COW In Print

June 13, 2006

Here is the letter we wrote in response to the article in the Almanac.

Here is a link to the original article:


We were amused to read your June 7 Reporters Notebook entitled “Mad Cow disease” (by staff writer Andrea Gemmet).

For someone who “winces” at wordplay, Ms. Gemmet is pretty good at it. However, apparently she has weaknesses in a couple of other subjects:

• Reading – She failed to read that our survey had 228, not 2,000 responses and to understand that it showed an overwhelming fear of retaliation.

• History – She failed to appreciate that the Federalist Papers, which were written under pseudonyms because of fear of retaliation, played a very important role in creating the environment which enabled the Declaration of Independence to be openly signed.

• Journalism – The importance of protecting sources who fear retribution.

• Computers – We are pretty good at answering questions sent to us by e-mail (other than those dealing with identities). We can be reached through our site at or e-mail

COW’s “agenda” is to raise the concerns of the community. Since COW started raising the issues of concern with the planning/engineering/building permit processes, the town has started to react and make improvements. More is needed. This community bulletin board provides Belle COW alerts when important items are on the City Council agenda. Our clear purpose is to provide a voice to all COWs, even those with unpopular opinions, and to encourage everyone to participate on local issues.

Citizens of Woodside

0 Comments on “COW In Print

  1. Steve Peterson

    This is in response to the 06/07/2006 article written by Andrea Gemmet for the Almanac.

    C.O.W. is a valuable and necessary resource to the citizens of Woodside. Ironically, Ms. Gemmet’s public criticism of it is a direct example of the intimidation and retaliation feared by many who post anonymously on the site. C.O.W. does not stand for “Counter-Objective Writing”. However, if it did, it would be the perfect forum for Ms. Gemmet’s rhetoric.

    According to Ms. Gemmet, “it is her job to be impartial”. Considering the nature and content of 90% of her articles, I am left to believe that she possesses a false understanding of the word. Impartial does not mean misrepresenting facts, self-promotion and prejudice.

    The true objective of many of her “impartial” articles appears to be to promote the biased, inconsistent permit process of the Town of Woodside’s Planning and Building Department. Perhaps Ms. Gemmet would feel differently if she herself had ever submitted for permit instead of just sitting on the sidelines as an “objective” spectator. However, truth be told, because of her apparent close ties with particular Town Staff members, it’s highly unlikely she would encounter the same frustration, disappointment and belittlement experienced by so many others who have submitted for a Planning and/or Bldg. permit.

    When her writing career is over, I suggest she have her Almanac articles published as they are certain to receive a Pulitzer for “Fiction” writing.

    Sincerely Yours,

    Steve Peterson
    (in black & white)

  2. My Woodside John Hancock

    As much as I like coming to this site I believe if Ms. Gemmet had truly been reporting unbiased stories there may have been no need for COW and quite possibly the problems at Town Hall would have been addressed before getting so far out of control.

    If she had been paying attention, instead of “distracting herself with the plight of councilmember’s”, in the course of a few meetings she would have heard reports from staff in which they completely contradicted themselves from week to week. Listening to people stating their projects had been sabotaged by Planning Director Hope Sullivan may have had a less distracted person taking a look. Perhaps if she were paying attention she would have been curious enough to report on why with almost double the staff in planning and building the process has gotten so much longer and far more difficult in the last few years. Or she may have wondered why two studies were done in less than 5 years regarding problems in this department. With costs of over $100,000 charged to Woodside taxpayers this alone seems worthy of a few questions especially since both studies say virtually the same thing. Finally if she were at all engaged in at least one of the several meeting’s about the second study she may have thought to ask why the original recommendations from the first study weren’t followed. You reported it, I have to ask why didn’t the reporter?

    Reporters are depended upon to be the people’s watchdog and to send out alarms if something is amiss. Historically they report on possible inconsistencies, unfairness, bad management and fiscal irresponsibility. White-washing or ignoring the facts, in my opinion, makes Ms. Gemmet as much a “reporter” as Tokyo Rose was and makes her part of the problem. If the Almanac implies they employ “reporters” and that they are a “newspaper” the home town type or not they should report fully, accurately and truly with no bias.

    I am not as courageous as several who have been willing to put their John Hancock’s to their writings here. I respect that they have done so and my desire is to soon join them, until then …..

    My Woodside John Hancock

  3. alexis flippen

    Now I’m sorry that I no longer live in Woodside proper, as my comments will likely be dismissed!

    Nonetheless, it would appear to me that Ms. Gemmet’s article is being unfairly maligned…of course the permit process is cumbersome, etc. (one reason we moved to the “other side” of the hill), but the article was lighthearted and clever.

    I don’t recall any ogres in Woodside from whom retaliation would be a credible risk (and I study risk for a living at NASA).

    Is this as simple as we all enjoy more candor through anonymity??

    Am I under-reacting??

    Former COW

  4. Debbie Dodge

    Former COW, while I can’t agree with you that the Almanac’s article “Mad Cow Disease” was “lighthearted”, I don’t know that Ms. Gemmet’s column or the other two posts’ here on COW were meant to malign. I imagine it is more a case of venting. I understand the frustration of people who have been dealing with the planning process in Woodside and have had to rely on the Almanac to get information out about it. I have attended public hearings and been taken aback by the reporting on some of those meetings in the Almanac. But I can also see where a columnist who only attends hearings and listens to just bits and pieces of a handful of projects may be insulated from the bigger picture.

    Like many in Town including Mr. Peterson and Woodside John Hancock, I do think the reporting for Woodside could be more comprehensive, I base this on my own experience. I have had personal experience with Ms. Gemmet’s reporting when I sued the town over public records. I had hoped she would have accurately told the whole story but was sad to see that her articles on the subject repeated ridiculous innuendos about the reasons for the suit instead of the fact that after numerous attempts to get public information I was repeatedly told that we needed to give the town $800 to $1000 to simply view public information and that the information we were requesting was not easily available and/or impossible to obtain. I knew from working in the Building and Planning department for over 12 years that information was available and that the law limits the town’s ability to charge anything but copying costs (15 cents a page). The town continued to insist on its right to charge exorbitant “research” fees so we went to court. Not only did the town concede they were in error and pay money towards my attorney’s fees but they asked for my help in telling them exactly what type of records they actually have. As part of the settlement I helped design and had final approval of the public records request handout and some of the policies that are now used by the town.

    None of this was included in the Almanacs article about the settlement. What it did include though was a statement by Susan George, the town manager, to Ms. Gemmet concerning the settlement in that “It seemed prudent. The procedural changes we were going to do anyway, so it’s no loss,”. No loss? The lawsuit cost the Town over $34,000 just in legal costs. If they had followed the law, provided the requested information and promised not to charge anyone illegal fees it would have cost them nothing and I would have paid them the $3 for the 20 copies I wanted.

    There are more examples, the problems are many and wide spread. Retaliation happens. As I have said before, I have myself experienced it. In my case clients and prospective clients have been told by some town staff that they shouldn’t use my services. For other people it’s much worse. In consequence I recommend to people to be extremely careful when dealing with anything that involves the town. Because there is risk, my firm has implemented a number of privacy/protection policies and programs and advises some that if they don’t use or follow ours to get or create their own. There is a potential for retaliation and it’s multiplied over the last couple of years despite warnings to the Town Council and manager. I hope this will change and soon.

    While some at town hall are knowledgeable, good hearted and helpful, it seems to me as more people are willing and encouraged to tell their stories through the Almanac as well as COW; it can only result in a better Woodside.

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