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Unfair Advantage to Incumbents -- State of 2018 City Address

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Wed, 17 Oct 2018 09:24:42 -0700

The October 11, 2018 State of the City address gives the incumbents running
for re-election an unfair advantage during an election season. The most
unbiased tradition would be to hold these speeches at the beginning of the
year or well before an election. I have to wonder how many prior contested
elections might have been swayed due to the timing of these events.

The timing could leave Menlo Park subject to a lawsuit. Incumbent Peter
Ohtaki faces a tough re-election challenge. Our local newspapers did NOT
ENDORSE Ohtaki. Instead, The Daily Post endorsed Ron Shepherd and the
Almanac endorsed Betsy Nash. Incumbent Kirstin was also NOT ENDORSED by our
local newspapers. Instead, Drew Combs received endorsements by both the
Post and the Almanac.

Any successful politician seeking re-election will take every opportunity
to tout his/her record of accomplishments. Not surprisingly, Ohtaki’s
speech presented a rosy picture of just how well everything is going in
Menlo Park and he frequently used the term “Council” to claim credit for
positive outcomes. The blatant overuse of the term “council’ gave the
speech a clear political cast. The term “Council” was also used to claim
credit for resident-led efforts such as for the Safe Routes to School
initiative, Guild Theater, Belle Haven Library and Karl E. Clark Park.

The frequent use of term “the city” also blurred the lines as to who
actually accomplished the result. The term did not give adequate credit to
the staff who implemented Council policy decisions and/or residents who
helped. Many items listed in the speech were more a “laundry list” of minor
accomplishments that weren’t focused around key priorities. Notably absent
was Council’s non-addressing of key resident concerns for better governance
measures such as ethics, accountability, transparency and oversight reforms
-- along with the incumbents taking adequate responsibility for prior
decisions that haven’t turned out too well. In the latter category, I would
put voting for so much development without adequate traffic infrastructure
and housing measures. Problems were glossed over or blame put elsewhere
such as when Ohtaki stated that most of the MP traffic is caused by
commuters going to other cities. This avoids addressing the criticism that
many of our current problems could have been better anticipated and
proactively addressed by Council via regional and local solutions before
they became serious problems.

The California ballots were also scheduled to be mailed the week of the
address. The timing further gives a political advantage to the incumbents.
The captive audience at the speech would hear a one-sided view and the
resultant publicity would another vote-getting advantage. How easy it might
be to then just fill out the ballot (the way Ohtaki and Keith would like)
and mail it in. Ohtaki and Keith’s challengers would have no such equal and
free publicity platform to challenge details in the Mayor’s speech, give
their perspective on current MP problems that remain unaddressed, or convey
their vision for the future of Menlo Park. All this is unfair to our
challengers and the practice may be illegal.

My request that this speech be postponed until after the election was
mostly ignored. Once I realized that the timing was problematic, I wrote
council and management staff on Oct 9, 2018 to request that the address be
postponed until the election. The ONLY person who wrote back was our City
Clerk who let me know that she wasn’t responsible for planning the event.
(In other words, putting the responsibility elsewhere.) The event went on,
despite my pubic objections and those of Ron Shepherd.

I then also made a public records request of the timing of these events and
thee results are below.

2012 (Oct 16) – Stanford Park Hotel

2013 (Oct 17) – Stanford Park Hotel

2014 (Nov 13) – Downtown Paseo

2015 ((Oct 29) – Rosewood Hotel

2016 (Nov 17) – Facebook Building 23

2017 (Oct 12) – British Banker’s Club

2018 (Oct 11) – Park James Hotel

I did a brief check as to what our neighboring cities do and so far, my
results are below:

Palo Alto – Usually in February (new or incoming mayor gives vision for

San Carlos – Usually in Feb or March

Redwood City – May 14, 2018

Belmont – Usually in February or March (Feb 2017 and Mar 2018)

San Bruno – February 2018

San Jose – Usually in February

Campbell – Sep 2018

Sunnyvale – Sep 2018

Santa Clara – June 2018

Many cities use the annual State of the City speech as a forward-looking
opportunity or one to better involve community groups. Many hold this
speech in the Council Chambers or at key community venues, such as schools
or major non-profits that address community challenges – not at private
venues that do business with the city. One city (Belmont) even had the
Chamber of Commerce leader as the overall host, which further gave a
non-political tone to the event. I’ve watched a few from our neighboring
cities and I see a tone that’s more even-handed with credit more freely
shared. We can learn from progressive cities around us, something I’d like
to see more of in Menlo Park.

When I can, I will send a chart with details of my findings to the Menlo
Park Council along with my recommendations for change. Holding these right
before elections is problematic for many reasons. At minimum, I’d like to
see the annual State of the City address start to take place at the
beginning of the year and to have its focus on the new or incoming Mayor’s
vision for Menlo Park.

Meanwhile, I remain quite disturbed about the timing of the 2018 State of
the City address as well as its political tone. Integrity and ethics matter
deeply to me. Trust is the foundation of all relationships. Politicians and
staff who adhere to the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior
earn the public’s trust. So I continue to be surprised and disappointed at
Menlo Park’s traditions and Council-member behavior that erodes the
public’s trust because the actions don't pass the ethical "smell" test. The
timing and tone of the 2018 State of the City addressed served our
incumbent politicians, not fairness or the residents.

Lynne Bramlett
Received on Wed Oct 17 2018 - 09:23:14 PDT

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