Let us introduce you to Curly, our poster piggy bank that represents the Town’s piggy bank that was used to cover up and pay for the many mismanaged and expensive issues at Town Hall in the past 16 years.
In the spirit of educating LAH residents, the Town Crier published a letter in their March 23, 2021 Edition that was signed by former council members. We do not know who the author of this letter was but there was a lot of misinformation. The author should have done more homework.
Here is TTAGS’ response;
To Council Members’ Letter Published in the Town Crier on March 23, 2021.
Residents all appreciate the former Council members’ service. It is not clear who wrote the letter supporting the City Manager, however, possibly over the years, like all of us, one’s tendency is to remember accomplishments in the most favorable light. Unfortunately, their warm recollections do not bear a resemblance to some of the facts. Below are corrections to their recollections.
Just as one cannot attribute all that goes wrong in Town to the City Manager, it is equally incorrect to suggest that a list of Town achievements can be ascribed solely to the City Manager’s efforts. However, some adverse events can be directly attributed to his decisions, and these should be considered when evaluating his performance. “Fact Checks” are in bold below.
Council Members’ bullet points, Carl has specifically helped our Town to
- receive the “Safest City” designation in California
The Town received the third safest small city ranking from Advisor Smith, an insurance research group. But… burglaries have increased, and vehicle stop data appears to indicate bias and missing data. As usual, Mr. Cahill did not act. It took residents to research and demand ALPR’s and mayoral attention to get the sheriff to take corrective action.
- earn a Certificate of Excellence for Financial Reporting for the last 6 years consecutively
Yes, thanks to Finance Department staff’s diligent efforts the Town has received these certificates. The certificate is awarded largely for conforming to the GFOA’s recommended reporting format and does not judge the accuracy of the financial statements. Notwithstanding this award, Town has experienced many significant financial errors over the years. Some examples:
- In FY’19, Mr. Cahill failed to timely notify Council of Auditor’s Memorandum of Internal Control and Required Communications identifying two material weaknesses and one significant deficiency.
- For over ten years, failed to refund more than $2 million of development deposits to over 1400 homeowners and contractors when projects were completed.
- Financial statement misstatement of more than $750,000 in the Sewer Fund FY’19
- Overcharged ratepayer financed Sewer Fund by $294,000 for Town overhead expense and delayed adjustment for more than three years.
- Los Altos Hills currently ranks #10 out of 453 municipalities in California for our fiscal health,
The Town’s excellent financial condition is largely independent of this City Manager’s actions. By far the most important reasons for financial health is rapidly escalating property values and strong building development which has greatly increased revenue. Second is not having Police and Fire employees and their related salary and pension expense. Following that, the most significant reasons are recommendations made by the FIC and adopted by Councils to reduce expense. These include prepaying CalPERS pension and OPEB benefits, establishing a second-tier pension plan and 115 Pension Trust, reducing OPEB benefits, and having employees, and not the Town, pay the employee’s share of pension expense. None of these proposals originated with Mr. Cahill.
- secure millions of dollars in grant money to seismically upgrade most of our Town’s Buildings,
Example of faulty memory by the former Council members.
No grant money has been received for seismic upgrades. Westwind Barn’s seismic upgrading, which cost over $1.2 million,
was largely funded by taxpayers, less than twenty percent through resident donations (if pledgers delivered). Town’s emergency operations center in the Heritage House is not seismically upgraded and does not meet standards.
- negotiate and manage a highly successful private/public partnership that mitigated the management headaches and financial drain out of our Town’s beloved Westwind Barn,
It is almost insulting to read the credit afforded Mr. Cahill for the current success of Westwind Barn. One would be hard pressed to find someone more culpable for the calamity that occurred at Westwind Barn and less responsible for the solution than Mr. Cahill. The Town assumed responsibility for the Barn from a private group, the Friends of Westwind, that had managed it for many years. In the four years after taking over management of the Barn, the Town had lost more than a half million dollars. For almost all of 2012, Staff attempted to find a solution but failed. In 2013, an Ad Hoc Committee was formed to address the matter. Mr. Cahill was not on the committee, nor did he attend the meetings. The committee proposed a public-private partnership, developed an RFP, found and worked with potential bidders, interviewed, evaluated, and recommended bidders to the Council for selection, built financial models and structured the operating arrangements for the business relationship. In January 2014, in a 3-2 vote the Council selected Victoria Dye Equestrian as the concessionaire.
It is a travesty and a rewriting of history to suggest that Mr. Cahill deserves credit for the last seven years of successful operation of the Barn. The Committee deserves the credit for finding the vendor and structuring the deal, the Council for making the hard, right choice, and most importantly, Torie Dye and her crew deserve all the credit for the achievements at the Barn. It is only through her efforts and management that the riding program is successful, the barn is full, and the Town now enjoys a net positive financial contribution instead of the substantial losses previously suffered under Mr. Cahill’s management of the Barn. As with many of Mr. Cahill’s claimed successes, he just turned out to be at the helm while others made them happen. As with ALPR’s, Mr. Cahill was saved by the initiative of a citizen committee, the ones he often belittles for consuming too much staff resources.
- raise the Town’s Pavement Condition Index (PCI) from a 77 to over 80+ using our annual budget allocations to strategically attack our streets and road conditions—this may sound modest, but our PCI far exceeds that of our surrounding neighbors in the region and places us in the top 10% for communities our size and #3 within the County of Santa Clara,
True. Having sufficient funds makes possible maintaining roads in good condition. Road condition and maintenance priority assessment and repaving is all done by outside contractors. While road conditions have improved, modestly, many residents have suffered long, drawn out battles with the Town over whether their streets are public or private. The Town’s poor record keeping, and the City Manager’s unsupportive and contentious attitude has frustrated many a resident and caused undue delay, extra expense, and anxiety. Addressing road matters relating to development have been delayed for years, one example was on the March 19, 2021 Council Meeting agenda.
- secure grants for restoration of Byrne Preserve and O’Keefe Open Space,
Grassroots Ecology (formerly Acterra) did most of the work writing and obtaining grants from the Santa Clara Valley Water District
- collaborate with the VTA to restore the bridge and bank at Page Mill Road,
VTA money comes from voter initiatives such as Measure B. A proportion of funds are allocated to local governments for street, paths, and bicycle projects.
- connect Southern Los Altos Hills to Foothill College and El Monte Road with the completion of the Bob Stutz Path securing access through Agency partners,
Yes, it took four years to complete the last 600 feet of path between Magdalena and Maria Lane. Twice RFPs were sent out, first time with no bids, second time with exorbitant bids ($300-500/ft) for a 2B path. Finally, staff constructed a native path in a few weeks. Similarly, the path to be built along Summerhill has been mismanaged and is now in its fourth year of development. Excessive turnover in the engineering department is partially to blame. Four Public Work Directors in five years.
- and, successfully secure and allocate over $1.5M dollars to the restoration of the Fremont Road Path through Safe Routes to School Funds.
Project occurred about nine years ago. Believe the project cost was about $1.5 million but grants were less.
Most recently, Carl has
- spearheaded and coordinated the successful campaign to maintain local control of our Los Altos Hills Fire District,
Supervisor Simitian masterful management of the audit debacle and Supervisor hearing process is what “saved” the Fire District. Mr. Cahill and the staff played a role and getting the word out to Town Committee members to “call-in” to the Supervisor’s meeting. Many other volunteers played important roles including Neal Mielke who started a petition that generated 1000 signatures.
In December 2020, without current Council’s approval, Mr. Cahill wrote a letter to LAFCO that was overly critical of four of the five County Supervisors and claimed residents could no longer rely on the Supervisors to represent or our interests. A disrespectful and risky comment to make when it takes just three supervisors to dissolve the Fire District. This was another example of poor judgement and unprofessionalism. Hopefully, there will not be a negative repercussion from this blunder.
- worked with a resident to clean up a messy situation they had both inherited along Barron Creek,
It is surprising to “inherit” a problem when one has been responsible for planning and development in Town for 22 years. Town’s creek management in general has been poor. For eight years the Town has been working on obtaining permits to repair Matadero Creek before it undermines Page Mill Road. At one point the Town signed a consultant to do a Town-wide creek permit to remove non-native plants from the creeks, and then cancelled the program. The Town once had a highly informative Public Works Director/City Engineer Weekly Report. It was discontinued in late 2019 because it clearly demonstrated the meager progress on projects.
- negotiated, albeit painful for many reasons, a 15-year garbage contract that has been thoroughly scrutinized by previous Councils, consultants, and ad hoc committee members who are residents,
Mr. Cahill exhibited poor judgement and lack of due diligence in the 2019 renewal process. He started late, and unlike neighboring cities, failed to use expert advisers, squandered three-fourths of the little time available waiting for a proposal from the Town’s current provider before a belated, flawed, and futile attempt to obtain competitive bids. Despite ample warning, he failed to investigate or understand the impact proposed changes in service would have on a homeowner’s cost and resulting overall GreenWaste revenue. As a result, homeowners will pay over six million dollars more than GreenWaste had requested and forty percent more than their counterparts in Portola Valley and Woodside, also served by GreenWaste under their newly negotiated contract.
- ensured a smooth transition of annexed neighborhoods into Town, in accordance with LAFCO requirements,
Nothing special was required. Minimal effort. Did attempt to incorrectly claim that some streets were private.
- overseen the doubling of our Park and Rec Programs to meet citizen’s demand,
- devised a “matching” fund to support neighbors’ efforts to secure high-speed internet and has to date helped over 90 homes take advantage of this program,
- with Carl’s support, we prevailed and rightfully overturned a multi-decade, tax withholding by the State. These TEA funds now add over $423K to the Town’s bottom line annually.
Town mishandled franchise negotiations with Comcast in November 2004. Resulted in residents on more than 20 streets potentially having to make large payments for Comcast to put cables on their street. In January 2015, residents on several streets the Town claimed were private (some incorrectly) began complaining. Council recommended subsidizing cable installation effort. In August 2016, Council approved a 25 percent match of resident funds and committed $100,000 toward the project. Julietta Lane participated. Question 90 property claim.
This was a four-city effort that involved lobbyist and took over five years and was supported by multiple councils and many other elected officials. Council Meeting September 17, 2015 Council congratulated Mayor Corrigan on the passage of SB 107. Carl did have a role, did drive to Sacramento with the three other City Managers.
He has saved the Town untold millions with successful negotiations and collaboration.
No examples are provided. Assume this refers to previous mentioned grants and results of required multi-party proposal process and selection of low bidders. These standard government practices are intended to minimize cost. However, Mr. Cahill has also been responsible for multiple failures that have cost the Town hundreds of thousands of dollars including:
- Failing to responsibly manage the sewer system, sewage backed up into several homes resulting in expensive insurance claims against the Town.
- Over multiple years failed to add to the Sewer Roll approximately 100 properties that had connected to the sewer system resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income and higher rates for other ratepayers.
- Failed to check potable water franchise payments resulting in hundreds of thousands of dollars in underpayment. After identification, some funds recovered for latest three years. For almost ten years, failed to request annual utility usage reconciliation with AT&T/Crown Castle for Cell Tower electricity usage at Town Hall. Estimated cost between $25,000 and $50,000. After failure was discovered, AT&T sympathetically refunded some of the shortfall.
- Town salaries increased seventy-seven percent over the last five years- far more than comparable cities and disproportionate to growth in Town activity. Some position salaries are not supported by market conditions.
- Several years ago, John Radford and Courtenay Corrigan executed a thorough performance review using their collective and extensive employee relations and staffing backgrounds. It is right that Carl’s performance should be scrutinized but he deserves both the opportunity to address any perceived shortcomings and be thanked, acknowledged, and rewarded for his successes.
Unfortunately, residents are not involved or unaware of the results of performance reviews or established City Manager goals and objectives. Residents only know whether the contract was renewed, and any adjustment to salary. The City Manager, who is the only employee whose salary is reported to the Council, received the smallest percentage increase of all the employees who have remained with the Town over the last five years. Salary progression would suggest average to below average satisfaction with performance. Disbursement records suggest additional management training was prescribed.
- Scrutinizing the City Manager’s performance is precisely TTAGS goal.
Furthermore, as part of this Council’s discussion, it will be important to develop a succession plan which fosters a strong staff support team to address Carl’s eventual retirement.
TTAGS agrees, a succession plan is essential.
ADDITIONAL TTAGS PUBLICATION
TTAGS’ response to our City Manager’s letter to the Town Crier and their article published March 23, 2021.
The City Manager’s letter was full of misinformation. Following is our response to Megan Winslow, Reporter for The Town Crier. I say our in that over 10 people provided input to my letter.
March 18, 2021
Thanks for talking with me today and giving me the opportunity to respond to our city manager’s email to you disputing what is on our TTAGS.ORG website.
The email addressed to you from the City Manager (CM), was this his personal opinion or the official position of the town?
TTAGS was inspired by the 65th Anniversary of the Town and we are reflecting on the Founders and their ideals for responsive, transparent and community-focused government. Over the past 15 years many residents who are key contributors to the town have felt that we have moved away from those ideals. TTAGS, who is composed of dozens of concerned residents, many of whom are pillars in the community, have grown increasingly frustrated that the Town Councils over the years have not held our city government accountable. Some of these mistakes have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. Mistakes continue to be made. When residents ask for accountability, they are given well-rehearsed excuses and/or blame others. Our focus is to return to the Town’s founding principles of ethical government which requires truth, transparency, respect for residents and integrity.
The purpose of the TTAGS website is to, Educate the Town Council and residents about the management issues of our Town. History shows years of bad decisions piled on bad decisions with the taxpayers holding the bag. The Town’s piggy bank has been the victim.
That is why TTAGS’ mascot is a piggy bank: it symbolizes the management style of our CM…..did I create a problem? OK, let’s hire a consultant. Our CM throws more money at it in hopes of making it go away. This was done for the GreenWaste contract, the construction of the Tractor Port and many grievances by staff for our CM’s management problems with staff. In short, it is a costly and ineffective way to run a town.
As part of our educating the residents, we are asking the CC to be more transparent regarding the process of the CM’s performance evaluation. We also want our CC to hear from previous staff members who recently resigned, many of whom have been silenced by intimidation. Two former staff members are willing to share their experiences with the CC in closed session only, for fear of retaliation. It is important for the public to provide feedback to their elected officials without the presence of the CM and city attorney, again for fear of retaliation or retribution by our CM.
I will now respond to all the CM’s assertions. We have attempted to provide all our sources. If there are any errors, we have asked the CM to provide corrections, and we will modify them.
This email will first list our CM’s statement in BLACK followed by my response in RED.
- Town staff FTE headcount, Every staff position is authorized by resolution the City Council at a public meeting. For new positions, a staff report with a thorough analysis is also provided to City Council. New staff positions are generally first proposed as part of the Annual Budget process. The City Council does not just rely on staff but also solicits advice and recommendation from the Town’s Finance and Investment Committee and the public. There is a Joint City Council – FIC Budget Study Session that is open to the public and held every year where these decisions are made. New staff positions have to run the gauntlet of scrutiny by the FIC and then meet approval by the City Council. I’m attaching a table that compares Town staff headcount from 1999/2000 with today 2021.
Sounds like our CM is blaming the CC for his mistakes in over staffing. The Town has a Council-Manager form of government in which the Council is responsible for policy and direction and the City Manager is responsible for implementation and operations. Council members are part time volunteers who are cautioned not to involve themselves in operations. Council members rely on the City Manager to perform appropriate due diligence and provide sound advice. Aside from the City Manager’s salary, Council is unaware of actual staff compensation and is only provided, so far, position salary ranges. This we want to change. All staff salaries should be made public like most cities do.
In general, the City Manager’s practice has been to include a one factor that influences all salary ranges at budget time. The CM’s comments about the FIC’s review of compensation and positions are misleading. While the FIC does closely review budgets, it does so on a Town wide expense basis and not on a position-by-position basis. Council approves increases in salary ranges and does not request FIC review nor is it included in the FIC’s charter. A recent example refuting the CM’s statement occurred just last month at the February 18, 2021 Council meeting. The City Manager recommended that all salary ranges be increased by four percent. Staff did not present any analysis supporting the recommendation nor was the FIC requested to review the proposal. Council approved the increase. This was a MISTAKE.
To summarize, all the information the CC consumes is provided by the CM. If the information is distorted or incorrect, the CC has no way to know what is correct without spending much time and effort. A pattern seems to exist that our CM, whenever he has not performed well, puts blame on the CC, staff or the FIC. That would be like the CEO of a failing corporation blaming the Board of Directors for his failures. Our CM is paid well for his professional responsibilities as a city manager. In exchange, he should perform those duties well.
- The TTAGS group doesn’t cite their source for their exaggerated 86% headcount increase. However, I suspect their list likely includes anyone who received a W-2 form from the Town during a particular year which would include temporary hourly staff, Planning Commission and City Council members.
The source of the information is from the CM’s own work. – his annual operating budget and annual report. His 2006-2007 financial annual report’s org chart shows 14 full time employees and 33 total employees including part time and contractors. His 2019-2020 financial annual report org chart shows 26 full time employees and 34 total employees including part time and contractors. That’s 86% increase in full time employees and 57% increase in total employees. Those charts are attached. If our facts are wrong, the CM’s org charts are wrong.
- Staff Compensation, Same as above, the Town Employee Salary Schedule is reviewed by the FIC and approved by the City Council at the time of the annual Budget approval. It’s likely that Town staff compensation is higher than more affordable areas of California like Bakersfield or even Sacramento. A more fair comparison of Town employee compensation would be with other cities in the Silicon Valley. A copy of our last Employee Compensation Study from 2018 is attached. It does not support the TTAGS claim that Town Employee compensation is excessive. Based on the 2018 Comp Study, total compensation for Town positions is somewhat below the market median (-5%). We’re planning to do another comp study this year.
It is surprising that the City Manager has chosen to cite the 2018 Compensation Study, since the study did not propose the actions he recommended to the Council in October 2018. The study did not compare actual salaries but compared salary ranges for fifteen positions with those in nine nearby cities (eight larger and one smaller) and found the Town’s top of the range varied from 3.6% above to 14% below the median of the comparable position ranges (average 5% below). Study states “Generally, a classification falling within 5% of the median is considered to be competitive in the labor market for salary survey purposes because of the differences in compensation policy, actual scope of work, and position requirements.”
The report found that 9 of the 29 Town positions were above the median and salaries should be held back, two positions were at the medium and required no change and 18 positions should be adjusted upward from 2.5% to 14%. Despite this finding, and the significant variation in the competitiveness of each range, the City Manager recommended that all ranges be increased by 7%. The topic was pulled from the October Agenda. In July 2019, Council approved a five percent increase for all ranges. It should be noted that 4 of the 15 positions that were benchmarked in the study incorrectly used top range values that were less than the Town approved salary range, which if reported correctly would improve the competitiveness of these positions and to a lesser degree the Town overall.
3 of the 9 positions were found to be above the median for which salary range increases were not recommended included: Senior City Clerk, Senior Community Service Supervisor and Senior Maintenance Superintendent. Despite this, these position’s ranges were increased five percent in July 2019 and an additional four percent last month. A recent comparison of actual salaries utilizing 2019 salary data reported to the State of California and Transparent California indicate that these same three positions are highly compensated, and despite the Town’s small size and lack of complexity, rank near the top of all salaries paid for those positions in California.
To summarize, the CM is responsible for staffing to accomplish the goals of the town. The CC and FIC members are unpaid grassroot volunteers. They provide assistance and guidance but they are not responsible for running our town. The CM is accountable for a city manager’s fiscal responsibility. Staff compensation data are from the CM’s annual financial report and TransparentCalifornia.Com. and California State Controller’s office. We have some of the highest paid staff in the state for their given position.
- Two TTAG members or associates including former Town Council member and current Menlo park resident Gary Waldeck and long term FIC member Allan Epstein both had considerable influence in the annual decision making process that set current Town staffing levels and staff compensation. The City Council at anytime can direct the City Manager to implement a workforce reduction.
As stated above, the FIC was not asked nor provided advice on salary ranges and therefore as an FIC member Mr. Epstein had no influence on Council compensation decisions. Like other members of the public, over the years Mr. Epstein has personally provided suggestions to the Council on many matters. His on the record suggestion for the Council to carry out more due diligence on the City Manager’s proposed October 2018 seven percent across the board salary range increase can be found here: https://losaltoshills.granicus.com/MetaViewer.php?view_id=2&clip_id=458&meta_id=74753
Possibly his and another FIC members comments contributed to the decision to remove the item from the Agenda.
- Staff Turnover. The Town currently has 7 staff members that have been with the Town for more than 10 years. There are a couple of reasons why staff typically leave the Town. The Town organization is very small compared to most other cities and public agencies in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. There is limited room for advancement. Most management level staff that have left the Town have moved on to positions of equal or greater responsibility with larger agencies. The second most common reason for staff turnover is retirement. The Town has been successful at recruiting well qualified personnel for its management positions. I personally recruited four very qualified staff members in the past 18 month.
In the last month two staff members have resigned. We have interviewed both of them and they are willing to share their experiences in closed session with the CC. They did not leave because of lack of advancement opportunity, job dissatisfaction, or uncompetitive salaries or benefits. They left because of dissatisfaction with how Town employees are treated. They are clearly not the first. By Mr. Epstein’s (long-time member of the FIC) count, in the last five years, 28 employees have left the Town. This is almost a 25 percent annual turnover rate in a Town of 24 FTE’s. In that time, the Town has had five Administrative Service Directors and will have four Public Works Directors. Excluding the City Manager, only seven employees have remained with the Town more than five years, and four are members of the maintenance crew. This turnover rate is 2 to 3 times higher than typically observed in government operations.
Excessive turnover is not new to the Town. In 2018, in response to high turnover, Council asked Staff to address the issue. Staff responded with a “Value proposition proposal to attract and retain Town staff.” The proposal was basically more money and a better dental plan. This did little to address the true cause of turnover. Several past council members have confirmed that when they ask the CM why so much turnover, his response, we are not paying them enough. Studies show salary alone does not create stability.
Keeping the best employees is an essential part of managing a successful organization. High turnover is an indication of low employee satisfaction and poor management. Government agencies typically experience the lowest level of employee turnover; however, the Town’s turnover rate is extremely high. High turnover is costly, incurring recruitment, hiring, and training costs. More detrimental than the additional financial cost is the impact on progress due to the time consumed in recruiting and training, lower productivity, and loss of institutional knowledge. High turnover predicts low performance and project delays.
- Town Organization. The “Org Chart” shown on the TTAGS is wildly inaccurate. I’m attaching the correct org chart.With regard to overall Town management, a few city management metrics to consider.The California State Auditor’s most recent Fiscal Health of California Cities Report (2018-19) shows that Los Altos Hills is ranked in the top 10 most fiscally healthy Cities in California. The Town has $11 million total in the “bank” with 3.6 mil undesignated. We’ve made significant contributions to our pension liability reduction program with another million transferred this fiscal year.
- The Town has some of the best paved roads in the County slightly behind only Cupertino and Palo Alto.
True. Having sufficient funds makes possible maintaining roads in good condition. However, many residents have suffered long, drawn out battles with the Town over whether their streets are public or private. The Town’s poor record keeping, and the City Manager’s unsupportive and contentious attitude has frustrated many a resident and caused undue delay, extra expense, and anxiety. Addressing road matters relating to development have been delayed for years. An example is on the agenda for Thursday’s (3/18)Council Meeting.
- I managed the Town’s response to COVID and continued to provide our core services. Because we found innovative ways to stay open for business, 2020 was a banner year for ADU production and we made considerable progress in meeting our Housing Element goals. A report on this progress in the March City Council Packet.
The Town’s annual reports show that new home construction dropped significantly during the pandemic. Construction declined from 17 to 10 from 2019 to 2020, and remodels and additions dropped significantly over the same period. Sounds like the workload has significantly DROPPED during the pandemic. According to his staff, when the State Governor issued the Shelter In Place executive order and wear masks, keep a social distance and encourage employees to work from home, our CM initially refused to obey. He would not wear a mask in the office, and intimidated staff who did wear masks. A quote from our CM when asked about when will masks be provided to staff, the CM’s response, “If you want a mask, go buy one yourself”. He forced employees to work in the office against the state directive and did not follow social distancing protocols.
The town’s response under the CM’s direction to embrace virtual meetings was initially blocked for weeks by the CM. There are many, many emails that confirm our CM actively rejected the state mandate.
Not until residents and committee chairs were telling the CM about the Governor’s special emergency executive order N-25-20 that specifically allowed for on-line virtual meetings, was there any movement. Even then, time/date stamped emails show town staff and our town attorney told committee chairs meeting that virtual meetings were NOT possible. It finally occured after Town Crier Staff Reporter Megan Winslow checked in with the Governor’s office herself for some clarity on order N-25-20 and giving that information to LAH town staff, did the town change their position on allowing Zoom meetings for official town meetings. When it was determined that masks were required, his directive to purchasing was, “Don’t buy black ones, we don’t want to look like we are supporting the Black Lives Matter movement”.
Residents also had to help train Town Staff on using Zoom as they had never used Zoom before Covid. Residents also offered to host Zoom meetings for committees on private accounts to help bring important town committee meetings on line as the town initially had no Zoom account configured.
- The safety of the Town staff was job #1 and nobody got sick. We are all vaccinated once we get second dose next week, will reopen for indoor service.
Regarding the CM’s statement ”The safety of the Town staff was job #1 and nobody got sick”, in the following December 2020 council meeting at time stamp 30:45, a former CC member stated that one of the staff was recovering at home from COVID-19.
In summary, our CM was not a leader in the COVID-19 response, he was a reluctant follower.
- I also took the lead in alerting and informing the public to the County Executive’s and two Supervisor’s plan to take over the Town’s Fire District. Residents, City Council and Staff were all united in this effort and I am currently serving on LAFCO’s Fire Service Review TAC and I’m looking out for the Town’s best interest.
Our CM was directed by residents to form a proactive plan to attempt to thwart the County Executive’s order. Again he was not the initiator of an effort but was directed. He did instruct his staff to mobilize the residents to participate in a call to County Supervisors. He then wrote a letter to LAFCO in December 2020 without current CC’s approval. That letter was very critical of 4 of the 5 County Supervisors. This was another example of unprofessionalism. We will see if we have any further negative repercussions from this blunder.
- Notwithstanding those significant accomplishments, I recognize that I can always do better and I’m always open to suggestions and advice from residents. I reached out to John Swan prior to his website launch and offered to meet with him but he was not willing. I’m still willing to meet with John to discuss his issues should he change his mind.
Another misrepresentation of the facts. Here is my email thread to Carl’s initial request. Note he attached my June 18, 2020 email which, for the record he never communicated back to me regarding this topic. Plus I have other emails and phone call attempts to talk to him regarding the GreenWaste contract which he never responded to. The fact that he said is reaching out 9 months later, is a blatant example of incompetence, disrespect and intimidation of a resident. TTAGS wants to improve our Town governance. We want an environment where residents don’t fear our CM, but view him as a responsive partner. More TTAGS members will become visible WHEN there is no fear of intimidation, retribution or retaliation by our CM. It is a shame this situation exists.
My email thread to our CM
———- Forwarded message ———
From: John Swan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Wed, Mar 3, 2021 at 8:07 PM
Subject: Thanks Anyways – Re: are you available to meet next week?
To: Carl Cahill <email@example.com>
Thanks for your offer to meet with me, but as the email you attached shows, I have been thinking about this for a while. I don’t think that meeting to discuss this almost nine months after I brought this issue to the Town’s attention would be fruitful.
On Mar 3, 2021, at 5:53 PM, Carl Cahill <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
I’m wondering if you’re available to meet next week to discuss your email below and concerns that you may still have regarding my performance as City Manager for the Town. We could meet outside here at Town Hall, or downtown and get a cup of coffee. Phone would be ok too. Would 10am on Tuesday 3/9 work for your schedule? We did all get the first dose of the vaccine here and can wear the masks, social distance, etc.
We’ve known each other for many years at this point in time because of your volunteerism in Town and my position with the Town. Regardless of how this present matter works out, let’s let it be said that we at least met and discussed the issues at hand.
Hope all is well.
I’d like to submit the following.
Los Altos Hills Town Council,
I have been told that there is a closed Los Altos Hills Town Council session today, Thursday, June 18 at 4PM to discuss the approval of a one-year contract extension for our Town Manager, Carl Cahill.
I plan on participating. Here is what I want to share.
After further review, I support a one year extension. I believe this makes the most sense in light of the current COVID-19 pandemic and the reality that we will have three new council members as of November.
The one year renewal contract gives the new council time to evaluate Carl’s performance in a more transparent process and soliciting feedback from the residents.
Like many in the town, I am angry at the execution and result of the new garbage contract. Other issues such as staff turnover, and lack of responsiveness to standing committees makes me question why this contract renewal was not more transparent.
To summarize, approve the one year renewal but I ask that you proceed with an objective review that is more transparent of Carl’s performance so we can positively move forward as a town.
That’s All Folks,
A Champion for Public-Private Partnerships
Here is the Letter Staff Members signed in support of their manager. Only thing missing is the corresponding hostage video.
The way the Town Crier covers performance issues of a City Manager differs greatly between Los Altos and Los Altos Hills. The coverage of the Los Altos removal of a City Manager was focused on the facts surrounding the performance of their City Manager and the city council’s discussion, even though it was citizens of Los Altos driving that debate. The Los Altos Hills coverage is mainly focused on the debate of citizens and not the performance issues of our City Manager. The paper is purposely trying to show the shiny object (the debate amongst citizens) and NOT the performance mistakes over the years of our City Manager.
As TTAGS has stated many times, this is a performance-based discussion and not a personality-based focus. To highlight this double standard in reporting, following is the most recent Town Crier article annotated with our observations.
Los Altos June 9, 2021 Town Crier Article
Staff turnover debate deepens divide among Hills residents, council recall effort brewing
The volume of emails is overwhelming, missive after forwarded missive either condemning or supporting Los Altos Hills City Manager Carl Cahill. Although residents have debated the rate of town staff turnover for months, some as part of an attempt to demonstrate how Cahill’s management style has forced employees to leave, the barrage of emails intensified when town planning and building director Zach Dahl sent the city council an email explaining his decision to resign and accept a position with the city of San Mateo.
The storm of emails that followed, each magnifying the division between two competing factions in town, include at least two from town residents who announced they are part of an effort to remove newly elected Councilmember Linda Swan from office because they believe she is essentially serving as a puppet for her husband, John Swan, a fierce critic of Cahill’s.
“Discussions are underway about how to recall Linda Swan since her husband is directing her to enable his agenda,” Bridget Morgan wrote in an email to the Town Crier.
Former town Planning Commissioner Jim Basiji sent a similar message.
Within his May 28 resignation letter, Dahl said he planned to remain at town hall for at least three to four years – up until approximately six months ago.
“Unfortunately, the proliferation of this very public campaign to force out Carl by any and all means necessary gave me pause, and forced me to begin exploring career alternatives,” Dahl wrote. “There is a hostile work environment at Town Hall right now, but it is not of Carl’s making … it is the result of the words and actions of those outside of Town Hall.”
Cahill’s current contract with the town expires June 30, and a series of closed-door council meetings conducted this year were meant to weigh his performance and help the council decide whether to sign a new contract. But he announced his resignation in April, before council members could reach a decision. He has offered to continue working through Oct. 29.
Although Dahl did not name any individual or group in his email, he likely referred to residents whose grievances against Cahill include his handling of the town’s controversial 15-year, $50 million Greenwaste Recovery garbage contract and the construction of a port to protect maintenance equipment; a contested, $3.5 million town hall expansion; proposed staff salary increases; disagreements over the use and development of a town park; and staff turnover.
John Swan leads TTAGS, “Townspeople for better Transparency Accountability Governance and Safety/Service.”
“Our City Manager’s consistent and desperate tactics to vilify residents and taxpayers who are simply seeking transparency and accountability should be a huge red flag to current council members and residents,” John Swan wrote in an email to the Town Crier sent last week. “Even after he has stated he will retire, the City Manager is still trying to rewrite the narrative and soliciting letters that reveal his hand in helping drafting them. His common theme, placing the blame for every fiasco that occurred during his administration on anyone but himself, has cost the taxpayers of the town millions of dollars. This behavior strongly suggests that he does not have the town’s best interests in mind.”
John Swan later admitted he could not concretely prove Cahill orchestrated Dahl’s letter, and Dahl denied he wrote it at anyone’s behest.
City Clerk Deborah Padovan has recently fielded numerous California Public Records Act requests from both residents and this publication for statistics about staff retention. The average rate of turnover gleaned from the documents varies depending on which fiscal years are examined. A list Padovan provided the Town Crier June 1 did not include several names. A subsequent list Padovan provided Friday revealed the average staff turnover for the last three complete fiscal years, 2017/2018, 2018/2019 and 2019/2020, during which an average of 24.87 staff positions existed, is 29.55%.
The differences in the two lists, Padovan explained, is due to a miscommunication among city departments. She said the lists were pulled from the town’s payroll system and that it’s possible a filter wasn’t selected during the first pull.
Padovan bristled upon hearing accusations town staffers intentionally tried to mislead people.
“We don’t have anything to hide,” she said. “We are a small town, and people leave for different reasons.”
Cahill said he doesn’t consider turnover excessive considering the small size of the staff; the lack of a competitive, defined contribution plan for employees; and the lure of more prestigious positions with larger municipalities.
“I think this is just a smoke screen for a political issue, knowing the people involved,” he said.
In a March 18 email to the city council, however, town Finance and Investment Committee member Allan Epstein noted Nichol Bowersox, former Public Works director, and Kaho Kong, a former senior engineer, departed earlier this year within approximately a month of one another.
“As you have been informed, they did not leave because of lack of advancement opportunity, job dissatisfaction, or uncompetitive salaries or benefits,” Epstein wrote. “They left because of dissatisfaction with how Town employees are treated. They are clearly not the first.”
John Swan said he requested a closed-door council session with Bowersox and Kong after their departures, and both shared their experiences.
Bowersox, in particular, has been propped up as the poster child of discontentment. When the Town Crier repeatedly tried to schedule an interview with her, however, she repeatedly rescheduled and then didn’t respond.
Councilmember Stanley Q. Mok offered potential explanations for Bowersox’s reluctance to go on the record.
“I did speak with Nichol after her departure, and it would be better for her not to comment” to reporters, Mok said.
He described Bowersox’s statements about town management as “very aggressive” and said she has accepted a position with CSG Consultants, a Foster City firm that contracts with the town for sewer improvement projects.
Mok ran for office last year as part of a three-person slate with Jay Sutaria, who lost the election to Lisa Schmidt by one vote, and Linda Swan. The slate sought to create a majority on the five-person council, which now includes Mayor Kavita Tankha, Vice Mayor George Tyson in addition to newcomers Linda Swan, Mok and Schmidt.
Cahill’s supporters speak
The Town Crier asked Dahl last week about his resignation. He said TTAGS’ formation contributed to his decision to leave, but that he began thinking about departing in the fall when the Mok-Sutaria-Swan slate formed and hostility toward staff members also increased.
In September, Parks and Recreation Committee member Nina Sutaria, Jay Sutaria’s wife, falsely accused a staff member of stealing $250,000 in grant money by recommending available funds go toward constructing a community meeting space at Purissima Park. Nina Sutaria and other Parks and Rec members desired the construction of a multipurpose community site instead. Facing pressure from the council, Nina Sutaria later resigned from the committee.
“The reality is (TTAGS) wasn’t formally created or launched until the beginning of March, but those individuals have been attacking staff and kind of creating this tone since the election,” Dahl said.
When Dahl’s May 28 letter was forwarded throughout town, residents who support Cahill, including former Mayor Courtenay C. Corrigan and Duffy Price, applauded its contents.
“I agree with all of Zach’s points about the creation of a very toxic situation by miscreants, who obviously didn’t anticipate the second-order consequences of their actions,” Price wrote in an email. “While we all may not share the same assessment of the Town Hall situation, it is my feeling that it is incumbent upon those who contributed and created this very toxic situation to help resolve it.”
In jest, John Swan subsequently referred to himself as “Mr. Miscreants” in email correspondence.
Despite Cahill’s intention to extend his employment agreement through Oct. 29, some members of the council hope to sever ties sooner.
During the May 20 city council meeting, Linda Swan requested pulling a resolution that would have solidified Cahill’s contract extension. The resolution text described reducing the town’s severance pay obligation to the city manager should he continue to work past June 30. But Tankha told her colleague removing the item was not necessary because Tankha awaited a response from the city attorney regarding the resolution.
Linda Swan did not respond to a Town Crier email inquiring why she asked to pull the agenda item. Tankha declined to share the nature of her question to the city attorney and stated she generally does not comment on her private discussions with him.
Mok, however, supplied a possible explanation why some council members might object to allowing Cahill to continue at his post.
“The longer this occurs, the more uncertainty our people have about their jobs, and that’s not a good thing,” Mok said.
Mok acknowledged he and Linda Swan may not be able to accomplish their objectives anyway.
“The slate was not able to get into place on the council,” Mok said. “We ended up with Lisa Schmidt, and George Tyson and Lisa actually support the city manager. And I believe Kavita supports the city manager as well. So we can’t get anything done.”
Council members are expected to review the resolution about Cahill’s contract at their June 17 meeting.