Almanac

News - September 28, 2011

Ongoing reassessment of spending a priority for Woodside council candidate

by Dave Boyce

Horseman, investment banker and longtime Woodside resident Tom Shanahan is running for an open seat on the Woodside Town Council in November.

Four seats are open and four candidates are running. Barring a write-in candidate's winning on Nov. 8 in District 3, currently represented by soon-to-retire Councilwoman Sue Boynton, Mr. Shanahan will take her place.

"My interests are in maintaining the rural character of Woodside, especially as it relates to horses," Mr. Shanahan told the Almanac in an email message asking him for his priorities as a council member.

Among his other priorities: strict, courteous and timely enforcement of zoning laws, competitive bidding for government projects, outsourcing as an option to keep in mind for some government functions, and a budget process that regularly questions a program's existence, not just whether to increase or decrease its share of revenues.

"You do not assume that a program, in its entirety, is viable," Mr. Shanahan said in a telephone interview. The question: "Do we need this entire function?" needs to become a routine inquiry, "sort of an ongoing reassessment," he said.

This question defines "zero-based budgeting," Mr. Shanahan said, a notion he said he has used as a business executive "to offset the natural tendency of all organizations to expand in programs, staff and spending."

So governments should be run like businesses? "I'm not sure I'm in love with that concept," he said. "Governments have a broad set of responsibilities to taxpayers. A single-minded focus on the bottom line is not appropriate."

Asked whether Town Hall has demonstrated expansive tendencies, Mr. Shanahan replied that when he moved to Woodside 30 years ago, there were three or four people on staff. "We have expanded and built a bigger organization. I'm not aware that the (town) boundaries have changed."

Whether the current staffing is "good or bad" in terms of numbers and functions are questions he said he is not ready to address.

Outsourcing will be an option on his mind, though. He said he has been reading about Atherton, which by the end of September will have laid off its entire building and public works departments staffs and will have brought in contractors to do their jobs, the intent being to reduce the cost of government for a cash-strapped town.

Cash-strapped does not describe Woodside, with its healthy and longstanding reserve. "Consistent with what we're reading about other towns, services can be performed on a contract basis and sometimes (can be cheaper)," Mr. Shanahan said when asked to elaborate. "We have an obligation to the taxpayers to consider all the options. I see it as something to be continually considered."

In replying to a question about how he came to run for a council seat, he mentioned with some admiration Councilwoman Boynton's 12-year tenure and the need for someone to take up her role. "I don't want to say that I was drafted," he said. "I think I was contacted as part of a search to see if I would be interested. Doing something for the community on a voluntary basis is a good thing for everybody."

He has attended five to 10 Town Council meetings since 1980, he said. He has also served on the Trails Committee, is longstanding member of the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County, a search-and-rescue organization, and is a board member and treasurer of the Horse Park at Woodside at 3674 Sand Hill Road.

"I wish I had more experience on the town committees," he said. "I think my neighbors thought that in District 3, with my education and business background, I would at least be a quick study and a source of fresh thinking on the council. I hope they're right."

Polo player

Mr. Shanahan, 65, is married and the father of three children, the youngest of whom is 17. He owns five polo horses and has been playing polo for about 10 years, he said. He also shoots clay pigeons and has a model railroad that occupies two of his horse stalls at home, he said.

He is the head of West Coast investment banking at Needham Asset Management, LLC, on Sand Hill Road and is a general partner. He was the chief financial officer and co-founder of Agile Software Corporation and the CFO at SBT Corp., DG FastChannel, Inc. and Sherpa Corp., according to his bio at Needham's website.

He has degrees from Stanford University and the Harvard University business school, where he was a Baker Scholar, and served as an officer in the First Infantry Division in Vietnam, according to the bio.

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