Los Altos Hills Town Hall rides employee turnover wave

Los Altos Hills Town Hall
Megan V. Winslow/Town Crier
The afternoon sun casts long shadows outside Los Altos Hills Town Hall. Since last August, eight employees have left their jobs with the town, a not insignificant number on a staff comprising 22 full-time and two part-time positions.

Los Altos Hills residents who haven’t ventured to town hall in recent months should notice a host of new faces, thanks to a recent surge of staff departures and hires.

Since last August, eight employees have left the town, a not insignificant number on a staff comprising 22 full-time and two part-time positions. The most recent exit manifested approximately two weeks ago with the departure of Public Works Director Allen Chen.

Those in the know, however, describe the trend as cyclical.

“Yeah, we have turnover, but, to me, that’s pretty much the same as it’s always been,” City Manager Carl Cahill said. “If you’re hiring on a regular basis, you just know there’s going to be a certain amount of turnover.”

Reasons given for leaving have varied: growing families, the pursuit of a career in law enforcement, a cross-country adventure, the desire to work on commercial projects – of which Los Altos Hills has none.

“These are all lifestyle changes,” Councilman Roger Spreen said. “It’s sort of a coincidence it all happened at a similar time, though I will say we are facing the same issue that a number of towns in Silicon Valley have, which is lifestyles are getting tougher. Commuting is getting more ridiculous. And we’re in a town where most of the staff – if not all the staff – can’t afford to live here.”

Spreen guessed at least three of the resignations were related to frustration over long commute times.

Since 2011, the town employee handbook has provided the benefit of working flexible hours outside the traditional 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule – alternatives include 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. – but it’s only in the past few years that employees have regularly taken advantage of the perk, according to Cahill.

“In the past, when commutes weren’t so bad, I think people were more open to doing a regular, 8-to-5 schedule,” he said.

The city council in February seemed to recognize the growing challenges to employee retention when council members at a goal-setting workshop selected “improve employee value proposition” as a top priority to consider in coming years. It ranked just under “maintain public safety,” the highest priority, and alongside “pathways” and “road maintenance” in importance.

“It’s not like we said, ‘Oh, my God. Here’s a problem and we need to improve it,’” Spreen said. “I think what we were saying is that in looking at our longer-term time span, five to 10 years, let’s bear in mind that we need to think about what is it that will attract high-caliber people here.”

New faces

New to the Los Altos Hills town organizational chart since August 2017 are utility engineering manager Nichol Bowersox, administrative clerk/technician Cody Einfalt, administrative clerk/technician Silba George, assistant engineer Jeremy Koch, recreation specialist Chris Knopf, assistant planner Jeremy Loh, administrative services director Kelly Mayes and assistant planner Dylan Parker.

And thanks to expanding town services leading to the creation of new positions, there are still four slots to fill – building inspector, finance manager, public works director and senior planner – though Cahill expects to have all but the public works director position squared away within the next two weeks.

“I’m really happy with the team we have in place right now,” Cahill said. “It’s a very qualified group.”

Among the newest additions to the team is Mayes, a CPA who relocated to the Bay Area from Kodiak, Alaska, where she served as that city’s finance director. Mayes’ husband is an active member of the military, and the couple moved to Alaska from Alabama in June 2015 when he was transferred.

Mayes’ route to Los Altos Hills proved a fortuitous one: Her husband happened to sit next to Councilwoman Courtenay C. Corrigan last summer on a flight to Virginia. He told Corrigan about their plans to move to the Bay Area, and he took her card in case she could help Mayes with her eventual job search. When Mayes contacted Corrigan earlier this year, her timing happened to coincide with the departure of Pak Lin, former administrative services director.

Mayes said she misses Alaska’s abundant wildlife, including its majestic coastal brown bears, and the California sunshine has proved an abrupt change from Kodiak’s barrage of rain, ice and snow. But joining a staff of 24 after working among approximately 200 Kodiak employees is a pleasant adjustment.

“I’m getting to see a lot of different things that I didn’t do before and that I’m enjoying a lot,” she said. “And all the people here are so nice.”

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