COWncil Round up – January 8, 2008

January 28, 2008

2008’s COWncil business started off with a disappearing and then reappearing meeting! After first being canceled, the January 8th meeting was reinstated just days before the meeting was held. For a Town government known to have transparency issues, this seemed like more of the same. You can see everything the Town might have wanted to hide by watching the meeting here on Mootube.

The meeting was mostly given over to three items: honoring Andrea Gemmet of the Almanac on the eve of her retirement from the Woodside beat; reviewing the new handbook for members of the Town COWncil; and discussing whether or not to allow a rest area for a bike race within the Town of Woodside.

Under the Public Comment portion of the agenda, a member of the community spoke about what he characterized as illegal grading on a neighbor’s property. He stated that many tons of dirt had been illegally moved, without a permit, on his neighbor’s land, and that during the major storms earlier this winter, this grading had resulted in water run-off being concentrated in a small area of his property, causing serious erosion. Town COWncil expressed concern over this, and Planning Director Hope Sullivan promised to look into it. We will be following to see if this comes back to COWncil in the future.

Next, the chair of the Woodside History Committee, Thalia Lubin read a historical letter from 1859, a time when Woodside had only 30 families. It contained many interesting facts and anecdotes about our Town’s beginning.

The COWncil then moved on to the their agenda items and gave a “Proclamation Recognizing the Journalistic Achievements of Andrea Gemmet.” Ms. Gemmet has been a reporter with the The Almanac on the Woodside beat since 2000, and has had a close relationship with our Town’s Council. We’ve reported on this very close relationship on COW’s website before, commenting on her seeming more like a cheerleader and ally of the COWncil instead of an unbiased, critical journalist. She has now moved on to cover K-12 education and Atherton government, and we wish her well in her new assignment. We also hope that the next reporter on the Woodside beat has more than an arms length with our COWncil and Town Manager. Another note – for the second time in two meetings, the new Mayor Romines couldn’t resist a shout-out to COW in an official proclamation. It seems our cowbell-ringing is getting hard to ignore!

Next came the review and adoption of “A Handbook for Members of the Town Council.” The Handbook, has basic information on Town governance as well as ethical codes and guides to avoiding conflicts of interest and personal attacks. The guide is principally for members of Town COWncil, but also serves as a guide for members of Woodside boards and commissions. Susan George told a few stories (with the guilty parties names’ withheld) of past bad behavior by COWncil members, including shouting at each other and being flagrantly rude to members of the public seeking to address them.

There was some discussion about the the open-meetings requirements including the prohibition on serial meetings and on the proper use of e-mail. Members of the audience, which at this point was almost entirely made up of heads of various Woodside commissions and boards, stood up and spoke about how too-draconian restrictions on e-mail use might make the work they do impossible. The Town Attorney tried to allay their concerns but did point out that all such e-mails are public documents from the moment they’re generated. Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit to convince Susan George that emails really are public records. The Handbook is not yet up on the Town’s website. Hopefully that will be corrected soon but it would have been nice if the public could have reviewed it prior to the meeting.

Millo Fenzi, chair of the Bicycle Committee, spoke on behalf of an application for the ‘Amgen Breakaway from Cancer’ 25 mile ride that will be passing through Woodside on February 10th. Millo made it clear that he was speaking as a private citizen doing a favor for the organizer of the race, who couldn’t be at the meeting, rather than as a representative of the Bicycle Committee, as they hadn’t gotten a chance to meet on the issue.

The race application proposed two different routes, because Woodside has rebuffed attempts to have stops with water and a place to rest within the Town limits on previous occasions. After a long discussion on this issue, it was clear that the COWncil still was not interested in having any rest stops within the Town limits on public land. They cited safety concerns and traffic issues, and discussed alternative stops – all outside of Woodside, and thus outside their jurisdiction. They finally approved the race going through Woodside, but forbade it from having any rest stop on public land within the Town itself. The COWncil expressed hope that Cañada College might be used as a rest area.

Council discussed the logistics of their special site visit to the Sandhill Estates project on January 16th.

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