Nadine Levin retires after 20 years at City Hall
Assistant city manager's new goal: improv comedy
City Hall was in as much turmoil as it had ever been when assistant city manager Nadine Levin was hired in December of 1989.
The city was in the midst of a public works project boom. Castro Street was torn up for improvements, City Hall and the Performing Arts Center were under construction and a new library, fire station and light rail line were in the works. The upper management at City Hall was apparently under quite a bit of stress, partly from what appeared to be a City Council with interpersonal problems of its own.
Two city managers left within a year's time. Longtime city manager Bruce Leidstrand resigned and then, after only seven months on the job, Ralph Jaeck resigned in January of 1990.
It was in the middle of this turmoil that Levin was asked to be interim city manager, after only a month on the job. People questioned whether or not Levin was qualified, but Levin was confident that her previous two decades in management had prepared her, including several years as assistant city manager with the Town of Los Gatos.
Levin led the city through some difficult budget cuts in the first half of 1990, in which the city had to lay off five employees. Months earlier, one of the city's unions threatened to go on strike— the Service Employees International Union local 715.
"She was able to settle it down," said City Manager Kevin Duggan, who was hired later that year. "She did a great job keeping things together. That wasn't easy to do being brand new to organization. She should be very proud of it."
Indeed, Levin says being Mountain View's city manager for six months was her proudest moment. Next to that, she said she looks back proudly at getting a $2.9 million loan from the Packard Foundation for the city's child care center at Rengstorff Park, which opened in 2008. She also helped develop the plan for the city-owned property where Google's headquarters is located.
In the last ten years she has been offered city manager jobs at two other cities, both of which she turned down.
"Mountain View is the only community I'd want to be city manager in," Levin said. "Kevin isn't going anywhere and he and I are the same age."
Levin has enjoyed Mountain View because the city government is "clearly not in maintenance mode. There's a lot of stuff going on. It is a very active community."
When it comes to the things going on the world and the region, "Nothing seems to pass us by," she said.
She was in charge of the city's response to several controversies over the years, including a 1995 fiasco in which Mountain View nearly lost a third of its portfolio— $40 million— when an Orange County investment pool lost $1.7 billion in risky securities. Levin remembered Duggan reading about the bankruptcy in the news and shortly thereafter reporters were calling to ask when her plane would arrive in Southern California. She was also the city's liaison to a committee on the future of NASA Ames and Moffett Field when the city was fighting off a proposal for air cargo to come in and out of Moffett's airfield.
While working 50 hours a week, Levin has also found time to teach at the University of San Francisco and volunteer with the Peninsula Conflict Resolution Center, among other places. She has also coached and mentored aspiring city managers through several professional organizations.
In 40 years of refining her management philosophy she sums it up this way: "Get the best people, give them what they need, be clear about what the objectives are and then you let them do their job," she said. "I'm clearly not a micromanager. If you are paying people all this money then you shouldn't be telling them how to do their job."
Levin retires at age 60. She said she's been working since she was 16 without any substantial downtime. Before coming to Mountain View she worked for the city of San Francisco and the city of Rochester, Minnesota, not far from her alma mater, Wayne State University in Michigan. She has two kids, ages 23 and 27.
"City staff has been immensely grateful for her sense of humor and her ability to lead through complex situations," says a resolution the City Council passed last week in appreciation of Levin.
Anyone who has seen Levin's professional, reserved demeanor may be shocked to learn that in her retirement Levin plans to pursue her longtime interest in doing improvisational comedy. She has already taken a class at Stanford on the subject and said her dream would be to perform at Second City in Chicago.
E-mail Daniel DeBolt at firstname.lastname@example.org