Menlo Park City Manager Alex McIntyre told The Almanac on Sept. 24 that he has given notice of resignation to the City Council and is in the process of negotiating with the city of Ventura to take on the role of city manager there.
"I'm negotiating an agreement with them," he said. "They are interested in me and I am interested in them. We just have to work out the deal points."
He said he plans to leave his job here at the end of October.
He and the City Council plan to meet in closed session on Oct. 9 to discuss options for a permanent or interim city manager.
Finding a successor
McIntyre's move to Ventura, if the negotiations go through, will be the most recent in a series of consequential departures, especially of staff in management-level positions, from the city of Menlo Park in recent months. The city manager's office already has a 32 percent vacancy rate, while the city's community development and public works departments both have vacancy rates of 20 percent.
As to who will fill the position of city manager, McIntyre said, "It's really wide open – we have no known candidates at this point."
Menlo Park Mayor Peter Ohtaki said the council is working on finding an interim or acting city manager who can fill the role while the city hires an executive search firm to conduct a more thorough search for a new city manager.
"Certainly, the key is to get an interim (city manager) in place that allows us to do a comprehensive search and make sure we find the right fit – between a candidate and Menlo Park," Ohtaki said.
But Ohtaki and Councilman Rich Cline acknowledged that hiring a qualified replacement quickly may be a challenge.
"We cannot pay as much as other cities pay for a city manager. Nor should we, because we're not as big as certain other cities, like Palo Alto," Ohtaki said. "But what we do offer is a great professional staff for them to work with and an engaged community."
"It's a competitive time," Cline said. "The marketplace is not very favorable to finding somebody that's high-quality quickly. I don't think there are a whole lot of candidates who can just come here, move in and buy something."
The search process for a new permanent city manager would likely begin with input from the new council to be seated in December following the November elections, and is estimated to take four to six months, Ohtaki said.
"I believe right now the focus should be making certain the staff has the resources to deliver city services and stabilizing City Hall through the transition," said Councilman Ray Mueller. "Once the council is in place after this year's election, the focus will more than likely shift to crafting a vision and goals with which we can recruit the next city manager, and with which they can begin to fill out the vacancies at City Hall."
Cline said he'd look for a candidate who has comparable experience, specifically in a California city – California, he said, has "wildly different" laws, politics and economics from other states. He'd also value a candidate who has experience in infrastructure and transportation, and who offers a different approach to addressing city problems, he said.
The Ventura City Council was scheduled to discuss the matter Monday (Sept. 24), in closed session, a matter related to the city manager position. According to McIntyre, the council discussion will concern the terms of an agreement with him. The Ventura City Council did not publicly report an outcome of that closed session.
If that all goes well, he said, the expectation is to have a public approval of the council's agreement with him on Oct. 8.
According to the Ventura County Star, on Aug. 27, the Ventura City Council hired its second interim city manager since December, Don Penman, for six months or until a permanent city manager is chosen. In an Aug. 26 report, the publication reported the Ventura council was "close to hiring a permanent city manager."
Ventura has a population of about 109,957 and a salary range for city manager between $19,333.70 and $20,557.58 a month, or $232,000 and $246,690 a year, according to the city website and salary schedule. Former Ventura City Manager Mark Watkins earned just over $300,000 in salary and benefits in 2016, the Star reported.
Ohtaki said that he was on the original subcommittee that chose McIntyre in a search process about six years ago.
"A key attribute Alex has is being able to work with the council and be able to suggest ways in which the council's priorities and objectives can be implemented," he said. "Alex has had a lot of experience and brought from his experience in previous cities a strong managerial background to be able to work with the council."
Since McIntyre took the reins as city manager here in March 2012, the city has seen two major developments along El Camino Real – Greenheart Land Co.'s "Station 1300" and Stanford's "Middle Plaza" – approved, the Hotel Nia and Park James Hotel completed, the general plan update completed, and the process to approve proposed changes to the Guild Theatre downtown accelerated, according to Ohtaki. Facebook's presence in Menlo Park, since 2012, has grown substantially, he noted.
"Most importantly, I think he did a great job of improving the morale of city employees and city staff to increase the capacity and professionalism of our city staff," Ohtaki said.
Cline said McIntyre took on managing city matters at a time of immense regional growth. Some of that involved acknowledging the city's limitations, in terms of being realistic about the city's ability to mitigate traffic, for instance, and developing a growing awareness about the regional housing shortage.
It also required flexibility in managing the intense competition for talent around the region and, frequently, the loss of key staff members. "I think he handled it well," Cline said. "He had to reorganize many times."
"I'm certainly sad about it but definitely congratulate and wish Alex the best on his new endeavors, and certainly want to thank him for his leadership over the last several years," Ohtaki said.
Council members Kirsten Keith and Catherine Carlton did not immediately respond to requests for comment.