Toward the end of last month, Ashwini Kantak resigned from her position as Assistant City Manager with the City of Milpitas.
The Beat sat down with Kantak for an exclusive interview to discuss her experiences working with the City, as well as her reasons for moving on…
Kantak began her employment with the City of Milpitas in 2018. In her role as Assistant City Manager, she hit the ground running. She led several technology improvements, which included e-timecards, procurement and contract management, and a new agenda management system.
She also worked with the community and Bay Area Air Quality Management District to address major odor issues, and even helped to revamp the City’s 5-year capital improvement program.
But although Kantak took the lead on different projects at City Hall, she feels it was the power of teamwork that moved so many great initiatives forward.
“Connections are important. You need great people to do great work,” said Kantak. “Milpitas is lucky to have great staff that are committed. It’s not just a paycheck for them.”
San José Career
Before working for the City of Milpitas, Kantak had spent over 17 years working with the City of San José, most recently as its Assistant Director for the Environmental Services Department, where she had the opportunity to oversee the $2 billion rebuild of the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility.
Kantak is a licensed architect. So when she began working for San José, it was as an Associate Architect in the Public Works Department, in 2001. She also worked in the City Manager’s office as a Senior Executive Analyst, as well as Assistant to the City Manager.
When asked why she left San José for Milpitas, Kantak explained:
“My passion has always been to help build and support vibrant and sustainable communities for current and future generations and I saw this position as a great fit. The comparatively smaller size of the city also allowed me to really connect with the community and to bring about positive change in the community as well as in the City organization itself.”
Bringing Ideas to Milpitas
Having spent nearly two decades working in such a big city, Kantak was inspired to bring some fresh ideas to Milpitas. In San José, there was a vibrant intranet – a private network to connect employees and give them access to various resources.
“I was used to having a robust intranet in my previous role, so I worked with staff to move forward on bringing that to Milpitas,” said Kantak to The Beat. “I’m proud that there is now a great intranet site at the City of Milpitas.”
During her time with Milpitas, Kantak also directly oversaw or guided the development of several master plans and strategic plans, which weren’t in place before, like the Climate Action Plan, Parks and Recreation Master Plan, and the Water, Sewer, and Stormwater Master Plans.
“Long term planning is really important – that’s what guides everything. Having those long term plans in place to prioritize things based on specific criteria,” said Kantak. “We did this as a whole team, but I’m pleased with the role I played in leading some of these efforts, and providing direction and ideas.”
Kantak was also responsible for starting a mentoring program within the City of Milpitas. While in San José, she had been involved in the start of their mentoring program, and also had the opportunity to lead it. Since it was such a success, she naturally felt that Milpitas employees would benefit from it. Basically, people from different departments are paired up – one serves as the mentor, the other as the mentee.
“It’s a great way to connect people in different departments and get a different perspective from someone who’s vested in you. It’s done wonders for me and others,” shared Kantak.
Time to Move on
Back in May of 2018, it was announced Kantak would be Milpitas’ new Assistant City Manager under Julie Edmonds-Mares, who was City Manager at the time.
Kantak kept her same position in Milpitas over the years, but from April 3 to June 3 of this year, Kantak found herself stepping into the role of Acting City Manager, after then City Manager Steve McHarris went on leave. McHarris’ leave occurred soon after the majority of Council voted not to renew his contract. McHarris went on to file a lengthy complaint against the City.
Since filling in for the City Manager was one of the duties in her job description, Kantak did not need to be formally appointed to the Acting City Manager role by Council. Whenever the City Manager had gone on vacation, Kantak had automatically taken on their responsibilities.
So after June 3, when McHarris’ City Manager contract was up, it became necessary to officially appoint Kantak as Acting City Manager.
It was an agenda item on the June 6 city council agenda: “Adopt a Resolution to Appoint Ashwini Kantak as Acting City Manager Effective Upon Adoption and Continuing Until a Permanent Appointment is Made.”
However, during the discussion, Council couldn’t align on the standard acting pay of 10%, so they instead agreed to bring the matter into closed session to discuss it together on June 20.
“They went into closed session to just talk about compensation – all of us thought – but when they came out, they said they had appointed someone else to Acting City Manager,” said Kantak.
And leading up to their public announcement about the new appointee on June 20, nobody had communicated a single word about this change in direction to Kantak.
“There was a lot of angst in the organization when that happened. But it was the council’s prerogative. They spoke through those actions,” said Kantak. “Whatever they were looking for – nobody communicated it to me – but they found it in someone else.”
That “someone else” was Ned Thomas, who was serving as Planning Director at the time. While Thomas served as Acting City Manager, he also interviewed for the City Manager position – and was hired earlier this month.
Although Kantak had no intention of serving as permanent City Manager, she was disappointed that she was not able to continue filling the Acting City Manager position as planned. She enjoyed the “acting” role immensely – getting things done, solving problems, working on complex issues; she had embraced every aspect of it over the course of a couple months.
The lack of communication from Council was dispiriting – but Kantak just isn’t the type of person who likes to dwell on things. She knew it was best to move on. And so, she went ahead and submitted her resignation.
“I loved working in Milpitas. It’s a wonderful community, and there’s such great staff,” said Kantak. “But it’s time to move on to a new opportunity where my experience is more valued and put to better use.”
Despite how it ended, Kantak feels extremely grateful for the time she has had working in Milpitas and contributing to enhancing the lives of its residents.
She looks back proudly at the great effort that she and other staff put in, especially during the pandemic, to keep Milpitas strong.
“I always look back at that time and all the things we did – like mobile testing, and programs for businesses and residents. We worked together to really serve the community,” said Kantak. “We also stayed fiscally sound throughout the pandemic. Something I’m very proud of.”
During her time working for Milpitas, Kantak would sometimes work late nights and weekends; and when she did take vacations, she would work during each of them – much to her family’s chagrin! So now, before jumping into the next phase of her career, Kantak is taking some time to relax and recharge.
She’s going to continue focusing on some of her favorite hobbies, like painting, learning Korean, and playing piano. She’ll also travel a bit to spend time with family and friends; and she might even get back to doing a little yoga.
“I want to leave on a positive note, wishing the City, staff, and community the best,” said Kantak. “I want all the good work that has been done to continue. I want Milpitas to thrive.”