My father entertained me as a kid with this story of the South Pacific: After a week of flying around the commanding officer says, "Good news! Today is laundry day! We get to change our laundry. Smith, you change with Adams; Adams you change with Miller; Miller you change with Smith." I'd be on the floor howling with laughter.
This, sadly, illustrates how cities actually change city managers. We could all be howling in consternation at the lack of imagination in the traditional processes in selecting and vetting candidates for this visible role.
Hiring city managers and top positions is generally a closed loop system, with relatively few positions available, but many candidates. Candidates include existing city managers including those looking to move up, or down in their careers, and senior management in specific departments, such as planning. And for the most part a City Manager leaves one city, and a fresh is hired from another city.
City Managers have made the news recently ? in Redwood City and Portola Valley. As amply noted in the Almanac the City Manager of Portola Valley left under the ambiguous reason "involuntary resignation" ? a contradictory expression of neither termination nor resignation, but a quid-pro-quo allowing the City Manager to leave with 6 months severance, and avoid having a termination on his resume. Maybe behind closed doors the powers said something like "If you resign in the next 20 seconds" we wont fire you. (Actually similar events occur the commercial world as well).
Looking back historically, there was a point until about 2000 where senior staff had long tenures, for example, City Manager Jan Dolan and Finance Director Uma Chokkalngham. Since then the tenures have been much briefer. I wonder of theres an indirect correlation to the the Silicon Valley economic booms that creates more turnover. At some point Menlo Park will need to identify candidates for a new City Manager. The traditional method is to retain one of the few of headhunters who specialize in senior minicamp staff. Headhunters maintain a Rolodex of people they've previously placed, or people they've met at conferences. But most likely you'll get a list of candidates from central casting: people on their way up, or on their way down in their careers. It's a closed loop system so the effect is that cities exchange city managers.
I propose that we consider our parameters for future Menlo Park city managers - now, before the day when we need to do so in panic mode.. Our present search process prevents the city from considering other types of candidates. It could be improved. Menlo Park, for all its Silicon Valley, VC, startup and Facebook allure, could be much smarter and creative.
First, there are local opportunities to locate the next city manager. Chief Bob Jonsen seems to be a good manager and gets along well with the public. Former councilmember John Boyle is an MBA and spent a lot of time studying city finance. Former City Manager Dave Boesch related well to residents and businesses, and was engaged in city activities as a parent. I always thought that Development Services Manager Justin Murphy would be great, like a chef that has to eat his own meals, Justin, a long-time neighbor, would have to live with the consequences of his decisions
One would think that cities grow talent in house - from Assistant City Managers, Planning Department of Finance. That this fails to happen in Menlo Park suggests something amiss.
I'd look at other cities to consider their city managers. Santa Monica and Beverly Hills come to mind, and put out feelers before we ever have an opening.
I'd look at universities with strong government programs, like Harvard's Kennedy School of government. Look at their roster of courses and professors, and inquire whom they'd recommend. Menlo Park's own Justin Murphy mentioned above went to Kennedy.
But I wouldn't run first to headhunters with their closed loop rolodexes of candidates ? the 'laundry day' method. The headhunters tend to screen the candidates they supply. Cities should also have a look at the choices they don't see to check the headhunter filtering bias.
Going forward, we should manage the employment contracts and manage expectations. They should start out with probation period for city managers, with a limited payoff for termination ? not 6 months, not 9 months. Goals should be clear and achievable; and meeting those goals should be apparent to everyone, including the council. Agreements should have covenants not to solicit employees when they leave. Hiring contracts could include an undated resignation letter to the council. I know this is a hardball approach, but in the absence city councils are doing a silly dance when they want a new manager but lack the cohesiveness to act.
The presence of Facebook in our midst creates the 'Facebook effect' ? there's international recognition. If Menlo Park considers itself a World-Class City, we should look the qualities of a World-Class City Manager.