End of an era: Duggan stepping down after 20 years

City manager leaving post, but not the city he loves

Few things put as big a smile on City Manager Kevin Duggan's face as his story of meeting the founders of Google. When Larry Page and Sergei Brin came looking for a home in Mountain View, their servers were small enough to fit in a closet. Perhaps it was thanks to Duggan's charm that the city is now home to "the hottest company in the world" as he likes to say.

Such is the legacy of Duggan, who will be retiring April 2 after 20 years as Mountain View's well-respected city manager.

Next June will mark 40 years since Duggan began his career with an internship in Mountain View's then-City Manager Jim O'Halloran's office. His career introduction involved being chased by junkyard dogs, he recalled with a laugh, as he worked on projects related to the redevelopment of the Shoreline area. Long before Google arrived, it was home to a pig farm and wrecking yards.

Duggan, 60, has become one of the most highly regarded city managers in the state, known for creating a culture of transparency and professionalism at City Hall and his tireless advocacy of a balanced budget, allowing the city to be one of the few to maintain a perfect triple-A credit rating. He will be "a hard act to follow," Mayor Ronit Bryant said in a press release.

Starting in 1972 he worked 18 years for the city of Campbell, six as city manager there, but found himself "returning home" in 1990 to take the reins as city manager in Mountain View during a period of turmoil in City Hall. Duggan found it an irresistible opportunity, despite one newspaper describing the City Council as having "chewed up and spit out" two city managers in the few years prior.

No more meetings

After four decades of sitting through City Council meetings, Duggan will finally be able to take a break and move on to what he called the "next phase" of his life, which involves volunteering in the community.

Once retired, Duggan may spend more time collecting bits of city history on eBay, driving the yellow 1968 Toyota Corona he's owned since it was new and hanging out with Herman, the desert tortoise he's had since high school.

"I believe in long term relationships," Duggan says with a laugh.

That appears to include his relationship with the community as well.

"Thankfully I'm not going to say goodbye to the people in the community because that would be the hardest part," Duggan said of his retirement. "I'm glad I don't have to do that. I just have to stay out of the new city manager's hair."

Sterling reputation

Duggan will be "a hard act to follow," Mayor Ronit Bryant said in a press release.

Former Mayor Pat Figeroa, one of the council members who hired him, said Duggan had more than met her expectations over the years.

"He was always one who has been highly respected," she said. "Every place I would go he was known personally and was well respected and considered to be someone you wanted to work with."

Duggan said Monday that he was deeply grateful and felt honored to serve as Mountain View's city manager, which he described as managing a small city with big city issues home of Google, Shoreline amphitheater, a regional park on top of a landfill, a thriving downtown and a diverse population.

Growing up in Woodland Hills, honorary mayor Buster Keaton was Duggan's first exposure to local government, he said. His family later moved to Mountain View and he graduated from Awalt High School (now known as Mountain View High School) in 1968 and then from San Jose State University, studying public administration and political science.

A good time to go

According to a letter about his retirement, Duggan's decision came "after considerable deliberation" and "with mixed emotions."

"For the organization, this is a good time for this transition to take place," Duggan wrote. "The city is financially stable after having addressed the challenges of the 'Great Recession,' a new generation of exceptionally qualified and dedicated department heads have been selected and we are in a period of unusual City Council continuity."

Council member Mike Kasperzak said the City Council is hoping to get an early start on the search for a replacement by selecting a recruiter before its holiday break.

"It is the most important position the council is responsible for, so we've got to do it right," Kasperzak said. "If you've got the best it's hard to find a replacement."

'Fiscally conservative'

Duggan's major accomplishment is leaving the city in a good financial position with large reserves. Despite three recessions, he balanced the city budget every year except last year's "Great Recession" when the city borrowed $2 million from reserves. He sent clear messages in City Council meetings about the consequences of letting a deficit compound year after year. The city eventually cut costs and found revenue to fill an $8.5 million budget gap over two years.

"He is fiscally conservative and that's sort of amazing," said Duggan's former assistant, Nadine Levin. "If you look around the Peninsula I don't think you could find another community that could say they weathered this period without any layoffs, used a negligible amount of reserves and essentially balanced the budget. That's a big part of his legacy in Mountain View."

Partly thanks to Google, the city receives $8 million in land lease revenue every year to help fund city services. Google's headquarters sits on city land, as does a CVS pharmacy and the Community School of Music and Arts. Soon, new Google offices, two affordable housing projects and a shopping center may be built on city land as well. Duggan sees leasing city property instead of selling it as a wise investment.

Duggan cut the staff in his office from 60 to 12 when he took the job in 1990, delegating Shoreline Park management, economic development, volunteer services and even graphic design to departments outside his office. The move was praised by council members.

Adding to his popularity among with the council is his ability to stay removed from divisive issues and maintain a neutral position, Levin said. He also has an unusual ability to not take personally the sort of criticism city officials receive, Levin said, and he remains cool in difficult situations.

Ambra controversy

Perhaps the most difficult situation the city faced during Duggan's tenure was going to court over the actions of former Mayor Mario Ambra, and having Ambra removed from the council in 2001. Duggan and then-City Attorney Michael Martello said it was necessary because Ambra was said to have repeatedly violated the city charter, despite several warnings, and gone around Duggan and Martello to pressure city staff for alleged personal gain. Notes from Duggan's own journal formed part of the city's case against Ambra.

"It took some real guts for him and Martello and the police chief to do what they did," Levin said.

Duggan also stood by Martello in the city's lawsuit against Shoreline Amphitheatre operators Live Nation for cooking the books to withhold millions in lease payments owed to the city, winning a $10 million settlement in 2006. Levin said Duggan was also the first to see that the city needed to launch an aggressive legal battle in its successful effort to retrieve $40 million in Mountain View funds from Orange County in the mid-1990s, when an investment pool collapsed from financial mismanagement.

Building a legacy

Major accomplishments under Duggan's watch include bringing light rail to downtown, completing the Performing Arts Center and City Hall, and building the highly popular Senior Center and numerous neighborhood parks, homes and office projects.

But Duggan is particularly passionate about building the five-mile Steven's Creek Trail, a pedestrian path that connects residential neighborhoods, Google offices and Shoreline Park. The city moved "heaven and earth" as Duggan and the council cheered on the funding and engineering around various obstacles, Kasperzak said.

"To build a trail is good, but to build a trail and walk or run on it as a citizen is even better," said Duggan, an avid jogger.


Like this comment
Posted by Sue Graham
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Dec 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Nice story on Kevin Duggan. We will all miss him. As a school board member in the 90's I appreciated his willingness to collaborate with the high schools. He and Rich Fischer made a dynamic duo.

Like this comment
Posted by jupiterk
a resident of Gemello
on Dec 16, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Would he be consulting after he retires at a rate of $500 an hour? Somehow I didn't see that line in the article. Is that missing or deliberately omitted for fear of criticism? Because it is a customary thing in our capitalistic and free market thinking culture to reward someone with tons and tons of money.

Like this comment
Posted by Honor Spitz
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Thank you, Kevin Duggan, for such a good long ride!! The city of Mtn. View can finally hold it's head high because of you and your fine works,,

Like this comment
Posted by Realist
a resident of Waverly Park
on Dec 17, 2010 at 7:58 am

His retirement date is set so that he can return on temporary hourly duty and run out the rest of 2011 on the taxpayers time and double dip from the city--just like all the other "irreplaceable" top-dollar city administrators who retired last year. What do you expect? He's the one that set the system up, approved it and now must take advantage of it. It's convenient how the Voice ignore the deep ditch that public servants such as Duggan put the state of California in. We'll be paying for his retirement package for years with higher taxes and less and more expensive city services. Any one care to step up and challenge that?

Like this comment
Posted by @Realist
a resident of Whisman Station
on Dec 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm

@Realist: "just like all the other "irreplaceable" top-dollar city administrators who retired last year"

Except Cathy Lazarus.

Like this comment
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Dec 17, 2010 at 5:19 pm

End of an era indeed! It's the end of the inflated public employee salaries and pensions that have come close to bankrupting the state!

The Voice should try to put things in perspective.

Duggan will quietly slip away while MV is on the hook for paying millions toward his golden retirement for years to come.

Like this comment
Posted by OMG
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Dec 19, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Some end to an era. More like an end to the era of sky high salaries!

Boy I would just love to retire at age 60 with the taxpayers footing the bill! Read on:

Based on 2009 total wages subject to Medicare taxes, salaries in Mountain View ranged from $6,067 for the mayor and City Council members—the lowest paid—to $270,136 for City Manager Kevin Duggan. As a comparison, city managers in neighboring Palo Alto and Milpitas—similarly sized-cities—earned $260,614 and $207,801, respectively, in 2009.

In 2009, City Attorney Jannie Quinn received wages that totaled $255,405, while Police Chief Scott Vermeer —who also served as acting fire chief—reported a wage of $287,834, the highest of all Mountain View public employees. Fire Chief Bradley Wardle, who joined the Mountain View Fire Department in 2010, was hired at a salary of $190,000.

Mountain View, compared with its neighbors in Palo Alto and Milpitas, paid more for these positions in 2009; however, the salary range—the minimum and maximum—of compensation was similar.

Like this comment
Posted by You voted for it
a resident of Gemello
on Dec 20, 2010 at 8:02 am

Hello folks, you and your elected officials voted for pensions, salaries, etc. Stop harassing these fine workers on their way out the door. They did not "set-up" the system, you did. Get out and vote. Stop throwing around insults behind the anonymous safety of the internet.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Rex Manor
on Dec 20, 2010 at 2:47 pm

While Vermeer was both Police Chief and acting Fire Chief, I'm sure he got by on way less sleep and downtime than most of us. Being on-call 24/7 can be draining, even when the phone does not ring. We can pay less in public sector compensation, and when our economy rebounds, we'll get less in terms of the quality of personnel and service. After all, the whole reason for these higher pensions is a state law that was changed back during .boom, when cities and counties could not fill vacant positions. Now we'll change the system again and the cycle will repeat. Public services funded almost exclusively with volatile sales and income taxes will always be inherently unstable. If you want lower cost government, just vote for fewer city services.

Like this comment
Posted by Henry
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Dec 20, 2010 at 4:05 pm

We voted for these pensions? Sorry, you're wrong. We voted for politicians to act responsibly with our money. Meanwhile city management worked with unions to "negotiate" their wages higher and higher which they then sold to the city council as legitimate when in fact it was all rigged. And now look at the state we're in!

This rash of retirements is nothing more that a strategy to hang on to them before the state comes in and voids them all.

Like this comment
Posted by Steven Nelson
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Jan 3, 2011 at 9:58 am

Our city manager has been responsible with the operations of the city. Considering that he has much more experience than the 'comparison cities' managers, a slightly higher salary is easily understandable. Did any of you realize that he cut his own salary? Or that his management office has the highest percentage reductions of any city department? The new assistant city manager is a combined position - one less administrator position due to Mr. Duggan's management style. City manager is a full time position - look at what some of the state board appointment position pay for much less work (or CEOs get relative to their average workers).
Get on the city council to find a LOCAL replacement ASAP - and their won't be any need for a 'nation-wide' search or problems with dislocations, long commutes, interim managers, or double-dip consulting.

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Truckee cafe to expand to Menlo Park
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 2,724 views

Attraction to a Person Outside Your Relationship
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 823 views


Top restaurants to check out

Mountain View Voice readers have officially decided. See which local restaurants and businesses can now claim the title — Best Of Mountain View 2017.

View Winners