Article City Forum Frank Benest

Exchange Program Supercharges Career Opportunities and Boosts Skills

Frank Benest, Ph.D., is city manager of Palo Alto and can be reached at

One evening in 2003, Ed Everett, city manager of Redwood City, and I were lamenting the shrinking talent pool for local government, as large numbers of Baby Boomer managers retire and leave public service. We were especially concerned about how difficult it was to accelerate the development of aspiring managers in small and medium-sized organizations. After talking it over, we sketched out a program proposal to supercharge the careers of potential managers in local governments throughout the Silicon Valley area.

That concept grew into the Management Talent Exchange Program (MTEP), which was launched in 2004. Sponsored by the City Manager Associations of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, MTEP offers high-potential employees a three-month exchange in another local government to help them develop new skills, experiences and relationships.

A Unique Leadership Development Opportunity

The City of Palo Alto operates MTEP through its Human Resources (HR) Department, on behalf of other local governments in the two counties. Individual organizations nominate high-potential employees and then match the nominees to “stretch” assignments in other city, county and special district agencies. Participating organizations that send employees to other agencies generally receive an em ployee from another agency in exchange.

A group of managers and human resource professionals interview the MTEP participants and then match them to a special assignment (see below).

Other program elements include:

  • Supervisors at the “hosting” agency who serve as coaches to the MTEP participants; and
  • Three two-hour learning forums that give participants an opportunity to hear speakers talk about leadership and career development topics. Forums include a support session where participants can share their experiences and ask for input on issues or challenges they may be facing.

MTEP has grown from 12 participants in 2004 to 26 participants, involving 19 different local governments, in 2007. (Final participation numbers for the 2008 program, which runs from September 2007 through December 2008, aren’t yet available.)

Assignment E xamples

Participant’s Position in Home Agency
Recreation Supervisor
Public Communication Manager
Senior Financial Analyst
Youth Activity Supervisor
Management Analyst
Project Engineer
Police Sergeant
Planning Administrator
Administrative Assistant
Deputy Fire Chief

MTEP Assignment in Another Local Government Agency
Assistant to the City Manager
Management Assistant to Finance Director
Planning Specialist
Senior Financial Analyst
Recreation Supervisor
Project Manager
Assistant to the City Manager
Economic Vitality Coordinator
Human Resources Representative
Human Resources Coordinator
Budget Analyst

Sponsors and Funding

A seed grant from CPS Human Resource Services, an executive search and HR con- sulting firm, funded the first-year pilot program in 2004. Once the pilot effort proved viable, the two sponsoring city manager associations decided to self-fund most of the costs and seek additional financial support from a corporate spon sor. Bill Avery & Associates, an execu tive search firm, believed that preparing the next generation of local government managers fit with its mission and became a corporate partner. MTEP is overseen by the Two-County Next Generation Committee composed of city and county managers and human resource professionals from the local governments in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties.

Annual funding of $30,800 comes from three sources: the two city managers associations each provide $2,000 for a total of $4,000; each of the 26 agencies pays $800 per participant, for a total of $20,800; and Bill Avery & Associates provides $10,000 in corporate funding. These funds pay for the human resources staff costs of the City of Palo Alto, which operates the program, plus incidental materials and food costs.

Success Stories

According to city and county manag ers involved in the program, MTEP indeed accelerates the development of high-potential employees. For example, since completing their assignments with the city manager, assistant city manager, fire chief and public works superinten dent, at least four MTEP graduates have been promoted to higher management positions. According to Ed Tewes, city manager of Morgan Hill, “For a smaller city with fewer promotional opportunities, MTEP has given our star performers an opportunity for professional development beyond what we alone could provide. By exposing managers to the different work cultures and complex projects in other local governments, MTEP has helped build Morgan Hill ’s own capacity to meet the challenges we face.”

Clay Holstine, city manager of Brisbane, also sees the benefit. “MTEP has provided not only a great training opportunity for the aspiring manager who goes to another agency but also for those employees in our organization who fill in behind the MTEP participant,” says Holstine. “Learning opportunities are thus provi ded for up to three or four people to get new experiences.”

Kelly Spivey, San Jose’s manager of work force development, agrees. “For San Jose, MTEP’s high value is demonstrated through its breadth of benefits. The full impact of MTEP extends beyond the exchange participants themselves to include the full cadre of ’home-base’ staff stepping up to the new challenges of backfilling and/or hosting incoming MTEP partici pants,” explains Spivey.

Participants are equally enthusiastic. Scott Bauer, library division manager of Redwood City , says, “The fresh perspec tives gained from working with a different organization were invaluable. Working on new projects with new team members was a great opportunity to stretch my leader ship skills. The success of those projects and the mentoring I received from my supervisor while on my MTEP assignment have encouraged me to pursue increased responsibilities and further my career. I’ve made the ’final two’ in three interviews since participating in MTEP, and don’t see making it to ’number one’ as very far off.”

Wendé Protzman, former senior management analyst for the City of San Mateo, was recently promoted to assistant to the town manager of Atherton and is now serving as interim town manager. According to Protzman, “MTEP is one of the best professional experiences you can have. Not only does it expand your ex perience and knowledge base, but it also promotes personal growth and confidence. For me, participating in this program was the nexus that propelled my career to the next level.”

Melissa Dile, former assistant to the city manager in Morgan Hill, moved into a more demanding role as deputy city manager in Fremont. In reflecting on her experience, Dile observed, “Participating in MTEP was a tremendous learning op portunity. It was invigorating to try out — in a risk-free setting — an organiza tion much different from my home city. I believe this experience was instrumental in preparing me for my new position of assistant city manager.”

Karl Bjarke, deputy director of public works for Morgan Hill, needed to expand his operational management experience. “I felt adept at the engineering side of public works but lacked the experience of operations and maintenance (O&M),” he said. “My MTEP assignment with the City of San Mateo allowed me to jump into O&M and learn from their managers how to operate the department. My city manager ’coach’ shared great tips to help further my career goals.”

Program Benefits

The MTEP model addresses the shrinking talent pool of local government by accel erating the development of high-potential employees. The three-month exchanges provide new skills, perspectives, experi ences and relationships that are extremely valuable for the MTEP participants and their “home” agencies. In addition, the host agency often uses the MTEP partici pants to accomplish tasks or projects for which they did not have time or resources.

Numerous factors contribute to the program’s success:

  • Local governments collaborate on and jointly fund the program; they also 
  • offer participant and MTEP slots.
  • The corporate partner supports and helps offset the cost.
  • One agency is responsible for managing the project and addressing any problems.
  • Each MTEP participant gets a coach in the new assignment.
  • Participants network with and learn from each other through the learning forums.
  • MTEP accelerates the development of aspiring leaders because it goes beyond classroom education and provides new real-life job experiences in another organizational environment coupled with candid and helpful coaching.
  • MTEP broadens the experiences of the participants, who in turn bring back new expertise and perspectives to their “home” agency and share those assets with their co-workers. One participant, Deborah Angel, started a blog about her experiences and insights gained at the San Jose Library to share with her co-workers in her home agency, the Palo Alto library system.

Other local government groups interested in developing a similar exchange program can find sample application forms, program guidelines, a video and other materials at or by contacting Frank Benest at

This article appears in the April 2008 issue of Western City
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