The news was announced by Genevieve Ng, legal counsel for the city, following a closed — not public — City Council session held Jan. 7.
Her resignation comes just months before her planned retirement. The move isn't expected to materially alter her retirement benefits, she said.
"From my perspective, this is a strategic decision that helps provide continuity between the end date of my contract and the start date of the new city manager," she said in an email to The Almanac. "I care deeply about the community and the organization, and it was a difficult to make the decision to leave. I believe leaving early takes the time pressure off the City Council to make the new appointment and provides consistency for the organization. I highly regard Justin and know he will do an outstanding job."
Jerome-Robinson leaves during a time of transition within the city's executive leadership. Among the 10 positions that are considered to be part of that executive team, there are four vacancies, not including the city manager role, she said. Of those, two are filled with interim or acting appointees.
Menlo Park's former Assistant City Manager, Nick Pegueros, no longer works for the city, and ended his tenure there on Dec. 31. He began 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.
"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.
Other council members highlighted Jerome-Robinson's longtime service to the city.
"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 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."
Vice Mayor Wolosin said she appreciated her years of service and wished her well in retirement.
"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 Taylor said.
Murphy, a longtime city employee, is now the new interim city manager. He 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 recently closed. Over the next few months, the council plans to consider applications for the permanent city manager position, according to a press statement.
When a new permanent city manager hire would begin work is still unclear. Often, Jerome-Robinson said, there is a lag time of roughly six to eight weeks before they begin, as they need time to wind up their old jobs and take a break before starting the new position.
"While it's possible the new (city manager) could start by April 1, it seems unlikely," she said.