Major changes ahead at Menlo Park City Hall | August 8, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

News - August 8, 2018

Major changes ahead at Menlo Park City Hall

by Kate Bradshaw

The city of Menlo Park has some major leadership changes ahead, according to City Manager Alex McIntyre, who in a written statement announced on Aug. 2 a series of internal promotions and planned staff departures.

Nick Pegueros has been promoted to assistant city manager from financial and administrative services director. The role was vacated by Chip Taylor in February.

Pegueros began working for Menlo Park in August 2015, and since January 2016 has worked as the city's chief financial officer and overseen human resources and IT. He has worked as town manager for Portola Valley, administrative services director for the town of Los Altos Hills, and in the finance department for the city of San Bruno. He holds a bachelor's degree in political science from Columbia University and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Washington.

Lenka Diaz has been promoted to administrative services director from human services manager, a position she held since January 2016. She has worked in Redwood City's human resources division and Newark's human resources, public works, recreation and community services departments.

Nikki Nagaya, assistant public works director, has accepted a job with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency; her last day with the city will be Aug. 28.

Susan Holmer, library services director, has announced her retirement; she plans for her last day to be Oct. 5.

Jelena Harada, deputy city clerk, has accepted a job with the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit); her last day is set for Aug. 16.

Why the churn?

The city's executive staff has undergone many changes lately, and McIntyre offers some theories to explain why. First, he told The Almanac in an interview, it's no surprise to anyone that Menlo Park is a really expensive place to live.

"If the median home price is over $2 million, I'm never going to be able to pay (an employee) enough money to bridge that gap," he said.

The next best thing, he says, is to try to pay people enough so that they can afford to live somewhere where the commute isn't so miserable that the job becomes untenable. The city provides free Caltrain passes to employees and encourages them to search for housing near Caltrain stops, he said.

Even so, in a recent city staff survey, about 27 percent of employees commuted longer than one hour each way to work, according to Pegueros.

And during those grueling daily commutes, McIntyre said, each of those workers passes through many cities, some of which are likely to at least eventually have job openings in his or her field of work.

Menlo Park isn't helped by the fact that it is a smaller-sized city and can't pay employees as well as competitor jurisdictions, like Palo Alto, Sunnyvale or Redwood City, he added. And even those cities are having trouble attracting talent, he said. "We're not alone."

In addition, he said, there has been a natural increase in the number of existing senior staff members who have decided to retire. Those are people like longtime city employees Arlinda Heineck, Cherise Brandell and now, Susan Holmer, who have had full careers with the city, and may have already opted to work longer than they initially planned because of the recession.

On top of those factors, McIntyre said, people who are qualified for the positions now being vacated in Menlo Park, such as senior staff in other cities, may be dissuaded from moving to Menlo Park because it offers a somewhat less generous pension plan than some other cities.

Menlo Park's pension plan, he said, "is the right thing (for) a long-term financial strategy," but added that it is one reason people aren't coming to work for the city.

Figuring out how cities can "get employees of the next generation to do the important work that needs to be done," he said, is a regional concern.

"I don't have great answers," he said. "It's not simple."

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