News - January 7, 2009

Ann Wengert named mayor of Portola Valley

by Dave Boyce

Councilwoman Ann Wengert is the new mayor of Portola Valley for the next 12 months.

Ms. Wengert, a real estate and business adviser to small businesses, individuals and commercial property owners, was chosen by the Portola Valley Town Council on Dec. 10 on a 4-0-1 vote, with Councilman Richard Merk abstaining.

The mayor's job is largely ceremonial and includes setting the agenda and chairing council meetings. She remains on the council. Councilman Steve Toben, the new vice-mayor, will sit in for the mayor when she is absent.

Ms. Wengert is a former planning commissioner, a former acquisition adviser for Peninsula Open Space Trust, and a docent/naturalist at the Ano Nuevo State Reserve.

She has lived in Portola Valley for nine years with Leslie Latham, her partner of 26 years, and with two Australian shepherd dogs, she said.

Ms. Wengert heads PV Properties, a sole proprietorship. She was the co-founder of Property Capital Corp. and Briggs Wengert Associates, LLC, both San Francisco firms.

Over her 28-year career, she has represented investors in transactions worth more than $5 billion, she said in a statement. Her list of clients includes Alaska's state investment fund, and teacher retirement funds for California and New York.

She has raised some $6 million in venture and angel financing and has arranged corporate acquisitions and institutional financing worth hundreds of millions of dollars. These days, she operates from referrals and word of mouth, she said.

Ms. Wengert has a bachelor's degree in psychology from Bucknell University and a master's degree in business from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

About that abstention

Mr. Merk's abstention was unrelated to the choice of Ms. Wengert as mayor, but to the way she was elected, he said in an interview.

As her last mayoral act, Maryann Moise Derwin gave a speech that concluded with her nomination of Ms. Wengert, who was serving as vice-mayor. Councilman Ted Driscoll seconded the nomination and Ms. Derwin immediately asked for a vote. After a chorus of "ayes," she handed the gavel to Ms. Wengert.

It is improper parliamentary procedure, Mr. Merk said, for a mayor to make a motion — in this case, a nomination — except in unusual circumstances. He also faulted Ms. Derwin for not asking for other nominations and for not asking for "nay" votes and abstentions.

The way Ms. Derwin handled it "is just bad political practice," he said. "With Robert's Rules (of order), the point is that everyone gets heard and everyone gets a chance to speak."

Mr. Merk, who is normally out of town for the December meeting, said he leaned back and informed the mayor of his abstention after the vote. Town Clerk Sharon Hanlon confirms this account.

There's nothing technically wrong with Ms. Derwin's process, Town Attorney Sandy Sloan said in an interview. While the Portola Valley council "generally" follows parliamentary procedure, there are no specific rules, nor are there legal requirements, as to how an outgoing mayor initiates a vote for a successor, she said.

"It was a little rushed," she added.

Asked to comment on Mr. Merk's complaint, Ms. Derwin said, "That's pretty good," and added that she was elected mayor in a similar style.

She acknowledged not having asked for other nominations, "nay" votes and abstentions. "I was shocked," she said, at Mr. Merk abstention. "I didn't think anybody was going to nominate anybody else. He could have chimed in if he felt out of sorts."

It's common practice for the mayor's job to rotate among council members. Mr. Merk, who is in his 12th year on the council, served as mayor in the 1990s but has not been nominated in recent years.

Ms. Derwin said she had worked some years ago, behind the scenes, to get Mr. Merk nominated, but was rebuffed by fellow council members on the grounds that Mr. Merk doesn't meet a key mayoral criterion: getting along with Town Manager Angela Howard.

In an interview, Mr. Merk acknowledged concerns.

"I just don't think that Angela Howard is doing a good job," he said. "I think she's hard on the employees, I think she's a micromanager, I think she doesn't know how to let other people do a good job."

Mr. Merk, a longtime liaison to the town's Emergency Preparedness Committee, complained at length about Ms. Howard's "bottom of the list" priority for emergency preparedness at Town Hall. "She thinks she's ready and I don't think she has a clue."

Ms. Howard, on being told that Mr. Merk had complained about her job performance, chose not to address specifics, but replied: "I'm disappointed that he feels that way. He's never spoken to me about what are deficiencies in my duties and, other than that, I don't have any comment."


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