News

What a Week: Reflections on Fialho

Nelson Fialho, former city manager of Pleasanton. (Photo by Cierra Bailey)

It truly is the end of an era. For the first time since 2004, Pleasanton's city manager is not Nelson Fialho -- 17-plus years, a record tenure for this city.

He made the well-thought-out decision to step aside into a retirement from public employment for a well-deserved break before embarking on a future that is, well, pretty wide open.

At least that's the impression I walked away with after our 45-minute interview in his now-former office last month, which served as our lead story in last week's paper.

One thing I've learned from the response to our Local Scoop (our monthly e-newsletter exclusive to our Support Local Journalism members) is that readers love to hear insider details about our work. Let me give that a shot here, spotlighting some key takeaways from my Fialho profile and our professional relationship over my nearly five years as editor.

Hard to imagine but this was my first extended in-person interview since the pandemic began in March 2020. Transcribing our conversation, I realized I'm probably a little bit out of practice; my delivery and vocal tone could use some reps. (Although, as I like to joke about myself: face for radio, voice for print.)

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Oh wait, it's not about me. That's right.

Jeremy Walsh, editor.

Fialho's presence is what really stood out on the recording. Beyond his nuanced perspective reflecting on his 25 years working at the city of Pleasanton, there sat a man totally at peace with his decision and ready to embrace the possibilities that lay ahead -- after a break he's very much looking forward to.

As someone prone to over-contemplating many choices in life, to the point of brooding at times, I appreciated the mix of calm and enthusiasm I observed in Fialho, a career civic administrator moving on from his "life's work" at 53 years old for the professional and personal unknown. Commendable serenity.

Now it wouldn't be the first time I learned something from Fialho. I hope it's not the last.

I had the good fortune of inheriting the monthly meeting schedule my predecessor Jeb Bing had with the city manager. The working relationship and trust ... that I had to develop on my own, and vice versa.

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Those (pre-pandemic) sitdowns provided great opportunities to educate myself on city projects, policies and processes, or to pick his brain on key local and regional topics, or to better understand city responses to controversies, or to formulate my arguments when we disagreed.

I take pride in nurturing good source relationships. I couldn't do my job without relying on important stakeholders on many sides of the issues to speak with me. From the journalist's perspective, source development begins with access.

I'll always appreciate the level of access Fialho and his staff provided. It is less and less common in local journalism for a reporter or editor to have regular, unfettered interactions with the leader of a public agency. But it can be invaluable. Not to regurgitate their arguments, but to understand them -- and figure out what to ask next, and of whom to ask it, as we work to connect the puzzle pieces.

I also valued that Fialho seemed to be open and honest with me over the years, and especially in our Nov. 12 exit interview.

He didn't shy away from the tough questions: name a single proudest accomplishment, the infamous housing cap lawsuit, the rumor mill speculating why he's really leaving and was he just going to join what I call "the public employee interim circuit for retirees".

As someone well-versed about local government operations, I know that finding an experienced retiree to fill an interim vacancy can be a vital stopgap for a public agency. But there's just something non-transparent about folks retiring from one job just to take interim gig after interim gig in the same position level, or even coming out of retirement entirely full-time elsewhere. I don't begrudge anyone for playing by the rules in front of them; just wish they'd be more forthright about their end game.

I certainly didn't get the sense Fialho was trying to escape Pleasanton. Heck, he still plans to reside here long-term.

I took him at his word when he described his decision as a retirement from permanent public employment after 31 years, with an eye toward working in the private sector or with nonprofits (while also not fully closing the door on an interim civic position).

The city accomplished so much during Fialho's long tenure, a laundry list of public projects and policies that made a true impact on Pleasanton, its residents and its other stakeholders.

And there's so much more for the city government to do ahead. It's just time for someone else to take the reins.

I hope the City Council and its search firm take their time with this nationwide recruitment to find the right candidate who will lead Pleasanton for years to come.

No matter what side of the issues you're on, it's clear to me the Fialho era will go down as the most important period in the city's modern history. What a tough act to follow; the next city manager better be up to that challenge.

Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.

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What a Week: Reflections on Fialho

by / Pleasanton Weekly

Uploaded: Thu, Dec 2, 2021, 4:14 pm

It truly is the end of an era. For the first time since 2004, Pleasanton's city manager is not Nelson Fialho -- 17-plus years, a record tenure for this city.

He made the well-thought-out decision to step aside into a retirement from public employment for a well-deserved break before embarking on a future that is, well, pretty wide open.

At least that's the impression I walked away with after our 45-minute interview in his now-former office last month, which served as our lead story in last week's paper.

One thing I've learned from the response to our Local Scoop (our monthly e-newsletter exclusive to our Support Local Journalism members) is that readers love to hear insider details about our work. Let me give that a shot here, spotlighting some key takeaways from my Fialho profile and our professional relationship over my nearly five years as editor.

Hard to imagine but this was my first extended in-person interview since the pandemic began in March 2020. Transcribing our conversation, I realized I'm probably a little bit out of practice; my delivery and vocal tone could use some reps. (Although, as I like to joke about myself: face for radio, voice for print.)

Oh wait, it's not about me. That's right.

Fialho's presence is what really stood out on the recording. Beyond his nuanced perspective reflecting on his 25 years working at the city of Pleasanton, there sat a man totally at peace with his decision and ready to embrace the possibilities that lay ahead -- after a break he's very much looking forward to.

As someone prone to over-contemplating many choices in life, to the point of brooding at times, I appreciated the mix of calm and enthusiasm I observed in Fialho, a career civic administrator moving on from his "life's work" at 53 years old for the professional and personal unknown. Commendable serenity.

Now it wouldn't be the first time I learned something from Fialho. I hope it's not the last.

I had the good fortune of inheriting the monthly meeting schedule my predecessor Jeb Bing had with the city manager. The working relationship and trust ... that I had to develop on my own, and vice versa.

Those (pre-pandemic) sitdowns provided great opportunities to educate myself on city projects, policies and processes, or to pick his brain on key local and regional topics, or to better understand city responses to controversies, or to formulate my arguments when we disagreed.

I take pride in nurturing good source relationships. I couldn't do my job without relying on important stakeholders on many sides of the issues to speak with me. From the journalist's perspective, source development begins with access.

I'll always appreciate the level of access Fialho and his staff provided. It is less and less common in local journalism for a reporter or editor to have regular, unfettered interactions with the leader of a public agency. But it can be invaluable. Not to regurgitate their arguments, but to understand them -- and figure out what to ask next, and of whom to ask it, as we work to connect the puzzle pieces.

I also valued that Fialho seemed to be open and honest with me over the years, and especially in our Nov. 12 exit interview.

He didn't shy away from the tough questions: name a single proudest accomplishment, the infamous housing cap lawsuit, the rumor mill speculating why he's really leaving and was he just going to join what I call "the public employee interim circuit for retirees".

As someone well-versed about local government operations, I know that finding an experienced retiree to fill an interim vacancy can be a vital stopgap for a public agency. But there's just something non-transparent about folks retiring from one job just to take interim gig after interim gig in the same position level, or even coming out of retirement entirely full-time elsewhere. I don't begrudge anyone for playing by the rules in front of them; just wish they'd be more forthright about their end game.

I certainly didn't get the sense Fialho was trying to escape Pleasanton. Heck, he still plans to reside here long-term.

I took him at his word when he described his decision as a retirement from permanent public employment after 31 years, with an eye toward working in the private sector or with nonprofits (while also not fully closing the door on an interim civic position).

The city accomplished so much during Fialho's long tenure, a laundry list of public projects and policies that made a true impact on Pleasanton, its residents and its other stakeholders.

And there's so much more for the city government to do ahead. It's just time for someone else to take the reins.

I hope the City Council and its search firm take their time with this nationwide recruitment to find the right candidate who will lead Pleasanton for years to come.

No matter what side of the issues you're on, it's clear to me the Fialho era will go down as the most important period in the city's modern history. What a tough act to follow; the next city manager better be up to that challenge.

Editor's note: Jeremy Walsh has been the editor of the Pleasanton Weekly since February 2017. His "What a Week" column runs on the first and third Fridays of the month.

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