The City of East Palo Alto is in deep, deep trouble. If EPA was an NFL Team, we would be operating without a permanent head coach, a defensive coordinator, an offensive coordinator, and only have half of the roster spots filled up with rookies, washed up veterans, and only a few solid starters. Right now, I see a City that has junior people working in senior roles that they are not qualified for. I see many departments with unfilled leadership positions and lacking in senior, experienced staff. I see staff hired during the pandemic who have been overly comfortably working from home in San Jose, and have spent little or no time in EPA. These staff are often clueless both about EPA residents and miss important events on the ground, whether it be mistimed traffic lights, homeless encampments, or even a school doubling in size without doing proper community outreach and traffic studies.
Let’s start from the top - current open leadership positions at the City of East Palo Alto include:
· City Manager – Jaime Fontes was let go when City Council chose to not renew his contract in March. The City Manager is a critically important position, the Chief Executive in the City of East Palo Alto. Assistant City Manager Patrick Heisinger is the Acting City Manager while a search for a full-time city manager takes place.
· Public Works Director – Kamal Fallaha has been on leave for over a year. The Director of Public Works is in charge of streets, bridges, park maintenance, and other infrastructure. Not having an engaged Public Works Director hurts the city in a multitude of ways, especially in negotiations with other cities on cross jurisdictional issues. EPA needs to have senior leadership representing the city in these meetings.
· City Clerk – The City parted ways with Walfred Solorzano last year and has not hired a replacement. The City Clerk is in charge of meeting notifications, administers elections, and does a variety of other important administrative functions.
Police Chief – Albert Pardini retired last year, and has not been replaced. It is a curious decision to not hire a Police Chief given EPA's history regarding crime.
· City Attorney – Rafael Alvarado quit during the OPA controversy in early 2022 and his position has not been filled. Many have argued that EPA does not need a city attorney and it would be more cost effective and best practice to continue to use a contract attorney.
· Rent Stabilization Program Administer – Victor Ramirez quit during the OPA controversy in early 2022.
Below top leadership level, East Palo Alto also has many unfilled staff level positions. These include:
· Police Officers
· Planning Department
· Engineering & Public Works Maintenance
· Environment & Safety
While the city has many challenges right now, in a very real way these many open positions at leadership and staff level is a real opportunity for the city to improve city staff if hiring is done right. On the other hand, if we screw up hiring at this critical junction, we will be stuck with bad leadership and bad staff for the foreseeable future.
I have over 25 years working as a recruiter, and my free advice to the city would be:
• Hire a recruiter We should have a full-time recruiter working directly for the city who knows EPA backwards and forwards. A recruiter running a good hiring process will make the difference between hiring unqualified people and highly competent employees who will move the city forward.
• Pay competitive salaries. Hire fewer people that are experienced & competent and pay them more. The City had $100M in the bank the last time I checked, and was running a healthy surplus in recent years. Pay for talent both in hiring the best new employees and retaining current city staff.
• Take an "All of the Above" approach to hiring. Use a variety of means to attract talent including LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and older sources like Dice and Monster.
One thing needs to be stated clearly: City Council bears the responsibility for allowing our City to fall into such poor shape. City Council has pursued radical, divisive, and unpopular agendas instead of focusing on the nuts and bolts of local government. Things should never have gotten this bad and city residents need to hold our elected leaders accountable for this gross failure.
There are lots of immediate challenges in front of the City of EPA and I am rooting for our success in surmounting in what are - hopefully - temporary staffing problems.