Keene Goes to Palo Alto

By Judith Scherr
Thursday July 03, 2008 - 09:56:00 AM

Jim Keene, city manager in Berkeley from 1996 to 2000, has a new gig: On Sept. 2 he’ll become city manager of Palo Alto, with a yearly salary of $240,000. 

Keene, currently a Rockridge resident, told the Palo Alto Daily News that Berkeley’s active citizenry had made it “a complicated community to work in” but said the experience prepared him to work with Palo Alto’s highly engaged residents. 

Among the battles Keene fought in Berkeley was zoning. He rewrote the General Plan to allow highrises along the city’s commercial corridors, said City Councilmember Dona Spring, who was also on the council during Keene’s tenure.  

“But that didn’t go anywhere, although it raised a hullaballoo,” Spring told the Planet, adding, “I liked him. He was upbeat. He had a lot of enthusiasm.” 

He was able to “improve the culture” of city staff, giving staff more training and creating a positive atmosphere, Spring said. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington often clashed with the former manager. In May 2000, the Daily Cal quoted Worthington as saying: “The city manager is obsessed with the buildings and not dealing with people issues like health, homelessness, housing and education.” 

Keene left Berkeley in 2000 to take the job of city manager in Tucson, where he stayed for four years. There, according to Tucson Assistant City Manager Karen Thompson, writing in the on-line “Downtown Tucsonan,” he “led the way in bringing developers and investors to the city center.” 

Keene left Tucson to become executive director of the Sacramento-based California State Association of Counties, where he worked from 2005 to 2007, before becoming director of strategic issues at the International City and County Management Association. 

Before becoming Berkeley’s city manager, Keene was county manager for Coconino County, Arizona. 

Keene told the Palo Alto Daily Review that he plans to stay in the Palo Alto position for a decade. While Keene has stayed in each of his city manager positions for four or five years, City Manager Phil Kamlarz said that is not unusual. Most managers stay about three and a half years, he told the Planet.