News - November 30, 2011

Portola Valley: Defining ideal candidate for town manager

by Dave Boyce

The search for someone to take over for outgoing Portola Valley Town Manager Angie Howard has begun in earnest with the Town Council's approval on Nov. 9 of a recruitment brochure, now circulating.

"Straddling the infamous San Andreas Fault," the brochure begins under photographs of peaceful — and upscale — rural scenes, "the Town of Portola Valley values its environmental heritage, excellent public schools, and lean Town government, supported by a multitude of volunteers."

Ms. Howard announced in June that she will be retiring in April. The recruiter, Heather Renschler of Ralph Andersen and Associates near Sacramento, is seeking finalists for the council's consideration in late February, with an offer likely in early March and a choice by mid-March.

The recruiting materials, of course, underwent some refinement.

A draft by Ms. Renschler for council review on Oct. 26 sought someone with "genuine concern" for the town's quality of life who is also an outstanding and forward thinking leader and manager with strong business acumen, skilled at blending innovation and creativity, has unquestionable integrity and ethics, is superior in communicating, and sets an example for open and responsive interactions with others, the public included.

The ideal candidate, the draft continued, "will have a proven track record as a confident and innovative leader who is comfortable operating with an active and involved citizenry (and) will provide options and solutions on an array of topics, always addressing in an open and transparent fashion."

"We left out walking on water," Mayor Ted Driscoll said in opening the discussion with Ms. Renschler.

The brochure described someone "who doesn't exist," Councilman Steve Toben said. "The question is whether all this fluff, all this idealization, will deter people. Maybe this is the way of the public administration world and people are used to reading this kind of fluff."

The draft was meant to evaluate the council's reaction as to which characteristics are most important, Ms. Renschler replied. It's a broad appeal to catch the attention not just of other town managers but also department heads in the public and private sectors who see themselves in at least some of those traits, she said.

Having heard that, the council added a few traits of their own:

• Leadership during a catastrophe should be a top priority, given the wildfire and earthquake risks in Portola Valley, Mr. Toben said.

• The town needs a manager who will stay and not use the job as a stepping stone to a larger enterprise, Mr. Driscoll said.

• The town is proud of its leadership on environmental matters, Mr. Driscoll said. But as a bedroom community for Silicon Valley and Stanford University, "we don't want a Luddite for a town manager," he said, referring to a 19th century group of radical English textile artisans who opposed the Industrial Revolution.

• Candidates should be aware of the town's "very small size (and) very involved populace," Councilwoman Maryann Derwin said.

The level of involvement is self evident in the number of committees (17) that advise the council, Ms. Renschler noted. "That's quite unusual," she said.

"I have been receiving calls and inquiries even before it's on the street, so that's always a good sign," she told the council on Nov. 9.

Go to to view the recruiting materials.


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