Worthy Service

Santa Clara professors helped set Melvin Gaines ’06 on his path of civil service. Today, he’s the highest ranking nonelected official in his hometown.

Before his first day as the top unelected official in his hometown, Melvin Gaines ’06 had a plan for his opening talk with staff. It involved the four Cs—competence, conscience, compassion, and commitment.

“I’m going to start off Monday, and I am going to tell my team that I expect them to be technically competent, to do good work, and, most importantly, to be compassionate with the community,” he says, describing the values of Santa Clara University as “guiding lights to me.”

Leading city services in East Palo Alto is a dream job for Gaines. It’s his opportunity as the city’s top non-elected official to make sure the people of his hometown have a government worthy of the community where he grew up.

When he first landed at SCU, though, he thought he wanted to be an activist and a lawyer. As a high school student, Gaines worked with Youth United for Community Action, a community organization that successfully fought to have a plant dealing with toxic waste closed down.

Melvin Gaines ’06
Melvin Gaines ’06 was tapped city manager of his hometown of East Palo Alto in January 2023. Prior to this role, Gaines served in a number of managerial and executive positions at several cities in the Bay Area. Photo courtesy Gaines.

But slowly, through working with professors like Keith Warner at the Miller Center, professor of theatre Aldo Billingslea, and associate professor of communication Elsa Chen, he discovered something different about his path: “I thought maybe I am more interested in making good policy rather than fighting bad laws.”

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