This story was last updated at 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 20.
Los Altos City Manager Chris Jordan is resigning from his post effective Dec. 5, the city announced in a press release on Wednesday (Nov. 18),
The decision, timed two weeks after the general election, creates an immediate, pivotal responsibility for a new city council to hire a city manager who can lead Los Altos as it deals with the effects of the pandemic, several ongoing lawsuits and pressure from the state to build more affordable housing units.
Deputy City Manager Jon Maginot will take over as acting city manager while the city recruits an interim city manager and conducts an “extensive search” for a new city manager, the release stated. Jordan’s resignation will occur three days before the new council, with two new council members, is sworn in.
Jordan has served as city manager since April 2016.
Neither the press release nor Jordan’s resignation letter stated a reason for the decision, though the city and Jordan signed a separation agreement. In an interview, Jordan said he resigned after a monthslong conversation with the council and that it was “not necessarily” his decision.
“This was done after discussions between me and the city council, and the conclusion was that it would be best if I resigned at this time,” Jordan said. “We negotiated a mutually beneficial separation agreement.”
Jordan didn’t believe there was a specific reason that led to the parting of ways.
“It was the council’s decision to move forward at this time,” Jordan said, adding that discussions between him and the council began two months ago.
Jordan will receive a $183,821 severance payment, or nine months of his base salary, as part of the separation agreement. The city also will pay for his health insurance benefits for another nine months. He received two pay raises during his four-year tenure, the latest one coming last December when the current council increased his salary from $228,360 to $245,095. Jordan will have a year to pay back a $2 million loan provided by the city at the time of his hiring, which went toward purchasing a home in Los Altos.
Before taking the job in Los Altos, Jordan served as city manager in West Linn, Ore., for 10 years. He resigned from that role, too, in 2015 after disagreements with its city council following an election, and received a similar severance package.
Questions surround timing
As part of an amendment to Jordan’s employment agreement made last December, the council added the phrase, “City shall provide Jordan with a minimum of 30 days’ notice in writing” if they were to fire him to a section titled “Termination and Severance.”
Over the past couple months, the city council met with Jordan several times during closed sessions to discuss his performance review. Two members of the current council, Mayor Jan Pepper and Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, are termed-out after next week’s meeting.
Bruins said she appreciated Jordan’s service and commitment to the city, but otherwise declined comment. Pepper declined comment on the nature of the closed sessions, as well as whether Jordan’s resignation was forced by the council. In that scenario, the council would have needed three members in favor of removing Jordan.
“He can time his resignation whenever he wants, so he’s resigning now,” Pepper said.
Vice Mayor Neysa Fligor and fellow council members Anita Enander and Lynette Lee Eng didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Jordan has had at least a couple of documented disagreements with this council. Last October, five former mayors voiced concerns at a council meeting over the council's treatment of Jordan, after the city manager reportedly ignored a 4-1 vote to move the location of council meetings.
This October, the council expressed concern over an agenda item approved by Jordan regarding the city's design plans for a new Emergency Operations Center. When the council members instead began questioning the budget, priorities and size of the building, Jordan appeared frustrated, responding that he and staff had not expected the topics to be brought up.
"Mayor, if I may," Jordan said, addressing the council. "I am the emergency director of the city. That is my job. I believe this building is big enough. I have been in EOCs for years and years. I believe this building is big enough. Now, if the council wants it bigger, we can go bigger. But we believe this building is big enough."
Mary Prochnow, who served as mayor in 2017 and was on the subcommittee that interviewed Jordan for the job the year prior, said she felt “sorry for the community” regarding the timing of Jordan’s departure.
“The timing of this, I find inopportune at best,” Prochnow said. “To announce it immediately after an election, I think, is not being transparent to your community.”
Jordan’s employment agreement also states that he cannot be terminated following an election in which new members are elected to the city council until the following March, “thereby allowing new councilmembers adequate time to assess Jordan’s performance.”
Incoming Councilman Jonathan Weinberg, who will begin a four-year term Dec. 8, said in a statement that he was “saddened and surprised” to learn of Jordan’s resignation.
“His diligent, thoughtful and professional efforts on behalf of Los Altos will be missed,” Weinberg said.
Weinberg, who previously served on the Parks and Recreation Commission, thanked Jordan for his service and said he was “looking forward to collaborating with him.”
“To the extent that the present council was involved in Chris’ decision, I wish that the council had waited until the new council is installed," Weinberg said. "The next council will certainly take this matter up early in its session and work hard to hire a new city manager with the excellent skills and dedication worthy of the residents, businesses, staff and property owners in Los Altos.”
Sally Meadows, the other incoming councilmember, said she was also surprised
“The timing is awkward in the sense that the first thing we’ll have to do is look at filling the gap,” she said.
Meadows believed the current council could have instead made recommendations regarding Jordan to the new council, which is “going to be living with the decision.”
Leaving a legacy
During Jordan’s tenure in Los Altos, he was responsible for overseeing the design and construction of the $38 million Los Altos Community Center, the largest public facility to be built in the city’s history. He also helped develop the Downtown Vision plan and facilitated the partnership between Santa Clara County and Los Altos that could lead to the city’s first all-affordable housing project.
Jordan said building the community center, which is expected to be open next spring, was his proudest accomplishment as city manager. A ballot measure in 2015 – prior to Jordan’s arrival – that would have provided public funds toward constructing the center, failed overwhelmingly.
“The Los Altos Community Center is something that took years of effort before I arrived,” Jordan said. “The fact that we were able to, after I arrived, build a coalition and ultimately have it under construction is quite a feat.”
Jordan replaced Marcia Somers, who also resigned after a four-year stint. Prochnow said Jordan entered the job with a diminished city staff, and worked to hire several department heads and improve morale among staff.
Jordan called Los Altos a “tremendous community” with “some of the most community-minded individuals that I’ve ever been around.” When asked about items left unfinished, he pointed to the implementation of the Downtown Vision plan, which was adopted two years ago. He would like to see the construction of a downtown park or a theater.
“I view the new community center as being a family room,” Jordan said. “The downtown area could be the city’s living room. The next city manager, in the next five years, has a tremendous opportunity to do something downtown.”
Jordan said he hopes the next city manager will be ready to take on the task of several important projects such as the community center and the implementation of a new housing element from the state that will require some “real diplomacy” to work through.
As for himself, Jordan will seek another city manager position, in a community like Los Altos.
“I look for city manager jobs in communities I want to live in, that have a sense of a shared value system,” he said.
Prochnow, who served on city council from 2014 to 2018, recalled that the council at the time of hiring Jordan, which included Bruins and Pepper, respected Jordan’s commitment to be independent, and to tell the council if he believed they were going down the wrong path.
“We had that discussion with him and he told us that he was willing to risk his job to do that,” Prochnow said.