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Palo Alto adds 'chief communications officer' to leadership team

Original post made on Apr 17, 2013

Palo Alto added a new position to its leadership team this week, tapping a former California State University executive to serve as the city's first "chief communications officer."

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:14 AM

Comments (44)

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Posted by Do-PR-Officers-Ever-Tell-The-Truth?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 9:27 am

> The new position comes with an annual salary of $175,000.

With all of the costs of employment--the cost-to-employ this person will be over $225K a year!!!

There is already two communication's "officers" employed by the City already. The total cost for "communications" will be over $500K.

What's interesting is that other than the word "transparency"--there doesn't seem much information in this article about what this person will be doing. Wonder if she will be required to create a work plan?

Oh, and by the way--anyone know what the so-called Business Development Manager does? Keene's "leadership" team now is costing the taxpayers between $2M and $3M in salaries and benefits. There is virtually nothing in the public record to explain their activities. Given the secrecy of the Arrillaga project that offers to destroy downtown--it's hard to believe that this new employ will be doing much in the way of shedding light on this awful project.

What are these people doing that a well-managed web-site could not do?

Given that the PAUSD has just hired a PR person--it's clear that Palo Alto is about to enter a new "dark age" of public information transparency.

Sad, really sad!


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Posted by Do-PR-Officers-Ever-Tell-The-Truth?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 9:29 am

> There is already two communication's "officers"
> employed by the City already.

Should have been:

There are already two communication's "officers"
employed by the City already.


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Posted by Astonishing
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 17, 2013 at 9:36 am

We could have had an improved web site for that money. Mr Keene's bad reputation and alliances with developers may need some help to improve his image but this is proof, if any was needed, that he needs cover-ups more than transparency.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:17 am

This seems astounding! Yet another permanent eternal drag on Palo Alto's already-challenged resources to allow the city management to be able to "communicate".... This seems a task that one of the substantial staff of the city might be able to accomplish?


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Posted by long time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:39 am

Wouldn't the money have been better spent on an ombudsperson?


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:40 am

Another headline today comes to mind "Hope dims for Palo Alto".

We will never, ever, balance our budget at this rate.


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Posted by longtime resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

Will this be like Miki's Market, where the communication is just one direction until the results can no longer be ignored (and too late to undo the damage)? Or will, hope beyond hope, this mean we effectively have an ombudperson?

Can anyone enlighten on our new communications' officer's history from CSU?


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Posted by John Galt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

You notice we are only let in on the latest giveaway after the fact!
Another de facto spending spree!
Tax and spend, the motto of the Left!!


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Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:55 am

Let's see, did she RETIRE from CSU? Double dipping?
So tired of all these multiple 6 digit salaried positions, feeding at the public trough!

I'm with resident, longtime resident, and John Galt.


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Posted by Sandy
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2013 at 11:09 am

I can't believe they have hired yet another communications officer for $175.00 while we have two others. Does anyone in this city think anything through - I don't think so. They always jump before the gun goes off. I don't want to hear that the city can't balance their budget. They just keep raising our garbage, water, recycling, etc. rates to offset hiring overpaid employees. When is this going to stop? They waste, waste, waste and we end up paying for it. That money could have been used to improve the City's website which is awful.


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Posted by DC
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2013 at 11:22 am

1. City leadership talks about decreased monies available for infrastructure needs, the desire to rethink costly pensions (not their own), to be transparent and involve the citizenry in the decision-making process.
2. Then city leadership decides - w/o input from citizenry - to build a "gateway'" pedestrian bridge over 101 but does not have the funding for it. Do you, leadership, spend your own money this way? Just because it isn't yours doesn't mean you can be irresponsible with it. YOU didn't earn it. Shame on you.
3. City leadership fails to understand the ridiculousness of HSR for the existing rail corridor. Have they not seen recent television programs illustrating this debacle in other states? Who cares if there's federal money for it? You want to spend money that could be better utilized for other things just because you CAN? Is that how you handle your personal finances? Bizarre construct. It's not real, and it's OUR money. Leadership should tell Washington what we REALLY need that money for; INFRASTRUCTURE. Or build HSR along another corridor from Seattle to LA with that money. Or, here's a thought, give it back to Washington to decrease the deficit.
4. City leadership, w/o input, has now hired a third bureaucrat with yet another pension to do what grownups should be able to do for themselves; communicate effectively and be transparent??! What part of this makes sense?


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Posted by Do-PR-Officers-Ever-Tell-The-Truth?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 11:49 am

Here is a little insight into how Ms. Keith dealt with Calwatchdog's request for executive compensation in the past--

Web Link

When CalWatchDog.com requested the total compensation for all 23 executives, a Cal State spokeswoman told us to find it ourselves.
"The information is publicly available and included on 990 forms for each president and the chancellor that are posted on each campus website, as well as on the chancellor office website," said Claudia Keith, Cal State's assistant vice chancellor of public affairs.
CalWatchDog.com followed Cal State's instructions and found another CSU effort to obstruct the public's access to information. Cal State's IRS documents are nearly three years old. The most recent IRS Form 990 available on the CSU Foundation's webpage is for July 1, 2008-June 30, 2009.
It's not hard to predict that "go look it up yourself" will be the likely response to local newspapers and public requests for information.

This choice of a person to increase "transparency" does not look good!


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Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2013 at 1:06 pm

What a horrible waste of money - especially for a job that has no objective metric for success. I would be very happy to see this cancelled.


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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm

Why bother with this position? They never listen to anything we have to say. Maybe they could assign this ridiculously highly paid person to read our comments here.

Maybe she can send out lots more useless malings and gizmos like the Utility Dept. FEH.


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Posted by Homeless
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:05 pm

Welcome, but I like to manage my own freedom of speech.Maybe she works with computer issues? Who does she represent in communication? I assume the city, bc she gets paid by them. 175K of tax payers money is a lot. Could be used to house many homeless . Communication manager...hmmmmm? For who?


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Posted by anony
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:32 pm

The city already has Debra Katz and Linda Clerkson as its spokespersons, why is a third person necessary? I suspect the city wants more favorable news stories about the accomplishments of its employees and council members. At Monday's council meeting, Pat Burt was whining that the press wasn't writing about the city's switch to sustainable green energy sources. He complained that they would rather report on stories about people jay-walking. Maybe this new spokesperson will pressure the local papers into writing about more things Pat Burt thinks are important.


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Posted by Nick
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:48 pm

Wouldn't "Chief Propaganda Officer" be a more appropriate title? Ironic to spend $175k/year (which costs the city MUCH more when you include healthcare and lavish pensions) to have someone who will clearly primarily be used to justify high salaries and lavish pensions.

What a waste!


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Posted by BP Observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2013 at 2:54 pm

If you have doubts about this position, wait until you read about the next member of the "team" - "Chief Sustainability Officer"
Web Link


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Posted by Byzantium
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

> "Why bother with this position? They never listen to anything we have to say. Maybe they could assign this ridiculously highly paid person to read our comments here."

The job of a PR flack is not to listen, but to publish press releases, which may or may not contain the truth. Often their job consists of glossing over bad news.

City Hall is like a Byzantine court.


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 17, 2013 at 4:28 pm

No need for pressure-- the weekly will gladly write the stories the council wants. Given the favorable coverage of the council in the pages of the weekly, I am not sure why Burt is complaining.


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Posted by lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 17, 2013 at 5:00 pm

It used to be that the Chief Communication Officer was the City Manager. Unfortunately, we have a city manager who lacks any substantial communication or leadership skills. Senior Management and general management positions have skyrocketed to unsustainable numbers since the current city manager has detached himself from offering any leadership on city matters and outsourcing his responsibilities to lower level management. Why local print media simply reports and fails to investigate on the costly upsurge of the number of management positions and the ballooning costs to resident taxpayers is unfortunate. This ticking time bomb of salaries and management benefits with the increase of management positions is clearly unsustainable. The continued hiring of unemployed friends of the city manager to lucrative high salary senior management positions is disgraceful and a slap in the face to Palo Alto residents. What a pity!


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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 17, 2013 at 5:23 pm

Lazlo- do you really expect the weekly to nvestigate he shenanigans with the council and management? That would be biting the hand that feeds them.
Ocassionally they will do an article whentheynthink resident outrage s high ( I.e the recent article about building n the city). . But they will never assign blame to any members of their beloved council.
Instead we usually get articles like this
Web Link
Fawning stories about the council.


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Posted by bill
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm

In her job description Ms Keith does "strategic communications planning, issues management and public policy..etc." Whatever these duties are, will they take a full time person to do them?

I think she could productively use her time reading the blogs rather than sit at a desk writing silly PR documents.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2013 at 7:26 pm

During the last budget cycle, the city manager & council cut animal services staffing, and police staffing - part of that was to hire this person, as well as the "Chief Sustainability Officer". Amazing what the priorities are.

And what happened to the "Assistant to the City Manager for Sustainability", costing the city $150,000 per year?


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Posted by John
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 17, 2013 at 8:14 pm

You can't make this stuff up--unbeleivable


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Posted by Carrie
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Another parasite with our money! Hope we see some results and accountability!!


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Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Organizations generally add top level positions when they realize that they are inadequate at doing their own jobs.


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Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2013 at 10:47 pm

James Keene is world champion of self promotion and spin!! Hands down. I wish one media organization would investigate how many managers and positions have been added to the CPA payroll the last 15-20 years, that have no real service purpose to the people of Palo Alto. The City managers office alone has expanded like a giant deer tick!
"Promoting transparency" I think Keith's first task of order should be disclosing fully exactly what the City Manager and Assistant City Manager are really and honestly paid and what their FULL TRUE benefits are. EVERYTHING! Housing loans, vehicles, deferred comp, bonus's, incentives, travel, tuition and professional fees, insurance, vacation days credited, sick days credited, etc.
It's like PT Barnum around here with these managers! Self promotion at its shameless and any cost goes attitude. Nobody really seems to notice or question the amount and to what degree some depts in the City have expanded by. "Chief Communication's Officer" only in Palo Alto!!! Sounds like a position BP Oil would fill to spin to community how great a job BP is doing cleaning up and giving back to the communitynafter their massive oil spill in the Gulf.
How about actually spending budget money to deliver services before providing self service for the City Managers Office! And I'm sure this position will soon get a administrative assistant assigned to her and so on, more costs.
The City is reducing police, fire and basic City services that actually provide safety and quality of life pluses to the people, and instead making more unneeded positions.
The tick is just digging in deeper!! Will it ever stop growing? And will anyone notice it's the City Managers spoon which is feeding this monster?


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Posted by disillusioned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2013 at 11:19 pm

As outrageous as this is, it's not surprising. Anything can happen
here- it is out of control. As the City spirals down, they need more PR. This is classic response.


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Posted by Neal
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2013 at 6:51 am

A $175,000 a year spin doctor? You got to be kidding.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2013 at 9:57 am

Reading this thread, and most of the others on this site, one can easily see why this City position is absolutely necessary. Palo Alto NEEDS a flak-catcher.

Palo Alto s a lovely and affluent place, but SO ANGRY and so insular.

It's residents seem to have no perspective at all...They are focussed on blaming the elected officials they elected, on zoning (though they created/approved the zoning plan) ---- when CLEARLY there are serious social problems in the community, i.e. racial intolerance and problems among the City's young people.


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Posted by Hyperbole is not helpful
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

I don't think PA Online contributors are representative of Palo Alto population who, in a recent survey, expressed a great deal of satisfaction with the city. PA Online DRAWs the crotchety malcontents who love to anonymously flame others and throw around misinformation.

There are plenty of good folks in this town; though I'll say PA Online does a disservice to the community by giving anonymous voice to ugly, misinformed diatribes. This discourages public service. Who would want to run for office or serve on a commission and be regularly publicly blasted like this?

If we want good representation, we need to be more disciplined about civility and be careful with the FACTS. Note that I will NOT sign my name here because I don't want to be targeted by others who choose to attack anonymously. If EVERY PA Online user had to share their identity, I bet the communications would be less shrill and more carefully fact-based because writers would write less hyperbole that might mar their own reputations. PA Online would feel like a safer place to have honest conversations about the issues. At present, I don't feel comfortable revealing my identity because I feel I'll be targeted for my viewpoint. It has happened to me and others here many times.

It's really too bad. Nonetheless, I don't think this is a good way for the city to spend money right now.


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Posted by Wilson
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2013 at 10:59 am

> I don't think PA Online contributors are representative of
> Palo Alto population who, in a recent survey,

This survey, run through the office of the City Auditor, does not ask meaningful questions, and generally does little more than provide a series of "smilely faces" as indicators of satisfaction of the residents. There are never any meaningful questions in this survey. There are never any questions that provide meaningful feedback about the survey responsdents understanding of budget, or structural financial isssues facing the City. In short, this survey is meaningless--outside a few questions about streets, refuse pickup, and other superficial topics.

And, this survey, generally doesn't sample very many people.

For better, or worse, the Weekly blog is about the only place in town where people can blow off a little steam, and tell it "as it is"!


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Posted by Are you kidding?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2013 at 11:26 am

This is outrageous! I'll definitely remember how our elected city officials are squandering our tax money!! I will NOT vote for anymore tax hikes or bonds!! Citizens of Palo Alto: Exercise your rights! Take back control of our City! Remember this in the next election!


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm

I don't remember any pre-discusson about this. That this council allowed this to happen proves that it is incompetent, two-faced, secretive, and can't 'manage the store'. What about a recall....or can we even get people to to run for office? What is the new Chief of Public Safety Coordination or whatever is doing other than attending conferences to see what other citis are doing being the mouthpiece at community meetings to upset residents who are scared of being robbed? City Council---are you asleep at the wheel????


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Posted by Old Crank
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 18, 2013 at 3:07 pm

"Already" appears at least twice in the same sentence of some of the earliest comments. To this, and to the hiring of the communications director, I say, "enough already!"


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Posted by seigneur de l'Enfer
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm

PR is and always was a joke. It is usually lies and euphemisms.

A semanticist might be better in this position, given the various cultures here.

Best of all, though, would be no PR position at all, since no one over the age of twelve takes it seriously anyway.


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Posted by Kate
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 18, 2013 at 8:39 pm

In the years I have lived here, I've never been 'surveyed', and I don't know anyone else who has been asked about anything. This survey is a joke. I suspect the names are carefully selected from the 'insiders' and 'upper tier' inner circle.


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Posted by joe
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm

just make your tax checks out to jim keene and his executive team, doing whats in your interests costs money


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Posted by Make up your minds
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 18, 2013 at 9:39 pm

As much as I don't agree with the building of the 7th floor Keene-dom, you all asked for this. A common theme through most of these topics is we need more communication and why weren't we informed. Well now there's another Chief on the 7th floor to while there are fewer and fewer Indians doing the real work.


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Posted by Response required
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2013 at 10:36 pm

I was never surveyed either. This online forum is a better survey
and represents people who understand what is happening to our City
and are concerned, upset, frustrated. This is not a sidelight or game. Our City is in drastic decline.


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Posted by Taxpayer & Voter
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 19, 2013 at 1:49 pm

What a waste of tax dollars. Don't come knocking for a new bond issue anytime soon. I predict the city will keep raising utility rates to cover such extravagant, unnecessary expenses.


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Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 19, 2013 at 8:05 pm

Here's the PA Weekly article from last year on the budget: Web Link

They cut $450,000 from animal services by cutting staffing; notice no mention that the money would be used to hire a "chief communications officer" or a "chief sustainability officer".

Meanwhile the city manager is back east collecting an award on "Transparent government"...


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Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 20, 2013 at 11:15 am

I very much hope Palo Alto's new chief communications officer wasn't the one who crammed they mayor's announcement of her hiring with such gobbledygook as "transparency," "add capacity," "proactive" and "work across boundaries." If she was the author, I suggest her job title be changed to "chief obfuscation officer."


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