The Transition with Alex McIntyre, City of Menlo Park

Posted on October 29, 2012

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The 3nd installment of The Transition highlights Alex McIntyre’s transition from Lake Oswego to Menlo Park, CA. Many of you may remember ELGL’s tribute to Alex (one of the clicked on links in ELGL blog history) when he announced his departure, for a refresher, here it is: 01.18.12 The Alex McIntyre Memorial.

Alex was one of the first ELGL speakers and was influential in ELGL developing to what it is today. Most importantly, Alex left a legacy in Lake Oswego of carrying out the often talked about but rarely acted upon issue of mentoring the next generation. In ten years, when ELGL is announcing its first Hall of Fame selections, Alex is sure to be a unanimous pick.

OK, so enough about history and onto the interview where Alex shares his experience in working with Facebook, favorite restaurants in Portland, and thoughts on Oswego Lake access.

So we’re guessing that this time of year you are happy to be back in California. Walk us through your decision to leave a full-service city in Lake Oswego for Menlo Park. Did it come down to one or two things?

Menlo Park and Lake Oswego are quite similar in size and services.  The only service I do not have in Menlo Park that I had in Lake Oswego is a Fire Department as well as sewer service.  Pretty much, everything else I have is the same.

My decision to leave was challenging since I feel that I had built a tremendous team of professionals attempting to the good work on behalf of all of the residents of LO.  Leaving the good people behind was the most difficult part of the decision.  However, I saw two conditions that I knew that I would not be able to positively affect – the eroding council relations and the fact that my partner continued to live in California (commuting to Portland on the weekends).  The public decision of the Mayor and Sally Moncrieff not to seek re-election were factors as well.

The choice for Menlo Park was rather fortuitous from a timing point to view.  As you know, you can only go to jobs when they are available, and MP became available last December.  I was familiar with the area since I had been a manager in a neighboring community.  MP is still king of the Venture Capital world, home to the innovative SRI (formerly Stanford Research Institute) as well as a neighbor to Stanford University, Sunset Magazine and the US Geographical Service (USGS).  And let’s face it, with Facebook’s recent arrival and the impacts that such an employer would have on our community was something not to pass up.

Take us through both ends of the spectrum – your final couple of days in Lake Oswego and your first couple of days in Menlo Park. What are you trying to accomplish in these situations?

My greatest concern about my last couple of days with LO was assuring of an orderly transition to David Donaldson and his leadership team.  Given some of the recent “whacks” at staff, also wanted to make sure that they were adequately protected.  Also, saying goodbye to all of the good people of LO.  That was quite difficult for me emotionally and professionally.

Arriving to a new organization as the new leader is always filled with apprehension and anxiety.  How will the staff receive me, what will the council expect from me, what does the community want from me?  Lot’s of “me” questions. Importantly, assuring the staff with their own apprehensions and anxieties that I’m going to be to work with and not take the organization in a whole new direction on day #1.  That comes with time, if at all.

For those of us who live in the Portland area, provide us with a restaurant recommendation in Lake Oswego and Portland.

People who know me know how important food is to me.  In Portland, there are too many great choices (Nostrana, Ken’s Pizza, Café Mingo, Sunshine Tavern, Accanto, Bar Avignon, Tasty & Sons, St. Jacks…).  In LO, not enough (Clark’s, Tucci, Zeppo’s)

The issue of access to Oswego Lake has been in the headlines since your departure. Are you willing to share your thoughts on the issue?

Candidly, haven’t paid a lot of attention to the Lake issue since I left.  Although, this had been a simmering issue in LO for decades.  My predecessor had talked about it at times with me.  With our line of work, there is always the “legal” and the “political”.  This is one where both needed clarity.

Sell us on the idea of bringing the ELGL annual conference to Menlo Park. What are the entertainment options? Best restaurants? Attractions? Would Steve Nicks or Joan Baez show us around?

Hmm.  It’s a long airplane ride to MP, but could certainly entertain you once you got here.  Seeing Facebook’s campus is truly awesome (and it is only going to get better once they break ground on their Frank Gehry designed West Campus, which is different from their East Campus, but to be linked via a people mover under the expressway).  Got to be seen to be believed.

If you arrived today, you could catch the train from MP to the SF Giant’s World Series game, or later, watch the America’s Cup races in SF Bay…oh, but wait, we are talking about MP.  Unfortunately, my brushes with fame (or the famous) are non-existent.

Describe the two biggest differences in managing a city in California as opposed to Oregon.

  • California is so much bigger that there are so many more resources to draw upon to do good things.  The sophistication of the organizations that support the local government industry are truly exceptional.
  • There are no citizen budget committees in California.  Enough said!

You were an early supporter of ELGL and one of our first speakers, what avenues have you found for mentoring the next generation in California?

The “Next Generation” initiative is alive and well here in California.  Through Cal-ICMA, I have had the chance to act as a Coach in speed coaching as well as make presentations to emerging leader groups.  Former Palo Alto City Manager Frank Benest is working diligently on keeping the “next generation” initiative alive. 

With Facebook being the largest employer in Menlo Park, what presence do they have in local government affairs? For example, does Mark Zuckerburg testify at Council meetings about his water bill being too high?

Facebook … such a complex, exciting, difficult, unusual presence to have in MP.  They arrived late 2011 and are having such an impact on our community in so many different ways.  FB is truly a 21st century organization (they didn’t even exist in the 20th century).  Their approach to the work that they do is so different from the tradition bound work that we do in public service.  I think we have a lot to learn from them.

When fully built out, FB will be home to approximately 10,000 employees.  Right now, I spend a good part of my week on FB related issues (either in their current campus or preparing/negotiating for their new West Campus).  While we don’t here from Mark Z (he lives in Palo Alto), the COO is building her multi-million dollar home in Menlo Park.  Also, how can you complain about a $125,000 water bill when you have billions of dollars?

We learned that Menlo Park prohibits parking between 2:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m on all residential streets. What’s the goal of the ordinance? Something other cities should consider?

 It’s all about public safety.

ELGL has formed into a nonprofit and now charges $20 dues. Your thoughts on the change?

Congratulations!  You are growing up as an organization.  The 20 bucks further legitimizes you.

Speaker recommendations: Give us three leaders in the Portland that ELGL needs to hear from.

I think you have covered all of the salient folks in the PDX area to talk to.

Give us three leaders in the Menlo Park area that ELGL would benefit from hearing from.Photo of Tom Kelley

Best book you’ve read this year:

The Greatest Journey – Americans in Paris by David McCullough

What’s on your “Recently Played” playlist on your iPod.

Last night listened to Christina Aguilera Pandora station while at the gym. Otherwise, NPR.


You were a recruiter in your past life, give us two tips for becoming more attractive to employers.

  • Be prepared for an interview; do your homework!! (note the 2 exclamation points)
  • Show some enthusiasm and passion for your career choice.

Final question – where will you be in five years?

At this point, too many options to consider for the future.  Still in the profession doing some good (I hope).

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