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Menlo Park's city manager resigns just months before her planned retirement

Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy is slated to become interim city manager

Starla Jerome-Robinson, Menlo Park's city manager, works at her desk at Menlo Park City Hall on April 10, 2019. She tendered her resignation from the role Dec. 27, 2021. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Menlo Park's city manager Starla Jerome-Robinson has resigned and will work no later than Jan. 28. The City Council plans to appoint Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy as the city's new interim city manager as soon as Jan. 11, according to a press release on Friday evening, Jan. 7.

Justin Murphy, deputy city manager, is slated to be appointed as interim city manager in Menlo Park on Jan. 11. Courtesy city of Menlo Park.

This news came as an announcement by Genevieve Ng, legal counsel for the city, following a closed – not public – City Council session held Friday afternoon.

Starla Jerome Robinson, Menlo Park's city manager since February 2019, resigned from her position on Dec. 27, and it will be effective no later than Jan. 28, according to Ng. Her resignation comes just months before her planned retirement.

Menlo Park's former Assistant City Manager, Nick Pegueros, no longer works for the city, and ended his tenure there on December 31. He begins work on Jan. 12 with the city of Saratoga as administrative services director. In an email, he said that he has continued to "transition institutional knowledge" to Menlo Park's administrative services department since his separation from his previous role on December 31.

"Serving the city of Menlo Park as city manager for the last three years, and seven years before that as assistant city manager, has been a great honor. Menlo Park is a wonderful place to live and work, filled with beautiful parks and engaged residents," said Jerome-Robinson in a statement.

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"I’m proud of our city’s accomplishments, including the incredible adaptations and technological improvements made to continue providing city services during an extended worldwide pandemic. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such a great team of dedicated and professional public servants," she added.

Jerome-Robinson could not immediately respond to a number of questions The Almanac sent her. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Council members highlighted Jerome-Robinson's longtime service to the city.

"It's a loss for the city that the city manager has decided to step down before her retirement, but I totally respect and understand the decision," Councilman Drew Combs told The Almanac. "As I reflect on the city manager's tenure I have to admit a degree of disappointment that some recent actions by my City Council colleagues made a challenging job even more challenging. As Mr. Murphy assumes this role in an interim capacity, my hope is that he's afforded a bit more grace."

Among those actions was the decision by three council members, Mayor Betsy Nash, Vice Mayor Jen Wolosin and Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor, to hold a closed session meeting last October without the knowledge of then-Mayor Drew Combs' or Jerome-Robinson, to discuss a matter allegedly related to Jerome-Robinson's performance.

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"I can't express enough thanks to Starla Jerome-Robinson," Councilman Ray Mueller said. "She came out of retirement and led the city for over three and a half years, and led us through the pandemic ... I'm incredibly thankful for her service with the city."

"We are going to miss Starla. She has been an important part of our city government for many years. She has helped us work through the difficulties of the COVID pandemic," Mayor Betsy Nash said in a statement provided to The Almanac. "Starla is a long-time resident of Menlo Park and I look forward to seeing her around town."

"I really appreciate Starla's years of service to the City and I wish her well on her retirement," Vice Mayor Jen Wolosin said.

"I appreciate Starla for coming out of retirement to serve Menlo Park. And I thank her for dealing with the unprecedented challenges over the past two years," Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor said.

Justin Murphy, a longtime city employee who is slated the new interim city manager, began working for Menlo Park as an associate planner in 1996 before rising through the ranks as a development services manager, assistant community development director, public works director, and most recently, deputy city manager, a role he has been serving in for nearly three years, according to LinkedIn. He holds a bachelor's degree from Stanford University in urban studies and a Master of Public Administration degree from the Harvard Kennedy School.

The City Council has selected The Hawkins Group to conduct a nationwide search for a new city manager and the application period was open through early January. Over the next few months, the City Council plans to consider applications for the permanent City Manager position, according to a press statement.

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Menlo Park's city manager resigns just months before her planned retirement

Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy is slated to become interim city manager

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 7, 2022, 6:49 pm

Menlo Park's city manager Starla Jerome-Robinson has resigned and will work no later than Jan. 28. The City Council plans to appoint Deputy City Manager Justin Murphy as the city's new interim city manager as soon as Jan. 11, according to a press release on Friday evening, Jan. 7.

This news came as an announcement by Genevieve Ng, legal counsel for the city, following a closed – not public – City Council session held Friday afternoon.

Starla Jerome Robinson, Menlo Park's city manager since February 2019, resigned from her position on Dec. 27, and it will be effective no later than Jan. 28, according to Ng. Her resignation comes just months before her planned retirement.

Menlo Park's former Assistant City Manager, Nick Pegueros, no longer works for the city, and ended his tenure there on December 31. He begins work on Jan. 12 with the city of Saratoga as administrative services director. In an email, he said that he has continued to "transition institutional knowledge" to Menlo Park's administrative services department since his separation from his previous role on December 31.

"Serving the city of Menlo Park as city manager for the last three years, and seven years before that as assistant city manager, has been a great honor. Menlo Park is a wonderful place to live and work, filled with beautiful parks and engaged residents," said Jerome-Robinson in a statement.

"I’m proud of our city’s accomplishments, including the incredible adaptations and technological improvements made to continue providing city services during an extended worldwide pandemic. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such a great team of dedicated and professional public servants," she added.

Jerome-Robinson could not immediately respond to a number of questions The Almanac sent her. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Council members highlighted Jerome-Robinson's longtime service to the city.

"It's a loss for the city that the city manager has decided to step down before her retirement, but I totally respect and understand the decision," Councilman Drew Combs told The Almanac. "As I reflect on the city manager's tenure I have to admit a degree of disappointment that some recent actions by my City Council colleagues made a challenging job even more challenging. As Mr. Murphy assumes this role in an interim capacity, my hope is that he's afforded a bit more grace."

Among those actions was the decision by three council members, Mayor Betsy Nash, Vice Mayor Jen Wolosin and Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor, to hold a closed session meeting last October without the knowledge of then-Mayor Drew Combs' or Jerome-Robinson, to discuss a matter allegedly related to Jerome-Robinson's performance.

"I can't express enough thanks to Starla Jerome-Robinson," Councilman Ray Mueller said. "She came out of retirement and led the city for over three and a half years, and led us through the pandemic ... I'm incredibly thankful for her service with the city."

"We are going to miss Starla. She has been an important part of our city government for many years. She has helped us work through the difficulties of the COVID pandemic," Mayor Betsy Nash said in a statement provided to The Almanac. "Starla is a long-time resident of Menlo Park and I look forward to seeing her around town."

"I really appreciate Starla's years of service to the City and I wish her well on her retirement," Vice Mayor Jen Wolosin said.

"I appreciate Starla for coming out of retirement to serve Menlo Park. And I thank her for dealing with the unprecedented challenges over the past two years," Councilwoman Cecilia Taylor said.

Justin Murphy, a longtime city employee who is slated the new interim city manager, began working for Menlo Park as an associate planner in 1996 before rising through the ranks as a development services manager, assistant community development director, public works director, and most recently, deputy city manager, a role he has been serving in for nearly three years, according to LinkedIn. He holds a bachelor's degree from Stanford University in urban studies and a Master of Public Administration degree from the Harvard Kennedy School.

The City Council has selected The Hawkins Group to conduct a nationwide search for a new city manager and the application period was open through early January. Over the next few months, the City Council plans to consider applications for the permanent City Manager position, according to a press statement.

Comments

Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 7, 2022 at 8:38 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 8:38 pm

Both the city manager and assistant leave abruptly. Sounds as though there might actually be a news story here?


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 7, 2022 at 10:01 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 7, 2022 at 10:01 pm

Now is the time to recruit a City Manager who will serve the Council and the citizens rather than their own self interests.

We need a City Manager who recognizes that the City Council has been elected by the citizens to represent them and to provide direction to the City Manager rather than having a City Manager control the City Council's agenda.


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:25 am
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2022 at 11:25 am

Peter, you have it backwards.

Our new district zoning -- which I support -- makes it possible for a tiny but well-organized group with an agenda to take over the council. That is what has happened, with Menlo Together members now constituting a majority.

Because the city manager and assistant wanted to serve the entire community -- not the agenda of Menlo Together -- they lost their jobs.

Yes, the residents elected those three representatives, but without knowing that they were Trojan Horse candidates.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 8, 2022 at 2:00 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 8, 2022 at 2:00 pm

All five council members ran on individual platforms and all five were elected by the voters. That a number of them agree on many issues is not a conspiracy but simply a reflection of the platforms on which each of them ran.


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Jan 9, 2022 at 2:23 pm
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 2:23 pm

The Mayor controls the agenda, not the city Manager. Granted they work together on the agenda but the Mayor has the final say. Sorry to see Jerome-Robinson leaving early, she has served Menlo Park very well.


Dagwood
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2022 at 3:29 pm
Dagwood, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 3:29 pm

I agree with Frozen. Our district system is a failure and should be repealed. Thanks to the Almanac for reminding us of the current council cabal’s irresponsible and undemocratic behavior, leading to Robison’s early resignation.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 9, 2022 at 3:31 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 3:31 pm

The agenda is prepared by the city manager and the staff - not by the Mayor.

In fact, an individual MP council member is not even allowed to place an item on the agenda. The rules require two council members to propose an agenda item and that proposal must then be voted on by the full council.


Dagwood
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 9, 2022 at 4:17 pm
Dagwood, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 4:17 pm

On setting meeting agendas: Do we know the point of dispute here? Might the cabal have wanted to agendize something that the city manager saw as irresponsible? Is that it? What’s the substance?


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 9, 2022 at 4:28 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 4:28 pm

A cabal is "a small group of people who work together secretly"

The council is governed by the Brown Act and any such activity would be illegal. There is no evidence that there have been any Brown Act violations.

There is nothing nefarious about a majority of the council making a decision after an item has been properly agendized and public comments have been permitted.


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 9, 2022 at 5:00 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 5:00 pm

The Menlo Together council members tried to set up a daytime closed session meeting last October to discuss Starla's job performance -- seemingly an odd move given that she was on the verge of retiring. From the Almanac:

"Last week, three City Council members, Jen Wolosin, Betsy Nash and Cecilia Taylor, set up a closed session meeting for Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. – a time when the other two City Council members, who have full-time jobs, were unable to attend – and they did it without the knowledge of either the city manager or the mayor.

Normally, the city manager and mayor set meeting agendas together, and traditionally, all council members are polled about their availability before a meeting is set, Combs said."

Sounds like the MT members have already figured out ways to skate around the spirit of the Brown Act without violating the letter of the law. They constitute a council majority now, and will make sure to appoint a city manager who will rubber stamp their agendas rather than speak up on behalf of the rest of us. Let's just hope they prove to be benevolent dictators.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 9, 2022 at 5:36 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 9, 2022 at 5:36 pm

"Sounds like the MT members have already figured out ways to skate around the spirit of the Brown Act without violating the letter of the law. "

If a meeting agenda is properly and timely publicly posted the Brown Act explicitly permits a closed session to discuss specifically identified personnel issues.


dana hendrickson
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 10, 2022 at 12:15 pm
dana hendrickson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jan 10, 2022 at 12:15 pm

Hi Peter:

Please explain your comment:

"Now is the time to recruit a City Manager who will serve the Council and the citizens rather than their own self interests."

I am aware that Starla began the regular practice of publishing a calendar of potential future Council topics, a regular communication I welcomed as otherwise it's difficult to understand when important topics would LIKELY be addressed. And I I understood the schedule reflects BOTH Council priorities and staff's capabilities to address them.

What am I missing?


James Pistorino
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 10, 2022 at 12:34 pm
James Pistorino, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Jan 10, 2022 at 12:34 pm

In the past year and a half, the City Manager, Assistant City Manager, and Police Chief have all resigned. I believe it is fairly clear that the Police Chief resigned because he did not want to deal with baseless allegations of racism by Councilperson Cecilia Taylor and had the option to retire. In addition, the City Attorney was replaced. I do not know if these people were doing a good job or a bad job but the sheer number tells you that all is not right at City Hall/with the City Council.


Dagwood
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 10, 2022 at 1:12 pm
Dagwood, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Jan 10, 2022 at 1:12 pm

Starla’s early resignation is a clear rebuke to the Menlo Squad. Recall she became city manager as a nearly emergency measure when our earlier manager left for Ventura. Starla saved the city valuable search time and resources to keep us afloat, staying on through the pandemic. Her resignation is an understandable response to arrogant disrespect and ingratitude following such trying years.


John Boyle
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 10, 2022 at 6:45 pm
John Boyle, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jan 10, 2022 at 6:45 pm

Although I'm no longer active in Menlo Park politics, I was fortunate to serve on Council over ten years ago, and Starla was serving our community even back then (Assistant City Manager). I don't know the specifics that led to her early departure, but I am certain that our city is worse for the loss of her service. At least back then, she helped lead our city staff then in a manner that ALWAYS focused on what was best for our community ... regardless of the local politics. The City Manager (and city staff) manage the operations of our city. In a company, if a CEO/COO loses the support of his/her board, it's the board's right to replace them. Same for a City Manager and a City Council. But I hope we voters are eventually exposed to the facts that led to this change. Ultimately, the responsibility lies with us, to vote in/out a Council who will manage the City Manager in our collective best interest. Our current Council should find a way (without violating personnel confidentiality) to explain the extraordinary exodus of so many city staff leaders ... so that we voters can then "vote" on whether or not we approve of the way they've managed our city staff leadership. (PS. We're very fortunate to have Justin available to step in. He, too, has been a strong, non-political leader of our city staff for over a decade.)


dana hendrickson
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 11, 2022 at 6:52 pm
dana hendrickson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Jan 11, 2022 at 6:52 pm

John Boyle. I share your concerns and proposal. Thanks for expressing them so well.


Enough
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Jan 12, 2022 at 10:51 am
Enough, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2022 at 10:51 am

"If a meeting agenda is properly and timely publicly posted the Brown Act explicitly permits a closed session to discuss specifically identified personnel issues."

However setting up the closed session around this topic was done without any transparency and seemingly at the exclusion of two of the council members. That seems like a Brown Act violation to me but I am not an expert. Before Peter jumps in I think it makes more sense to have an expert on the Brown Act review it.

Regardless it was a seemingly shady move and one that undermines public trust in our City Council.

And from the quote by Drew Combs: "Normally, the city manager and mayor set meeting agendas together" isn't that what I said? I think the previous Mayor would know more about it than Peter who has not served on City Council.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 12, 2022 at 12:26 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2022 at 12:26 pm

" Before Peter jumps in I think it makes more sense to have an expert on the Brown Act review it."

I actually am an expert on the Brown Act and often serve as a resource on the Brown Act for reporters and elected officials. My interest began at an early age as my uncle was one of the co-authors of the legislation.

Web Link

"In late 1951, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Mike Harris spent six weeks looking into the way
local agencies conducted meetings. State law had long required that business be done in public,
but Harris discovered secret meetings or caucuses were common. He wrote a 10-part series on
“Your Secret Government” that ran in May and June 1952.
Out of the series came a decision to push for a new state open meeting law. Harris and Richard
(Bud) Carpenter, legal counsel for the League of California Cities, drafted such a bill and Assembly
Member Ralph M. Brown agreed to carry it. The Legislature passed the bill and Governor Earl
Warren signed it into law in 1953.
The Ralph M. Brown Act, known as the Brown Act, has evolved under a series of amendments and
court decisions, and has been the model for other open meeting laws — such as the Bagley-Keene
Act, enacted in 1967 to cover state agencies."

Regarding the issue at hand the Act is clear:

"Notice requirements for special meetings
There is no express agenda requirement for special meetings, but the notice of the special meeting
effectively serves as the agenda and limits the business that may be transacted or discussed.
Written notice must be sent to each member of the legislative body (unless waived in writing by
that member) and to each local newspaper of general circulation, and radio or television
station that has requested such notice in writing. This notice must be delivered by
personal delivery or any other means that ensures receipt, at least 24 hours before the
time of the meeting. "




Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 12, 2022 at 12:51 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2022 at 12:51 pm

Thank you, John, for your service to the community and corroborating my impression of Starla (based on my non-city volunteer encounters with her.) The city manager job requires dealing with local politics/politicians, and given that Starla is a seasoned professional with experience in multiple cities, we can only wonder what egregious behavior motivated her to resign early. As I said upfront, I hope the Almanac digs into this.

Peter, are you a member of Menlo Together or just a fan?


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 12, 2022 at 1:06 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Jan 12, 2022 at 1:06 pm

"Peter, are you a member of Menlo Together or just a fan?"

Neither.

I am a supporter of good governance and of individuals who themselves work to provide good governance.


Frozen
Registered user
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 13, 2022 at 12:36 pm
Frozen, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
Registered user
on Jan 13, 2022 at 12:36 pm

Any supporter of good governance would be disappointed to see that behind-the-scenes politicking has resulted in our city losing its best leaders.


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