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Portola Valley: Council seeks guidance in transition to new town manager

 

If there is anything to be learned by the Portola Valley Town Council in its hiring in May 2012 of Nick Pegueros as town manager and in Mr. Pegueros' subsequent and abrupt "involuntary resignation" in August 2015, the council is taking steps to find out.

A facilitator from Leadership Balance, an executive coaching and teamwork consultant based in Eagle, Idaho, has been interviewing individual council members and is set to deliver a report to the council on Sept. 23. The public is invited.

A list of ideas and concerns, drawn from the council member interviews, is included in the agenda packet for the meeting, including:

■ Portola Valley has always been a relaxed town with an open administration and a less bureaucratic approach, but maybe a transition is ahead from a sleepy community to one that is connected to Silicon Valley and California.

■ Town Hall staff like the informal culture, but efficiency and progress are also important. Maybe that's a balancing act. Maybe the town should be run "more like a business than as a family."

■ Maybe the town needs an assistant town manager and a part-time human resources specialist.

Leadership Balance will "help us identify what guidance we need," Mayor Jeff Aalfs told the Almanac. "We would like to try to make sure the Town Council relationships with the new town manager and staff are optimal," he said.

The town clerk sent the community an invitation on Sept. 18 via PV Forum, an online message board, to hear the facilitator "help the Town articulate a common vision and develop a plan to achieve that vision. Town staff serves the community; and the decisions that the Town Council makes will help shape the character of the staff and the work environment at Town Hall."

The council meets at 7 p.m. in the Historic Schoolhouse at 765 Portola Road.

A buffer

Asked to elaborate on the need for a facilitator, Councilman Craig Hughes commented on the effects of the recent transition at Town Hall. The council had renewed Mr. Pegueros' contract in October and had given him a 3 percent raise in April. "We thought he was doing a great job" and so did the community, Mr. Hughes said. "At some point, the situation changed and we ended up parting ways."

A facilitator can help "buffer that shock and that transition, to help smooth things out," he said, "and prevent something similar from happening again, and also to take care of the situation as it exists today."

Mr. Hughes and his colleagues are bound by the contract with Mr. Pegueros to limit comments on details about his resignation to what was said in the press release that accompanied his departure.

A level of comfort

The council picked Leadership Balance from a short list of consultants recommended by Town Attorney Leigh Prince, Mr. Aalfs said. Council members felt a level of "comfort" with the company and their proposal, and the company was available "to move forward quickly" at a cost compatible with the town's means, he said.

The town has paid Leadership Balance $8,500 so far, according to Town Hall documents. The payment is an initial installment on a relationship that could extend well to the fall as the council goes about recruiting a new manager, Mr. Aalfs said.

Actual recruiting is set to start with the Sept. 23 meeting, but a hiring decision is unlikely until the end of the year, he said.

The hiring of a facilitator was in the cards even if circumstances had unfolded such that Mr. Pegueros had not resigned but had stayed on as town manager, Mr. Aalfs said.

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