News

Editorial: When silence isn't golden

Nick Pegueros last month left his three-year post as town manager of Portola Valley under a shadow. But thanks to a new provision inserted into his contract only months before, the public and potential future employers may never know the nature of that shadow -- an "involuntary resignation" that followed a series of closed-session meetings of the Town Council to evaluate his performance.

The new mutual non-disparagement provision in the contract signed in December, when the council apparently was satisfied with Mr. Pegueros' management of Town Hall, banned the council, Mr. Pegueros and -- stunningly -- all other members of the town's staff from talking to the public, the press, or other town employees about any future termination of the contract.

This ill-thought-out clause is troubling, to say the least, and an example of how decisions lightly considered can potentially deprive citizens and potential employers of information they may be entitled to.

Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin conceded last week that "naive thinking" on her part led to her decision, and that she would proceed differently with the next town manager's contract.

But Mayor Jeff Aalfs described the clause as "more a statement of intention than a binding statement," and Councilman Craig Hughes indicated that, under certain circumstances, he might not honor the agreement. "I would not ever be party to any coverup of illegal or suspected illegal activity," or any activity that went against the equal opportunity employment or misconduct sections of the town's personnel policies manual, he told the Almanac.

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So why would council members include a provision in a legal contract if they aren't firmly committed to adhering to it? The provision is indeed "binding," and not honoring it would make the town legally liable. What if the cause for Mr. Pegueros' firing was misconduct as defined by the town, and Mr. Hughes then spoke publicly about it? One might assume that, in such a case, Mr. Pegueros would have left with far more than the $100,000 severance he received from the town.

The contract provision was a mistake. Observers are almost certain to conclude that something happened between December and July, when Mr. Pegueros' performance reviews began -- something that undermined council members' confidence in him as the town's top manager. It's unlikely that what occurred was merely a disagreement over a management decision; council members have consistently demonstrated their commitment to allowing their top staff member to manage while they set policy.

But the facts behind his departure remain a mystery to the public and, equally important, to residents and city staff members of Menlo Park, where Mr. Pegueros has taken an interim position in City Hall that involves supervision of a number of staff members.

The non-disparagement clause as it pertained to the council and Mr. Pegueros was bad enough, but a provision gagging employees was an egregious misstep on the part of the council. The provision is almost certainly unenforceable in a court of law, which raises the question: Why would the council agree to a legally unenforceable provision in a legally binding document?

We can't know for sure, but it smells like an intimidation tactic. Is that really how council members want to treat loyal employees, or is this just another instance of not thinking through the real-world ramifications of provisions in an employment contract for the town's top job?

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Editorial: When silence isn't golden

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 2, 2015, 10:00 am

Nick Pegueros last month left his three-year post as town manager of Portola Valley under a shadow. But thanks to a new provision inserted into his contract only months before, the public and potential future employers may never know the nature of that shadow -- an "involuntary resignation" that followed a series of closed-session meetings of the Town Council to evaluate his performance.

The new mutual non-disparagement provision in the contract signed in December, when the council apparently was satisfied with Mr. Pegueros' management of Town Hall, banned the council, Mr. Pegueros and -- stunningly -- all other members of the town's staff from talking to the public, the press, or other town employees about any future termination of the contract.

This ill-thought-out clause is troubling, to say the least, and an example of how decisions lightly considered can potentially deprive citizens and potential employers of information they may be entitled to.

Councilwoman Maryann Moise Derwin conceded last week that "naive thinking" on her part led to her decision, and that she would proceed differently with the next town manager's contract.

But Mayor Jeff Aalfs described the clause as "more a statement of intention than a binding statement," and Councilman Craig Hughes indicated that, under certain circumstances, he might not honor the agreement. "I would not ever be party to any coverup of illegal or suspected illegal activity," or any activity that went against the equal opportunity employment or misconduct sections of the town's personnel policies manual, he told the Almanac.

So why would council members include a provision in a legal contract if they aren't firmly committed to adhering to it? The provision is indeed "binding," and not honoring it would make the town legally liable. What if the cause for Mr. Pegueros' firing was misconduct as defined by the town, and Mr. Hughes then spoke publicly about it? One might assume that, in such a case, Mr. Pegueros would have left with far more than the $100,000 severance he received from the town.

The contract provision was a mistake. Observers are almost certain to conclude that something happened between December and July, when Mr. Pegueros' performance reviews began -- something that undermined council members' confidence in him as the town's top manager. It's unlikely that what occurred was merely a disagreement over a management decision; council members have consistently demonstrated their commitment to allowing their top staff member to manage while they set policy.

But the facts behind his departure remain a mystery to the public and, equally important, to residents and city staff members of Menlo Park, where Mr. Pegueros has taken an interim position in City Hall that involves supervision of a number of staff members.

The non-disparagement clause as it pertained to the council and Mr. Pegueros was bad enough, but a provision gagging employees was an egregious misstep on the part of the council. The provision is almost certainly unenforceable in a court of law, which raises the question: Why would the council agree to a legally unenforceable provision in a legally binding document?

We can't know for sure, but it smells like an intimidation tactic. Is that really how council members want to treat loyal employees, or is this just another instance of not thinking through the real-world ramifications of provisions in an employment contract for the town's top job?

Comments

Bob
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 10:20 am
Bob, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 10:20 am
2 people like this

Poor choice of action on Portola Valley's part. The fact that Mr. Pegueros' parting was "involuntary resignation" creates speculation much like Mr. Schwartz's exit from Hillsborough. Why be so secretive?

Abrupt departure without reason should be a cause for concern. That's not to say a person can't change and should never be employed again. However, MP seemed awfully quick to create a position for Mr. Pergueros even with all the staff changes.


PV Local
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm
PV Local, Portola Valley: Westridge
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:43 pm
8 people like this

The main reason I care why Mr. Pergueros was "involuntarily terminated" is that the Town Council chose to give him a generous severance package. Why did the Town Council spend public funds in this way? We will never know because they weren't paying attention when they signed his employment contract and now they can't tell us anything. The Town Council should always function with full transparency when it comes to spending public funds. They let us down.


gunste
Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:48 pm
gunste, Portola Valley: Ladera
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:48 pm
8 people like this

The performance of public servants, good or bad, must be a matter opf public record. Failures or misdeeds must be public, for many reasons,including not saddling the next employer of that person with someone who has a background that should have been disclosed. References need to be honest and not hide pertinent facts, or the whole process of background checks will become useless.
Passing a bad employee from job to job to preserve his qualifications is dishonest and is cheating the taxpayers.


MP Local
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:51 pm
MP Local, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:51 pm
13 people like this

And the main reason I care why Mr. Pegueros was "involuntarily terminated" is that Menlo Park has now hired him. Why did Alex McIntyre choose to hire someone with this issue? The Town Council should always function with full transparency when it comes to spending public funds -- please look into this hiring! (Credits to PV Local.)


Not a member
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:42 pm
Not a member, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:42 pm
1 person likes this

did the city of Menlo park also allow for the same contract provision when hiring Mr Pegueros????


Robert
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm
Robert, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:55 pm
6 people like this

Mr. Pegueros was hired by Mr. McIntyre without any input from staff - none.


Not a member
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 2, 2015 at 4:00 pm
Not a member, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 2, 2015 at 4:00 pm
3 people like this

Well, that could explain why HR Director Gina Donnelly fled her position with the City of Menlo Park so abruptly. You'd think Alex would have at least run Mr. Pergueros controversial hiring and contract by HR - and the City attorney. Mayor Carlton, care to comment? Do you still believe that Alex's strong suit is hiring good staff? Too bad the Council didn't listen to Ray Mueller and just replace ONE City Manager when they had the chance. What a fiasco.


interested
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:00 pm
interested, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:00 pm
Like this comment

Can someone tell the old hacks of Menlo Park to move out of our city and go dump on your next community? Same five old fogies bashing MP and one council member stoking the flames. Same story for 30 years!


Also interested
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:05 pm
Also interested, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:05 pm
Like this comment

Interested: what are you talking about? I am sincerely interested.


Robert
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm
Robert, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm
5 people like this

Why are senior city management staff leaving by droves under the leadership of Alex McIntyre?


Menlo Voter
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:44 pm
Menlo Voter, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:44 pm
2 people like this

"Why are senior city management staff leaving by droves under the leadership of Alex McIntyre?"

Because they're not competent and it's becoming obvious? Just a thought.


Disinterested
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm
Disinterested, Menlo Park: other
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm
13 people like this

Interested:

There are many retired residents living in Menlo Park. It is awful you find the need to use the term "old fogies" and "hacks" to describe them. It is equally awful you would choose to demean the comments of others by attaching their comments to "old fogies", in an attempt to both disparage those who are elderly, the commenter, and the comments. I don't know which Councilmember you are accusing of stoking the flames regarding criticism surrounding the recent staff departures at City Hall and the hiring of Mr. Pegueros, as none have been quoted by the Almanac in any of the articles on these subjects. In the good old days, students were instructed in debate to stick to the substantive issues rather than calling names. Perhaps you ought to learn a thing or two from that wisdom do the same.




Not a member
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 3, 2015 at 8:18 pm
Not a member, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Sep 3, 2015 at 8:18 pm
Like this comment

so will the City Manager divulge why he was forced to resign before a PV employee in the know contacts the Almanac with the embarrassing info?

Got transparency?
Or going with deceit and cover up?


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