Hills city manager announces retirement amidst residents’ effort to oust him

Updated, 8:30 a.m., Tuesday: Hours after the latest in a series of closed-door Los Altos Hills City Council meetings meant to determine his future contract with the town, longtime City Manager Carl Cahill Thursday announced his impending retirement. He will continue working until Oct. 29.

Cahill, 57, sent a memo to the council explaining his decision, which he said he reached last year.

Carl Cahill

“I’m proud of the (outstanding) accomplishments we’ve achieved together for the benefit of the Town, our staff and its residents,” he wrote, noting among them balanced budgets, the increase of property taxes and permit revenues, and improvements such as additions to the pathway system and the restoration of Westwind Community Barn.

He also praised town staff.

“With the onset of the pandemic, my desire was to help lead the Town and its residents through a period of great uncertainty,” he wrote. “I was so proud of the staff. Staff came together as a team and we kept the lights on at Town Hall and continued to provide our core services.”

Cahill was hired in 1999 as Los Altos Hills’ planning director. He has served as the city manager for the past 15 years.

The abrupt announcement follows mounting efforts by some residents, including former mayors Michelle Wu and Gary Waldeck, to force the city manager’s retirement or to influence the council to vote against renewing his contract.

John Swan, husband of newly elected Los Altos Hills City Councilmember Linda Swan, led the informal group. Its members blame Cahill for a controversial garbage contract renewal agreement the city manager spearheaded. They’ve criticized him about his leadership, claiming he’s forced town staff turnover, has pushed for projects like the town hall expansion that they feel prioritize staff over residents, and even allege he allowed crime such as burglaries and mail theft to increase.

John Swan sought to encapsulate all of this frustration by describing the campaign with a single acronym, TTAGS (“Townspeople for Transparency, Accountability, no more Garbage contract fiascos, Safety and service improvements”).

In an interview with the Town Crier in March, John Swan compared the division in town between those who support Cahill and those who don’t with “a civil war.”

Officials, residents weigh in

In preparation for determining whether to renew Cahill’s contract, the city council officially reviewed his performance five times, starting in January. Public comments preceded each closed-door meeting.

John Swan did not speak Thursday during the public portion of the latest session, but several other residents on both sides did.

Planning Commissioner Jim Waschura and former Hills Mayor Courtenay C. Corrigan urged the council to move on and focus on more pressing matters such as fire safety and state-mandated housing requirements that could mean increased residential density in town.

“I think the residents have to eventually look at the characters behind this assassination,” she said, calling out a slew of residents she believes are responsible, including John Swan, Wu and Waldeck. Each has publicly encouraged other residents to join them in their efforts to push Cahill out.

“Shame on you for making this environment a toxic place for the rest of our employees,” Corrigan continued. “It has really reached its limit and I hope our council will find a way to put an end to it immediately and focus on the way more important work we have to do in town.”

Vara Ramakrishnan compared Los Altos Hills to Atherton, which she said has leapt ahead of her town. She read from City Manager George Rodericks’ biography on that town’s website.

“‘George serves as the chief executive officer for the town, responsible for leadership of the organization and implementation of city council policy,’” Ramakrishnan said. “This is not a statement I would see anyone attributing to Carl, and that’s what my concern is. People don’t see him as the CEO of this town. He doesn’t see himself as CEO of this town. He hasn’t interacted with residents in that manner, and that’s my concern.”

Next steps

A press release issued by current Mayor Kavita Tankha thanked Cahill for his work and indicated replacing him will likely take four to six months and involve the issuance of a request for proposal and a nationwide search.

Cahill’s memo stated he plans to cooperate with the process.

“While I recognize my current contract with the Town has an expiration date of June 30th, I am prepared to continue in my role as City Manager through October to ensure continuity of service until the new City Manager takes over,” he wrote. “I will continue to uphold the honor and integrity of this office and perform the City Manager duties set forth in the Los Altos Hills Municipal Code.”

John Swan issued his own statement Friday.

“TTAGS certainly hopes that the hiring process is transparent and all residents that wish to be involved in the search and decision process can contribute their talents to help find a creative, innovative and qualified city manager that we can all agree is the best possible candidate for the position,” he wrote. “We wish Carl Cahill a happy retirement.”

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