Picking their way around legal questions surrounding when a pension reform measure must take effect, the Menlo Park City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday night to conduct a nationwide search for the next city manager.
"I would feel most comfortable with a comprehensive nationwide search to really assure ourselves that we are reaching out to the very best, because Menlo Park deserves the best," Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said.
Council members Kirsten Keith and Andy Cohen voted against a nationwide search, arguing for keeping the search in-house to save money and reward current city employees. Mr. Cohen announced his support of Starla Jerome-Robinson, now assistant city manager, as a candidate for promotion.
Mayor Rich Cline said that he thought putting all candidates through the extensive interview process would give current Menlo Park employees a chance to shine and demonstrate why their experience and insider knowledge made them the best choice.
Mr. Cohen commented: "I don't want to wait until we've spent $50,000 wining and dining a bunch of people from Michigan and New York to decide that this city should not provide a residence to someone when the best candidate is someone who already lives here."
Councilman Peter Ohtaki and Mr. Cohen will serve on the hiring subcommittee.
Voters passed Measure L, a pension reform initiative, in November, but the changes won't take effect for at least another six months, until the contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) expires in October. If the city hires a new manager from outside Menlo Park before the measure takes effect, that hire would fall under the current pension policy with higher benefits.
"There's legal uncertainty as to whether (Measure) L takes effect when the AFSCME contract expires, or after concluding negotiations," Mr. McClure told the council.
The current manager, Glen Rojas, plans to retire in July. The council also voted 4-0-1, with Mr. Cohen abstaining, to have him serve up to six months post-retirement until his replacement is selected.
As for the $1.2 million loan he received from the city to buy a home in Menlo Park upon being hired in 2007, Mr. Rojas said he has two years to pay off the balance -- approximately $41,500 -- and may either refinance or sell the house.
While serving as a contractor, Mr. Rojas would earn the same $18,369 monthly salary he makes now, but saves the city an estimated $4,700 per month in benefit costs, according to the staff report. He would also earn no vacation or sick leave hours.
Personnel director Glen Kramer confirmed that Mr. Rojas would receive both his pension and a monthly salary -- as does Mr. Kramer, who retired Dec. 29 before returning as a contractor on Jan. 3 and who makes $68.40 per hour on top of his $10,877 monthly pension. Retired employees are limited to working 960 hours per year by CalPERS regulations.