City manager turns down pay raise

JIm Keene, Palo Alto City Manager
JIm Keene, Palo Alto City Manager

Update, Wednesday, Dec. 5, 5 p.m. — Jim Keene, who is retiring Dec. 20 after 10 years as Palo Alto’s city manager, is turning down a pay raise City Council had been considering, Mayor Liz Kniss said this afternoon.

“He felt that speculation about a salary raise at this point in time would distract from concluding his tenure with the city,” Kniss said in a statement.

Keene made $313,477 in salary and $152,302.81 in benefits last year, bringing him to a total of $479,994.73, according to Transparent California, a website that keeps track of government compensation.

Here is Kniss’ statement:

“The City Council has heard from several members of the community who have speculated about a possible increase in salary for retiring City Manager Jim Keene, and I wanted to provide an update. As is customary, the City Council met in closed session on Dec. 4 to discuss the evaluation and potential salary adjustment for Jim, as it does for all Council Appointed Officers. As you may be aware, Jim will be retiring at the end of the year as City Manager after more than 10 years of service to Palo Alto. During the conversation with Jim, and before the Council had deliberated on his evaluation, Jim let the Council know that he would voluntarily refuse to accept any salary increase were it to be offered.

“He felt that speculation about a salary raise at this point in time would distract from concluding his tenure with the city. He is more focused on highlighting the contributions of colleagues, Council and the community as he finishes his time in Palo Alto. The Council is appreciative of Jim’s leadership and dedication to our community, and we look forward to the opportunity to thank him publicly over the next few weeks as his career with Palo Alto comes to a close and he begins the next chapter.”

Earlier story published in the Daily Post Nov. 29:

City manager in line to get pay raise three weeks before his retirement

Daily Post Staff Writer

With three weeks to go until he retires, Palo Alto City Manager Jim Keene is up for a pension-boosting raise on his $313,477 salary Tuesday, he confirmed last night (Nov. 28).

The raise would apply retroactively starting July 1, city spokeswoman Claudia Keith said.

Because pensions are partially based on an employee’s salary at the time of retirement, the raise would increase the amount Keene would get for the rest of his life.

Keene said the council was supposed to finish its performance reviews for Keene, City Attorney Molly Stump, City Clerk Beth Minor and City Auditor Harriet Richardson on July 1 for the fiscal year ending June 30. But for unknown reasons the reviews, and the raises that follow, were put off until now.

“All of our 1,000-plus employees are reviewed and eligible for annual pay adjustments each year. The council is late in conducting that review for (fiscal year) 2018,” Keene told the Post in an email.

Keene last received a 5% raise in July 2017.

Keene made $313,477 in salary and $152,302.81 in benefits last year, bringing him to a total of $479,994.73, according to Transparent California, a website that keeps track of government compensation.

Ninth in pay for state’s city managers

That made him the ninth-highest paid city manager in the state last year when accounting for benefits and compensation other than base salary, according to the advocacy website.

Transparent California data shows that Keene made the eighth-highest base salary in the state last year.

He was topped by South San Francisco City Manager Charles Futrell at $314,094.40, Santa Monica City Manager Frederick Cole at $341,082 and West Hollywood City Manager Paul Arevalo at $337,528, among others.

Stump made $414,709.42 in pay and benefits, Minor made $199,259.51 and Richardson made $259,481.02.

‘Pretty self-serving’

Chris Robell, a resident of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, spoke out about the possible raise at City Council on Monday and later told the Post that he doesn’t think Keene deserves the raise.

“I think it’s pretty self-serving when you’re retiring in a month,” Robell said. “Everybody I talk to in Palo Alto rolls their eyes and thinks it’s outrageous.”
The closed-session discussion is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

Keene has been Palo Alto’s city manager for 10-and-one-half years. He had previously served as city manager in Berkeley and Tucson, Ariz.


  1. In a city with some of the most broken roads in the state, power lines that are unable to be put underground in less than a half century, and services that only respond to billionaires, this seems very ugly. The city council should stop kowtowing to developers and whinging about a supposed housing shortage and conduct some actual oversight! Reading a book about elementary supply and demand wouldn’t hurt them, either.

  2. I think the key point is regardless of what you think of Jim Keene’s performance:
    1) He is already at the top of the heap in terms of compensation relative to other city managers (making more than the Governor of CA), and
    2) The City of Palo Alto has serious financial problems, including many millions in unidentified cuts for the coming year and a >$600 million unfunded pension liability. Granting raises now to top paid leaders now will just exasperate this problem and is fiscally irresponsible.

    You would never do this with your own money!

  3. Daily Post and Allison L., thank you for investigating this! Great reporting!!!

    It looks like “pension spiking” that the entire council was complicit in. Council doesn’t care about worsening the pension deficit, just give Keene whatever he wants. How come this didn’t come up before the election?

  4. Absurd to consider giving him a raise when he should be giving us a refund for his failure to supervise the last 2 transportation managers and the cio for delivering late, flawed and/or non-working systems. In what reality should it take 8 years to synchronize the Paly light and shut it off when school’s not in session? How much time and money was wasted on the former CIO’s complain-reporting system where the complaints went no where? CUT his salary and benefits, don’t even think of giving him a raise.

  5. This is an outrage. With a salary of over $300,000, depending on how many actual years of CalPERS agency employment Keene has actually been employed, and depending on the number of years he lives after retirement, he could easily draw over $10M in pension payouts.

    Looking at this in $10K increments, this comes over $330,000 per year. So, if the City Council were to “spike” this man’s salary by $10K, then he would see an addition $330,000 over thirty years of retirement.

    This is outrageous.

    If the City Council can “spike” this man’s salary, then they can spike every employee’s salary.

    Anyone Council Member who votes for this should be recalled.

  6. Correction:

    Looking at a potential payout for someone exiting the City’s employment with a salary of over $300K, and not a police or fire department employee, such a person could start with a pension payout of about $240,000 the first year, with that person seeing over $460,000 a year by year 30 of his retirement. This comes to an average of about $330K per year. (Remember, someone on Social Security will receive between $14,000 and $30,000 per year.)

  7. I’ve heard said: We come in with nothing. We go out with nothing. This was written thousands of years ago, when greed was as prevalent as it is now. It doesn’t seem to make a dent at any age in time. Greed is greed. What can one person do with that much money except to feed his own lagging – or even less than lagging – sense of self-worth? I’d be ashamed if I were Mr. Keene. Just shows how really shallow he really is. Not a magnanimous man. One who cares more for others than for oneself. Give up your so-called raise, Mr. Keene. You don’t need it, but I can see quite readily that your ego needs it. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all of the time!

  8. This does sound outrageous and his salary is. But I believe the pension is based upon the last 12 months of salary so the increase 3 weeks before retirement should not have much of an impact.

  9. @Ken, the raise isn’t for three weeks. It’s retroactive to July 1. So it definitely will boost his salary.

    I agree with Wayne, if council approves this they should be recalled. The recall campaign will begin Wednesday morning.

  10. Based on today’s front page Post story, the Mayor is more concerned that the CC got caught trying to shove through this raise under the cover of darkness than in whether the raise was justified. Post, you did a nice job of reporting her quotes and I wish there were a link to it on your site so I could forward it,

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