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By Erin Glanville

About this blog: While state and federal politics dominate the headlines, local issues have an enormous impact on our everyday lives. This blog will attempt to shine a light on topics of public interest and facilitate greater participation in the ...  (More)

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Walk The Talk: A Missed Opportunity For Leadership In Menlo Park

Uploaded: Nov 14, 2013
It recently came to light that 20 department heads from the City of Menlo Park went to Half Moon Bay for a two day staff retreat with a total cost to the taxpayers of $11,412. Having worked in management for the high tech industry, I know there is value in getting out of the office to focus a team on strategic planning and cross-functional communication. I get that. This, however, is not an inconsequential sum of money and residents will undoubtedly debate whether or not roughly $570 per employee in attendance was the best use of our increasingly burdened tax dollars.

What is more interesting to me, however, is that in making the decision to travel to Half Moon Bay for an offsite, City of Menlo Park senior staff lost two important leadership opportunities. First, City Staff could have been a role model for keeping dollars in our local economy. Ironically, the City of Menlo Park is one of four partners behind the Shop Menlo Park initiative. (The other partners are the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, Hometown Peninsula and The Almanac). As described on the Shop Menlo Park website, spending dollars locally helps local businesses and builds a stronger, more prosperous community. They point out that for every dollar spent on a locally owned business, 68 cents stays within the Menlo Park community. Using that metric, I'm sure that local business owners would have welcomed the $7,760 infusion into our local economy. Had Staff chosen to hold an offsite meeting at a local hotel conference room or eaten at one of our downtown restaurants, they would have demonstrated that Menlo Park itself is a desirable destination point while walking the walk and talking the talk of a program they helped initiate.

Sometimes, off-sites are designed to get away from the conference table and to do positive team building through an outside activity. I've participated in dozens of off-sites myself during years of private sector and non-profit experience. Here again, if the goal was team building, City leadership had an opportunity do something that might have also had a positive impact on the community. Nancy Kato, Chief People Officer at Marin Software and formerly Senior Vice President of Human Resources at TiVo and Ariba, says she "likes to see companies and governments do their off-sites at local non-profits by working as a team to make the community better. We (Marin Software) will be providing free training at The ARC San Francisco and our other sites will "adopt" a local community non-profit. The employees identify the community non-profit and the tasks so it's from the ground up, not a mandate from up high. Such activities speak to the heart and culture of a company and are done for those reasons, not for PR or a photo opp." There are terrific opportunities to team build while making a difference close to home, including the VA, Art In Action, InnVision, Rebuilding Together and JobTrain.

Not everything has to be always altruistic all of the time. But when you are a leader AND when you are in a position of public service, it is incumbent on you to think about the example you are setting because you're setting an example whether you mean to or not. There was an exciting opportunity here that was lost. That is something to think about.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by OneBDay, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:06 am

When looking at the numbers, I thought $570.00pp for two days of meals is not bad. Then I read the percentage amount that would NOT go back in to Menlo Park local businesses. $7,700.00 in two days is huge! That sort of influx to a small business in a high rent district is the difference between staying open or closing.

Another great article. Thank you!

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 12:18 pm

This is a thoughtful column, Erin. I'm not a resident of Menlo, so I won't comment on the cost. However, I've seen Stanford Univ. save lots of money, and put it into the local economy, by having their offsites much closer to campus in recent years. While it's not the whole change of scenery thing, the settings are still lovely, they're convenient, they're local, so less disruptive for those with families, and again - the money goes into local economies.

I'm glad at least the Menlo folks still were somewhat local, but it could've been immediately local, most likely, and still a great offsite. I'm thinking Quadrus, The Stanford Park Hotel, etc (but of course I don't really know their requirements). But perhaps they'll read this column and make a different decision next time.

Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on Nov 15, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

I don't have a problem with offsite retreats. But this raises other questions.

Was the City Council aware of this?

Were any council members in attendance?

When was the retreat?

Was there an agenda available for Council to see?

Was there a facilitator? If so, what was that fee?

What was the result?

Posted by Sarah, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Nov 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm


You hit the nail on the head! Great thinking.

Posted by Sarah, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Nov 16, 2013 at 7:29 pm


You hit the nail on the head! Great thinking.

Posted by Peeved, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 18, 2013 at 7:43 pm

City Council was not aware. Nor were they informed about the recent retreat and wine tasting in Napa Valley that Cherise Brandell arranged for the Community Services Department coordinators. I can think of better ways to develop team building and leadership skills. How much wine did our City employees get paid to drink?! If only there were some decent wineries in Menlo Park the City employees could have gotten drunk on tax payer dollars right here in town. Not that I blame the coordinators, they were just doing their jobs. Cheers!

Posted by Erin Glanville, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 8:58 pm


Thank you for reading and responding. I did check into the point you raised. The information I have as of now is that, according to Ms. Brandell, there was a Community Services retreat on November 1st that was held at the Yountville Community Center for the purpose of team building and skill building. She states that the only costs were for meals and transportation.

Posted by Peeved, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:36 pm

The Menlo Park staff also spent much of their team building and skill building sampling wines at Artesa winery during their day long retreat. I'm sure the winery would have a record of their visit - and how much money and time was spent there.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Gosh, for wine tasting why didn\'t they just go to AutoVino in Menlo? Web Link

Posted by Long Time Menlo Man, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Nov 19, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Peeved - You seem to know a little too much to be an outsider. Were you there? What else can you tell us?

Posted by Peeved, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:10 am

I can tell you that I do not want my tax dollars being spent to send City Managers on the types of excursions mentioned in the article, or wine tasting trips - be they in Menlo Park, Half Moon Bay or Napa Valley. Teamwork and Leadership are nice buzz words to throw around while catching a buzz.

Posted by Long Time Menlo Man, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 12:36 pm

I've lived here 40+ years and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the cost in Half Moon Bay was probably cheaper than the same event in town. C'mon, think about it. And I can tell you, I want my City Manager to seek the cheapest, best solution.

Posted by Local Lee, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 20, 2013 at 8:36 pm

We have a retreat center right here in Menlo Park. I wonder why it wasn\\\'t used.

Posted by The sandman, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 7:08 am

The issue isn't Half Moon Bay. The issue is sandbagging the council.

Posted by Peeved, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 21, 2013 at 7:45 am

The Council is on a need to know basis; this is just another one of those things that the City Manager doesn't want the City Council or Taxpayers to know anything about. Communication, transparency and leadership have been sorely lacking at the City of Menlo Park.

Posted by lesson not learned, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Nov 9, 2014 at 8:01 pm

City staff did it again.

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