This photo shows recruiter Ed Tewes in a meeting
with East Palo Alto residents on October 4, 2014.
It’s not necessarily easy to give up one’s personal time on a Saturday to attend a city meeting, but 18 East Palo Alto residents did just that from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, October 4.
They responded to a request by city officials to share their views on what they wanted to see in their next city manager.
The meeting was led by Ed Tewes, the head of the recruiting firm the East Palo Alto City Council chose to find qualified candidates for the city manager position.
In some cases, the residents, who met with Tewes in the community room at the East Palo Alto City Hall, had very similar views about how they saw the city and the type of person they wanted at the helm leading the city staff.
During their scheduled two-hour session, Tewes and his partner, Frank Rojas, presented the group with three questions:
Question 1: What should we tell candidates about the City of East Palo Alto. Under this question was the request to list three things the residents especially liked about living in East Palo Alto.
Question 2: What are the issues and challenges that the city manager must take on? Under this question was the request to list three priority issues or challenges facing the City of East Palo Alto and
Question 3: What essential skills and qualities does the city manager need to be successful? The residents were asked to list three skills and personal qualities that the city manager will need to be successful?
In response to question one, some cited East Palo Alto’s proximity to airports, universities, transportation and nature. They considered it an asset that the city is a small multi-cultural community with a history of grass roots politics and activism. They said that these attributes about the city present opportunities for citizen engagement that can quickly lead to the improvement of the community.
Those who responded to question two about the city’s challenges listed such topics as the need to attract more retail stores to increase the city’s tax base, new housing, the needs of seniors, limited revenue, high employee turnover, the educational achievement gap, gentrification, community engagement, rapidly changing demographics, the need to engage young adults, the need to diversify the city’s tax base, crime, how the police reacts, the lack of prosecution of violent crime and the community confidence in the police department.
When it came to answering question three about the skills and personal qualities required of the new city manager, the group gave very specific responses with detailed explanations. In a few cases, they were very clear about the type of person they didn’t want.
For example, William Webster said that the new city manager needed to have a proven track record of accomplishment in another community. He also stressed that the candidate, who is chosen, should respect the community, not be condescending or patronizing to people and be devoid of conflicts of interest, such as having relatives who might have real estate investments in the city.
Melvin Gaines said that the city manager should have humility and patience and engage all of the residents.
Jim Woods stated that the next city manager should have an open door policy, be transparent, talk to people and work with the entire city and staff.
Elizabeth Jackson felt that the next city manager should respect the city’s core values, be engaged in the community and learn the city’s history.
Sharifa Wilson wanted the next city manager to be results driven and a
consensus builder, who gets things done that reflect the interests of the whole community.
Others said that they wanted a manager who had a certain strength of character, had people skills and the ability to communicate with people, was trained in conflict resolution, could attract resources to the city, and wasn’t wishy-washy.
Some even shared that it was okay to use the job as a stepping-stone as long as the person chosen contributed positively to the city.
Tewes, who is a retired city manager himself, said that he would present a draft recruitment brochure to the East Palo Alto City Council on October 21. November 23 was chosen as the application deadline for the position.
Council interviews of the candidates would happen in mid-January and the appointment of a new city manager is scheduled for mid-February.
To contact Henrietta J. Burroughs, the author of the above article, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.