Excerpts from Jean Mordo’s Letter to the Town Crier Editor in the June 16, 2021 Edition follow. It should be noted that people and performances change over time. How our CM worked when Mr. Mordo was on the LAH council does not seem relevant to his actions over the past 5 years. Residents of Los Altos chose not to reelect Mr. Mordo for City Council for a reason(s). People and performances do change.
Former LAH Mayor Regrets Endorsements
Reading about the situation in Los Altos Hills in the June 9 Town Crier, I am extremely disappointed with several people who took advantage of my friendship (“Staff turnover de–bate deepens divide among Hills residents, council recall effort brewing”).At the request of Linda Swan and Stan Mok, who are people I considered as friends and thought of as reasonable, I endorsed the slate. They valued my support because as past mayor, having served eight years on the council, my endorsement was a plus. What a mistake I made endorsing three, including one I did not know at all!I……
Town Crier Coverage is not consistent….The Los Altos Hills’ coverage is mainly focused on the “divisive debate” of citizens and not the poor performance issues of our City Manager. The paper seems to be trying to create distracting shiny objects (e.g. the divisive debate amongst citizens) and NOT focus on the substance, which is the performance mistakes over the years by our City Manager. Often times when people don’t like the facts, they create distractions! Who has the power over the paper’s coverage to change the title and emphasis of the June 9th printed version versus the digital version of the article?
As TTAGS has stated many times, this is a performance-based discussion and not a personality-based debate. To highlight this double standard in reporting, following are excerpts from the most recent Town Crier article annotated with our observations. Our annotations are in RED.
Los Altos Town Crier Article – June 9, 2021
Staff turnover debate deepens divide among Hills residents, council recall effort brewing (Note…the original title in the printed copy did not have “council recall effort brewing” in it….Why is that? – A new shiny object for the digital version?)
The storm of emails (define storm of emails – recall effort was listed as two residents) 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. Ms. Morgan seems to be the self-proclaimed leader in this 2-person effort to recall Councilmember Swan. Ms. Morgan’s actions of the past are suspect. Previously, Ms. Morgan accused Councilmember Swan of illegally sharing information from a special closed council session. She was wrong. It became obvious to everyone, including the Town Attorney, that the information was easily deduced using Boolean logic from public information. Now, Ms. Morgan is saying that Councilmember Swan is being directed by her husband to enable his agenda. She does not know Councilmember Swan and has not talked to her since she was elected. What century is Ms. Morgan living in? It seems the height of misogyny to promote the idea that she cannot weigh the evidence presented to her and make her own decisions. It shows that, even today, women can be misogynistic and sexist.”
“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. See note above.
Former town Planning Commissioner Jim Basiji sent a similar message. (Jim Basiji, who previously served a partial term as a Planning Commissioner, but is currently only on the joint Los Altos/Los Altos Hills Senior Commission, wrote a similar email, without any evidence of his allegations just like Ms. Morgan. The Town Crier, you are giving a voice to two people who have made things up. TC, focus on the facts!)
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.
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. (Here is a more complete list of the mistakes our CM has made over the years…..)
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 ….. 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.”
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.” Great, you have nothing to hide! So why are councilmembers instructed not to interview recently resigned staff and current disgruntled staff? Are Freedom of Information (FOI) requests being redacted like the recent staff turnover FOI or is it just incompetence? Will staff salaries be published like other cities do to see if we are overpaying for some positions? Was there a Grand Jury inquiry that the CM responded to without councilmember review or input? Were the Tractor Port documents doctored after the fact? Was embezzlement committed by a former staff member? What other staff-related problems are going on, like administrative leaves and personal leaves of absence, that councilmembers should be aware of?…..
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. What is the staff turnover rate at other cities similar to ours in size and functionality? We believe the data will show that we are well above the average.
“I think this is just a smoke screen for a political issue, knowing the people involved,” he said. The smoke screen is saying this is a “political” issue….NO it is a lack of performance issue!
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.”
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.
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. Odd…..this was not in Mr. Dahl’s original email. Supporters of our CM seem to be heavily weighted by former council members who covered up repeated mistakes of our CM. They seem to be doubling down on mistakes made by them to NOT hold our CM accountable for mistakes he made.
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.”
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.
Council members are expected to review the resolution about Cahill’s contract at their June 17 meeting.
June 3, 2021 – Letter to Megan Winslow of the Town Crier
A faction of Los Altos Hills residents intent on forcing the termination of the town’s city manager doubled down on its efforts last week through both public comments made during council meetings and social media posts encouraging others to speak out.
City Councilmember Linda Swan is leading the charge from the dais as her husband, John Swan, does so from the private sector. During discussion of multiple agenda items council members considered at their regular meeting Thursday, the Swans sought to publicly add to a growing dossier of grievances some residents have against City Manager Carl Cahill. They often compared his recent actions to those that led to the renewal of a contentious 15-year, $50 million contract between the town and garbage hauler GreenWaste Recovery; as council members continue to conduct Cahill’s routine performance evaluation, the Swans and others aim to convince them to vote against renewing Cahill’s employment contract.
In a move Vice Mayor George Tyson called an upsetting and “stunning rebuke,” Linda Swan on Thursday called for her colleagues to officially reprimand Cahill for issues that arose when town staffers last May constructed a tractor port to protect an assortment of Public Works Department equipment from weather.
Permits were not secured prior to construction, the structure resulted in a setback encroachment requiring a Planning Commission variance and the total project cost, $62,659.91, exceeded the city manager’s signing authority of $25,000, Linda Swan said. She also alleged Public Works Department staff who completed the work were not properly trained to do so, making the town potentially vulnerable to liability should injuries have occurred.
“I don’t think this is a case of ‘all’s well that ends well,’” Linda Swan said to Cahill. “You’ve been city manager for 15 years, and it seems to me the procedures for doing this should have been followed.”
Mayor Kavita Tankha broke the brief period of awkward silence that followed by uttering an “all right” meant to move the discussion along. She instructed Cahill to remember that even though the project came in under the $80,000 the council approved as part of the 2019-2020 annual budget, he can’t expend above his signing authority by piecemealing costs without council authority.
Cahill said he understands that and takes full responsibility for any “procedural errors.”
“We fixed it,” he said. “We took care of the problems. I really applaud our Public Works maintenance staff. They really wanted to do this in-house, save the town money, and they did.”
Tankha, Tyson and Councilmember Lisa Schmidt have thus far remained steadfast in their support of Cahill. Schmidt said she is satisfied the project came in under budget without any remaining problems to fix. The three voted in favor of accepting Cahill’s report on the project. Linda Swan did not. Councilmember Stanley Q. Mok said Cahill deserved to be punished via a monetary fine, probation or additional supervision, but abstained from voting.
John Swan is responsible for publishing ttags.org (“Townspeople for Transparency, Accountability, Garbage contract, Safety & service”). The website calls for residents to apprise themselves of town issues, sign a petition urging council members “to align our town management so the needs and values of our Townspeople are met,” tune into Zoom meetings about issues and watch TTAGS-created videos.
A YouTube video TTAGS posted April 12 features former town Mayor Gary Waldeck interviewing Jim Cogan, former Paso Robles assistant city manager and current managing partner of an agriculture-related, Silicon Valley startup.
“A group of us believe the town is in a key inflection point in history,” Waldeck said. “We want to look back at the guiding principles that were followed when our town was formed.”
During the 46-minute exchange, Waldeck prompted Cogan to compare his own city management experience with Los Altos Hills practices. Cogan shared some insight, but he did not go so far as to criticize anyone.
By Friday, the video had acquired 41 views.
At one time, John Swan envisioned a webinar with Monte Sereno City Manager Steve Leonardis. In a March 14 email exchange with Tankha, he requested a copy of the town’s list of resident email addresses, the list staffers consult to provide alerts of official town events residents have elected to hear about, so he could advertise the webinar.
The town does not share such lists, Tankha told him.
Leonardis did not immediately respond to a Town Crier request for confirmation he planned to participate in a TTAGS webinar.
Another former Hills mayor, Michelle Wu, posted a prompt to residents on Nextdoor, encouraging them to speak up during the public comment portion of Cahill’s performance review, a special meeting that started approximately an hour before Thursday’s regular council meeting. Aside from the public comments, the review unfolded during a closed session unavailable to the public, as is protocol.
Wu instructed residents to select from eight questions she prepared, including ones about the garbage contract, the town hall addition some residents don’t want and staff turnover, especially where it pertains to departed staffers of Asian descent.
“Is (Cahill) the only option and best option to manage this affluent town with poor internet, crumbling infrastructure, and lacking a resident community center?” read question No. 6.
Wu did not speak during either council meeting Thursday, but she submitted an agenda supplement summarizing the issues she raised on Nextdoor.
Planning Commissioner Jim Waschura provided the closing verbal comments for the special meeting.
“I’m disappointed that, from my view, a small group of people are continuing to feel it’s Carl who is responsible for decisions made by past city councils related to policies they don’t agree with,” he said.