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Views of Hills city manager continue to divide residents

A faction of Los Altos Hills residents intent on forcing the termination of the town’s city manager doubled down on its efforts last week through both public comments made during council meetings and social media posts encouraging others to speak out.

City Councilmember Linda Swan is leading the charge from the dais as her husband, John Swan, does so from the private sector. During discussion of multiple agenda items council members considered at their regular meeting Thursday, the Swans sought to publicly add to a growing dossier of grievances some residents have against City Manager Carl Cahill. They often compared his recent actions to those that led to the renewal of a contentious 15-year, $50 million contract between the town and garbage hauler GreenWaste Recovery; as council members continue to conduct Cahill’s routine performance evaluation, the Swans and others aim to convince them to vote against renewing Cahill’s employment contract.

In a move Vice Mayor George Tyson called an upsetting and “stunning rebuke,” Linda Swan on Thursday called for her colleagues to officially reprimand Cahill for issues that arose when town staffers last May constructed a tractor port to protect an assortment of Public Works Department equipment from weather.

Permits were not secured prior to construction, the structure resulted in a setback encroachment requiring a Planning Commission variance and the total project cost, $62,659.91, exceeded the city manager’s signing authority of $25,000, Linda Swan said. She also alleged Public Works Department staff who completed the work were not properly trained to do so, making the town potentially vulnerable to liability should injuries have occurred.

“I don’t think this is a case of ‘all’s well that ends well,’” Linda Swan said to Cahill. “You’ve been city manager for 15 years, and it seems to me the procedures for doing this should have been followed.”

Mayor Kavita Tankha broke the brief period of awkward silence that followed by uttering an “all right” meant to move the discussion along. She instructed Cahill to remember that even though the project came in under the $80,000 the council approved as part of the 2019-2020 annual budget, he can’t expend above his signing authority by piecemealing costs without council authority.

Cahill said he understands that and takes full responsibility for any “procedural errors.”

“We fixed it,” he said. “We took care of the problems. I really applaud our Public Works maintenance staff. They really wanted to do this in-house, save the town money, and they did.”

Tankha, Tyson and Councilmember Lisa Schmidt have thus far remained steadfast in their support of Cahill. Schmidt said she is satisfied the project came in under budget without any remaining problems to fix. The three voted in favor of accepting Cahill’s report on the project. Linda Swan did not. Councilmember Stanley Q. Mok said Cahill deserved to be punished via a monetary fine, probation or additional supervision, but abstained from voting.

Private-sector assault

John Swan is responsible for publishing ttags.org (“Townspeople for Transparency, Accountability, Garbage contract, Safety & service"). The website calls for residents to apprise themselves of town issues, sign a petition urging council members “to align our town management so the needs and values of our Townspeople are met,” tune into Zoom meetings about issues and watch TTAGS-created videos.

A YouTube video TTAGS posted April 12 features former town Mayor Gary Waldeck interviewing Jim Cogan, former Paso Robles assistant city manager and current managing partner of an agriculture-related, Silicon Valley startup.

“A group of us believe the town is in a key inflection point in history,” Waldeck said. “We want to look back at the guiding principles that were followed when our town was formed.”

During the 46-minute exchange, Waldeck prompted Cogan to compare his own city management experience with Los Altos Hills practices. Cogan shared some insight, but he did not go so far as to criticize anyone.

By Friday, the video had acquired 41 views.

At one time, John Swan envisioned a webinar with Monte Sereno City Manager Steve Leonardis. In a March 14 email exchange with Tankha, he requested a copy of the town’s list of resident email addresses, the list staffers consult to provide alerts of official town events residents have elected to hear about, so he could advertise the webinar.

The town does not share such lists, Tankha told him.

Leonardis did not immediately respond to a Town Crier request for confirmation he planned to participate in a TTAGS webinar.

Another former Hills mayor, Michelle Wu, posted a prompt to residents on Nextdoor, encouraging them to speak up during the public comment portion of Cahill’s performance review, a special meeting that started approximately an hour before Thursday’s regular council meeting. Aside from the public comments, the review unfolded during a closed session unavailable to the public, as is protocol.

Wu instructed residents to select from eight questions she prepared, including ones about the garbage contract, the town hall addition some residents don’t want and staff turnover, especially where it pertains to departed staffers of Asian descent.

“Is (Cahill) the only option and best option to manage this affluent town with poor internet, crumbling infrastructure, and lacking a resident community center?” read question No. 6.

Wu did not speak during either council meeting Thursday, but she submitted an agenda supplement summarizing the issues she raised on Nextdoor.

Planning Commissioner Jim Waschura provided the closing verbal comments for the special meeting.

“I’m disappointed that, from my view, a small group of people are continuing to feel it’s Carl who is responsible for decisions made by past city councils related to policies they don’t agree with,” he said.

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