a consolation because they couldn't find a local venue, no one seriously looked. They just wanted to go to Half Moon Bay. They wanted to use this work related planning session to have a little personal time away, a treat if you will. I'm not saying everyone wanted to go, but if even a small number opposed the idea the meeting would have been in Menlo Park. They believe they are entitled. Private companies get to go on nice planning retreats & ... Oh wait there is a difference - they were using using tax payers money while talking out of both sides of their mouths again. So they put themselves in the position of being either incompetent to plan a meeting or disingenuous. Which is it?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Half moon bay again?!, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Dec 26, 2014 at 5:33 pm

I would say both, Bob. And a total display of arrogance. 2 years In a row, and they probably are planning to return next year, just because they can. Whatcha gonna do about it?


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