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Publication Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2003

New political action committee starts in Menlo Park New political action committee starts in Menlo Park (March 12, 2003)

** Political group backs Menlo councilwomen Winkler, Duboc. Meeting held under watchful eyes of a few crashers.

By Pam Smith

Almanac Staff Writer

Out with the old, and in with the new.

A new political group is forming that will support Menlo Park Councilwomen Lee Duboc and Mickie Winkler, according to its president. The announcement came at a March 6 meeting for the councilwomen's campaign supporters from last fall, and it took place under the gaze of a few known political foes who had walked in despite being told the event was invitation-only.

"We're going to be forming a new organization that Lee [Duboc] and I will not be running," Ms. Winkler announced to the crowd of more than 60 people who had gathered in a meeting room at the Stanford Park Hotel.

The still-unnamed group "will stand independent of us," she added, in contrast to the Menlo Park Neighborhood Association (MPNA), the candidate-controlled committee that hosted last week's gathering. The MPNA took contributions last fall for the three candidates who control it: Ms. Duboc, Ms. Winkler, and Mayor Nicholas Jellins, who was not at last week's meeting.

Mayor Jellins said he had no role in forming the new group, but will keep an open mind about getting involved. "We'll see what the group aims to accomplish," he said.

The group's three officers -- President John Conway, Vice President Reg Rice, and Treasurer Michael Meyer -- said they were the only three members as of last Thursday. The latter two are Menlo Park residents and officers of the MPNA. Mr. Conway owns Menlo Chevron on El Camino Real, and is a Menlo Park resident as well as a board member of the city's Chamber of Commerce, according to chamber president and CEO Chris Alonso.

The MPNA will probably dissolve, and the new group will probably register as a kind of political action committee, or PAC, known as a city committee, said Mr. Meyer.

The formation of the new group is, at least in part, an attempt to separate from the former candidates, he said.

But Mr. Conway indicated the new group would continue to lend its support to at least two of them.

If the group attracts a lot of members, it can give Ms. Winkler and Ms. Duboc the support they need, he told their supporters last week.

Among the group's stated goals are to "groom future candidates and commissioners," increase its membership, and act as a "go-to" group to write letters on issues and show up for city government meetings, he said.

Ms. Winkler told the supporters that if they don't come to those meetings and "the other side" does, "it looks like we're not listening to the community."

A city committee is a type of general purpose recipient committee that supports or opposes a variety of candidates or measures in a city's elections, but it doesn't limit its activity to a single election season, according to the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

Such committees can accept and spend money, and are required to file campaign finance forms with the state.

The Menlo Community Association is another general purpose committee that was formed just before the 2000 election, but was largely inactive last fall; Ms. Winkler was one of its prominent members. It will "be shutting down pretty soon," said Mr. Rice.

Another new PAC called the Menlo Park Residentialists was registered last fall, with Councilman Paul Collacchi listed as treasurer. It has not been visibly active since the election.

Crashers

Several residents known to disagree with Ms. Winkler and Ms. Duboc tried to enter last week's meeting, but were told that it was invitation-only. (The Almanac was allowed in without objection.)

Resident Irene Searles is an outspoken advocate for building a new children's center, plans which the City Council recently derailed at the urging of the two councilwomen. Ms. Searles challenged Mr. Rice and Mr. Meyer at the entrance to the meeting, after being told she couldn't go in because she was not on the list of invited guests.

Ms. Searles reminded them that Ms. Duboc's and Ms. Winkler's campaign literature -- she came armed with it in her hand -- said "we will listen respectfully to the entire community, not just to those with whom we agree, or to those who speak the loudest."

"They do," Mr. Meyer replied, "but this is a Menlo Park Neighborhood Association meeting."

He and Mr. Rice later said they were afraid uninvited people would try to take over the microphone inside the meeting.

Some people would not be turned away. Former council members Steve Schmidt and Mary Jo Borak, along with Mr. Schmidt's wife, Brielle Johnck, walked into the meeting after it had begun.

They "were asked not to go in, and they just blew by us and went in anyway," said Mr. Meyer.

"I'm faster than they are," Mr. Schmidt said later. "I'm not going to help or get in the way of anything they want to do, I just wanted to see what they were doing, listen to what they have to say."

Ms. Searles and Nancy Travers, another children's center advocate, came in toward the end. "They made a big hoo-hah about how they wanted to be the council who listens," said Ms. Travers. "I just wanted to hear what their plans are for the future of the city."

Ms. Duboc said she wasn't bothered by the crashers. "I mean, we were doing nothing to hide."

Later, Ms. Winkler remarked: "I had been thinking first of all that there would be a lot more ... sort of troublemakers showing up, and I didn't think that was appropriate for our meeting."

As it turned out, just a handful of uninvited people came in, and they didn't speak up, she added. "So it turned out very well."

She didn't seem pleased that the meeting had been noted beforehand in three newspapers, though.

"I'd ... like to introduce our PR person, who notified the press of this event," Ms. Winkler said in her opening remarks. Problem was, she didn't know who notified the press. She asked if they cared to identify themselves. No one did.

Issues and barbs

Much of the meeting last week took on the tone of a "town hall" meeting, albeit with a select group of participants.

Various issues were raised and discussed by the councilwomen and residents, such as amendments to the city's rules for home construction, a clean-up day being organized in the Belle Haven neighborhood, and how to help local businesses and alleviate a shortage of downtown parking.

The evening also included a few barbs.

Noting that Toni Stein, a planning commissioner and opponent in last year's council race, has recently twice accused the councilwomen of possible Brown Act violations, Ms. Winkler said, "If we have a magician in the audience who could make her go away, I'd like it."

She also said she had heard rumors that child-care parents -- she also referred to them as "childish parents" -- were circulating a petition in an attempt to have a recall election.

"As of today, nobody's making an effort to do that (as far as I know)," Ms. Travers, one of the most outspoken child-care parents, said four days after the meeting.

At one point, Ms. Winkler also implied that she's not finished un-doing work of the past council.

After local Realtor Dick Poe criticized the city's heritage tree ordinance, which requires people to get permits to cut down or significantly trim trees of certain types or girth, Ms. Winkler offered some criticisms of her own and said "that's coming back to us in April."

Last year's council decided to apply the law to more trees than before.


 

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