August 4th Town Crier Article

Residents demand role in LAH manager search

By Megan V. Winslow Staff Writer/

If Los Altos Hills City Council members entertain a persistent constituent request, candidates interviewing to serve as the town’s new city manager could face direct resident scrutiny.  Several Hills residents participating in a listening session with executive recruiter Gary Phillips last week described their desire to serve on a select panel that helps the council weigh job applicants. Currently, that panel merely exists as a proposal, and Phillips attempted to temper expectations by listing the potential negative consequences of such an approach.  But he said he would ask council members about the idea. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing to have a community panel if it can be managed to a small group of folks and we can manage confidentiality in such a way that it won’t concern potential candidates,” he said. Council members have repeatedly stated they want to ensure transparency throughout the process of selecting outgoing City Manager Carl Cahill’s successor. They’ve solicited residents’ feedback through both an online survey and through the July 26 Zoom session Phillips  presided over.  Phillips kicked off last week’s virtual proceedings by describing the kind of information he needs to conduct a candidate search. “I definitely want to hear from you guys’ perspective, what makes Los Altos Hills special and unique, what are some of the issues and challenges that the new city manager is going to need to deal with?” he said. Recruiting a candidate Only 20 or so people tuned into the hour-long meeting.  Those who spoke said they want Cahill’s replacement to focus on fire safety, crime and proposed housing legislation that could increase the density of their town.  He or she must be proactive, shrewd at negotiating, fiscally conservative, communicative and appreciative of the town’s rural atmosphere. The new city manager must also “stop the bleeding” of town  staff members seeking employment elsewhere, Bob Sandor told Phillips. “First of all, you have the ability to right the ship, OK?”  Sandor said. “A lot of us understand that we have a problem.  We’ve been suffering very high  staff turnover due to what we see as current lack of management skills.” Although never directly referring to Cahill by name, the meeting participants referred to projects they fault him for, including the town’s 15-year, $57.3 million garbage contract, which the council approved in 2019, and its two-year, $186,000 landscaping contract, which the council approved in May; the value of the contracts is orders of magnitude higher than what residents are willing to pay.  Cahill and other staff members have described the pool of contractors willing to take on Hills projects as shallow, but some residents, including Rajiv Bhateja, believe they waited too long to obtain competitive bids. “How are we getting into these situations?” Bhateja said last week. “We would never dothat with our own money, at home, so why is the town doing that with our money? We really
would like to see some account-ability there. We want to see a regimen of the town’s resources in that area. In my mind, taxpayer money is sacred, and the town should be managing it in a way that respects that.” Los Altos Hills is approximately halfway through the hiring process, Phillips said. With the application deadline set at Aug. 13, the council will likely select a candidate within weeks.  He or she should be ready to begin work by the end of October, a timeline that coincides with Cahill’s Oct. 29 departure. To view a recording of the July 26 meeting and take the survey, visit the town website at /2021-City-Manager-Recruitment.  The survey is available through Aug. 13, and results will eventually be available on the website.

TTAGS’ Comments…..

Town Crier, thank you for covering this story.   Hiring a city manager that is competent and forward thinking will be the most important decision for our town for years to come.

As opposed to your July 28, 2021 article titled; Hills council to pick city manager within weeks, this article was more balanced.  In your 7/28/21 article you stated,  “Former planning director Zachary Dahl left in June and cited the “ongoing campaign of mean-spirited accusations and hostility” toward Cahill and other staff members as one of the driving factors of his decision to seek employment elsewhere.”

Really?  Residents were creating a toxic work place environment?  What you failed to mention was that for over 5 years our ANNUAL staff turnover rate has been north of 25%.  You also failed to mention that Mr. Dahl interviewed for this position BEFORE TTAGS was ever formed.  You also failed to mention that legal costs associated with staff issues has been dramatically increasing over the past 3 years.  Why is this happening?  Who is being investigated?  Why do you continue to ignore that our city manager was the creator of this toxic workplace environment that has (and will) cost LAH residents millions of dollars?

On a positive note, you now seem to be focused on the future.  Thanks again for informing our community.  We, TTAGS, want LAH residents to become more involved in the process to choose our next city manager.  This is an important process is and recommends that a Citizens Advisory Committee be formed to tap into the vast expertise our residents have.  We have residents that have managed Fortune 50 companies.  They have hired thousands of employees and know what it takes to create a positive workplace.

We also do not think previous council members should be on this advisory committee.  They covered up for management incompetence in the past for years and should not be part of this advisory group.

The LetterSubject: Council Special Meeting Agenda for March 18, 2021Hi Deborah,Please attach this letter to the Council Special Meeting Agenda for March 18, 2021.Thank you.Best,AllanMayor Tankha, Council members,

In the last month two staff members have resigned, Nichol Bowersox, Public Works Director and Kaho Kong, Sr. Engineer.  As you have been informed, 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 my count, 28 employees have left the Town in the last five years, which 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.

Keeping the best employees is an essential part of managing a successful organization.  High turnover is an indication of low employee satisfaction.  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.

Dissatisfied former employees are poor ambassadors for the Town and make recruiting good employees more difficult.  Exit interviews can provide information on the reasons why employees seek employment elsewhere.

  • Recommendation: Conduct a Post-Exit Employee Survey

Town should hire an independent HR consultant to conduct an anonymous Post-Exit Employee Survey and report the results directly back to the Council. An external consultant typically has several advantages over an internal interviewer, including expertise in exit interviewing and a complete lack of bias, so he or she is more likely to produce reliable data.   Such a survey could be completed for less than $5000 and a qualified consultant is available.

Survey Goals: (Taken from a Harvard Business Review Study)

  1. Uncover issues relating to HR.
  2. Understand employees’ perceptions of the work itself.
  3. Gain insight into managers’ leadership styles and effectiveness.
  4. Learn about HR benchmarks (salary, benefits) at competing organizations.
  5. Foster innovation by soliciting ideas for improving the organization.
  6. Create lifelong advocates for the organization.


Look forward to the Council taking meaningful action to address this continuing problem.



Allan Epstein

The Comparison of Staff Turnover

Update: April 28th 2021Statement from Los Altos Hills Mayor Kavita Tankha

Los Altos Hills City Manager Carl Cahill has advised the City Council of his intention to retire from his position of City Manager effective as of October 29, 2021. Carl started work with the Town in 1999 and served as Planning Director before being appointed to the position of City Manager. Carl has served as City Manager for the Town of Los Altos Hills for fifteen years.

As Mayor and on behalf of the City Council, the City Council appreciates Carl’s 22 years of service to the Town and its residents. Carl and the dedicated staff he has managed have provided thoughtful analysis and recommendations to the City Council, the Planning Commission and Town Committees, and we wish Carl the very best.

The City Council will now commence a process for selection of a new City Manager. We anticipate that process will take four to six months to complete. This process will start with issuance of an RFP to select a recruiter followed by a nationwide search for qualified candidates who will assist the City Council and staff to continue to implement the Town’s goals and priorities and to identify innovative ways to continue to provide excellent services to our Town residents. Los Altos Hills is an exceptional Town to live and work in and the City Council looks forward to finding a City Manager who can serve the needs of our diverse and engaged community.

Resignation Letter from Carl Cahill can be found:

Cahill Memo announcing retirement final (PDF)