Mountain View Voice

News - January 1, 2010

Changing of the guard

Profiles of three city department heads who retired this week

by Daniel DeBolt

Human resources director Kathy Farrar started working for the city of Mountain View in 1971 as a 'junior typist clerk." She was only 20 years old.

"Some people think I'm crazy to stay in one place for 38 years," Farrar said.

Farrar, who is retiring this month, is often pointed to as an example of how a person can move up in the ranks of the city's government. Her "can do" attitude was noticed at the start, and she is remembered as someone who "never met a challenge she didn't like."

Among her jobs over the years in city hall, she has been the city's legislative analyst and director of the city's centralized document processing center. She has been the city's human resources director for 15 years, which means she has seen through numerous employee union contract negotiations.

Being a department head was Farrar's dream job, and now her departure is "an opportunity for somebody else," she said.

The longtime Mountain View resident says she will continue to work part time for the city, and will now spend her free time with her mother and her grandchildren.

Leading the library into the future

The Mountain View library was taken into the 21st century under the watch of director Karen Burnett, who is retiring this month.

"It's just been the most fantastic job I've ever had," Burnett said.

She won the Helen Putnam award for creating the library's after-school programs for teens. She worked with Google to fund and build the city's high-tech bookmobile, and made use of technology to automate book checkout and book returns, leaving staff more time to help library users.

City manager Kevin Duggan noted Burnett's efficient spending of city funds.

"We are serving more customers and checking out more material than we ever have with fewer people and less public cost," Duggan said.

He added that that's unusual because "library directors can be very much into their profession and not into efficiency and effectiveness."

Before coming to Mountain View, Burnett worked for the county library in Milpitas. Her first job was as a library page when she was in high school

"I always knew I wanted to be a librarian," Burnett said. "It's the satisfaction you get when you have helped people help themselves."

Burnett said she plans to work part time for the city for two to three months until a new director is found. She plans to spend more time gardening, mastering her drum set and being with her grand kids.

A leader of unsung heroes

Retiring public works director Cathy Lazarus has been running the most complex department in the city for 11 years, the one where employees endlessly repair roads, sewers and city buildings, and build all kinds of public infrastructure in the city.

Lazarus, 58, has directed the development of numerous important capital projects, including several Stevens Creek trail extensions. But her proudest accomplishment was the construction of new personnel facilities at the municipal yard on Whisman Road, a project fairly invisible to the public, but that improved "terrible" working conditions for those employees, Lazarus said.

Lazarus, who has a master's degree in planning from Harvard, was initially hired away from the county, where she filled several roles, including county deputy parks director. At one point, she was executive officer of LAFCO, the agency responsible for the creation of new jurisdictions and property annexation in the county.

Lazarus started in Mountain View as head of public services operations in 1995, a now-defunct department that was combined with public works. She took on the new department in 1998, and was able to develop high morale among employees despite her additional responsibilities, said city manager Kevin Duggan.

Perhaps her trickiest ongoing responsibility is the continued maintenance and regulatory compliance of the city's landfills in and around Shoreline Park, "which is very difficult to do these days," Duggan said.

Lazarus said that what she has liked most about Mountain View is how supportive the community is of public works projects, such as the water reservoir under the sports field at Graham middle school. Other cities are more "penny wise and pound foolish" about investing tax dollars in their infrastructure, she said.

E-mail Daniel DeBolt at ddebolt@mv-voice.com

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