CONFLICTED COWNCIL

November 5, 2014

Recently, the Town COWncil approved the appointment of the seven members of the newly-created Emergency Preparedness Committee. Given the reality of wildfire danger in our parched region, let alone the earthquakes and other threats that come with living in the Golden State. We are really glad that the Town COWncil took this step. However, one thing about the process gave us pause. The Town COWncil Subcommittee that reviews potential Town Committee members includes COWncil member Ron Romines… and one of the approved applicants to the Emergency Preparedness Committee is Ron’s wife Judy Romines… and the Town COWncil liaison (also approved at this meeting) to the Emergency Preparedness Committee is? …Ron Romines.

This turns out to be not as unusual as it should be in Woodside. Sue Sweeney Burow, wife of the Town Mayor Dave Burow, heads the Open Space Committee. Nancy Shanahan sits on the Livestock and Equestrian Heritage Committee, and her husband is Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Shanahan. And until recently, Virginia Dare, wife of COWncil member Peter Mason, was on the Open Space Committee and a frequent speaker at Town COWncil meetings.

While COWncil member Romines was good enough to recuse himself for the actual appointment of his spouse to the Emergency Preparedness Committee, can we be sure that these COWncil members intimate relationships with members of Town committees which make recommendations to the City COWncil won’t be influenced by the relationship? While, of course, spouses can have differing opinions, there certainly is the appearance of undue influence.

It is truly commendable that these COWncil representatives’ family members are committed to public service, but in San Mateo County alone there are hundreds of local nonprofit boards just crying out for good people to volunteer.

After all, our Town is small, but not THAT small. There must be other citizens who could volunteer for these positions. Woodside doesn’t have to be a banana republic with horses.

While we’re on the subject of potential conflicts of interest in Town, we were reminded recently by those appointments to the Emergency Preparedness Committee that members of the Planning Commission aren’t allowed to serve on other Town committees and boards. This prevented an otherwise-very-qualified Adolph Rosekrans, a Planning Commissioner, from being appointed to the Emergency Preparedness Committee. This makes sense to us – after all, serving on the Planning Commission is very time-intensive, involves dealing with other citizens of Woodside in an advisory capacity that can be at times confrontational, and the position is often a stepping-stone to the Town COWncil. It’s probably not a good idea to have your attention and loyalties split by serving on another Town board.

Interestingly, this logic also should be applied to the Architectural Site and Review Board which does not have a similar prohibition on its members. Three out of seven of the Board members – Thalia Lubin, Maggie Mah, and Nancy Reyering – serve on other committees in the Town. This also influences the way decisions are made. They have multiple venues to push “pet” ideas. Is this right? With the outcry getting louder against the ASRB we don’t think so.

For an example which underscores this concern, just look at how Nancy Reyering, who sits on the Open Space Committee has influenced the extreme new fence regulations being considered by the Town. Ms. Reyering gets to try to craft the new rules on the OSC and then gets another shot at foisting unwanted changes in Town at the ASRB level – is that fair?

Peter Mason is an architect and Dave Tanner is a builder and we understand that both have projects that have gone through the town. No matter what is said about them being treated like everyone else, it seems unlikely that staff review their bosses projects in an unbiased fashion. Should this be allowed? Is it fair? It is good to have knowledgeable professionals on COWncil but we would be more comfortable if they did not practice their trades in Town.

The Town of Woodside has an adopted Code of Ethics and Conduct adopted in 1994 and reaffirmed in 2002. We believe it is time for it to be thoroughly reviewed and up-dated. It has nice general language but we would like to see clearer standards. It should make clear that the appearance of conflict arises when the Council appoints family members of one of its own to recommending bodies. We also think it would be a good idea to consider term limits for service on Council, ASRB, Planning Commission and Open Space Committee.

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