Town Square

Post a New Topic

Has Councilmember Fergusson violated the law?

Original post made by Whistleblower on Aug 1, 2011

Will the Almanac, dedicated to local journalism, please investigate this matter?

In March 2011, Councilmember Fergusson apparently misled the FPPC, that her employer, Siemens Corporations' interest in High Speed Rail was remote, when she led them to believe that her employer, Siemens was just one of 1,100 companies listed on the rail authority's website as expressing "potential" interest in the high-speed rail project.

Web Link

Based on those facts, the ethics commission responded on April 1 that Ms. Fergusson's "decision making could potentially financially effect (sic) Siemens, but it's not foreseeable yet. She should probably request further advice (maybe written advice) if Siemens becomes more involved in the actual CHSRA (request for proposals) down the road."

What Councilmember Fergusson did not inform the commission, was that in February of 2010, Siemens Corporation moved their mobility headquarters to Sacramento and expanded their production facilities in Sacramento to accommodate the manufacturing of trains for the California High Speed Rail system. This required an investment of millions of dollars, creating a financial stake for Siemens in California High Speed Rail's future in California.

Web Link

Mrs. Fergusson also didn't inform the FPPC that Siemens was spending money, sponsoring events for the California High Speed Rail Authority to speak at, to sell and promote the positive effects High Speed Rail could have on California's economy.

Web Link

Web Link

Mrs. Fergusson also failed to inform that FPPC that Siemens was actively working with the state of California on the High Speed Rail project. These communications were admitted to as recently as June 7, 2011, when as reported by multiple sources, in Ohio, the CEO of Siemens admitted that Siemens Corporation was working with Sacramento as California explores building a high speed rail network.

Web Link

At Menlo Park City Council meetings in June and July 2011, Mrs. Fergusson advocated and voted for the City adopting an official policy supporting High Speed Rail on the Peninsula, in a blended system with Cal Train. It has come out that Mrs. Fergusson has even delayed the letter that the City Council voted to send to the High Speed Rail Authority, so she can fine tune it with City Staff. There are many residents of Menlo Park who are opposed to High Speed Rail in any form. Mrs. Fergusons's employer Siemens, clearly stands to financially gain from High Speed Rail proceeding in California. Menlo Park's new position on High Speed Rail, that Mrs. Fergusson helped create, eliminates another hurdle on the Peninsula against High Speed Rail, and made it more feasible for her employer to profit from the system.

This information certainly at a minimum deserves investigation. Has Councilmember Fergusson broken the law?

Comments (14)

Posted by Answer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 1, 2011 at 10:37 am

Your answer: no

Being an engineer so many levels below the decisionmakers at whatever subsidiary puts her so far out of the loop as to be meaningless. Much like this exercise in straw-grasping.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 1, 2011 at 10:57 am

The law and good governance both require that an elected official recuse themselves from voting on any matter which might have a financial impact on them. The degree of separation from the corporate decision making is irrelevant, the issue is the elected official's decision making.

Posted by Black & White, a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2011 at 12:27 pm

The MPFPD buys computers with Intel chips inside. You approve the budget which allows them to do so. Just how far removed must you be ?

Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 1, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Most of the links above are not relevant.

However, Siemens is on the list of potential bidders for contracts with the Authority.

The Authority has announced that RFQ (requests for qualification) will be sent out within 90 days. Following that, will be bid requests on various packages very early next year.

Certainly, if Siemen's decides to bid on any contract, Kelly must recuse herself from HSR topics. It really might be best that this is done now. She and Cline represent the City on the PCC. In general she doesn't attend those meetings and she should really be replaced as the alternate council member on that group.

Posted by Answer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 1, 2011 at 2:28 pm

A politician takes contributions from an industry or individual within an industry, shall they excuse themselves when the vote effecting that industry occurs?

A politician hosts a judge on a "hunting" trip, shouldn't the judge not be part of any ruling effecting that politician?

Posted by Answer, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm

A politician appoints a judge.

The politician's son has a case before a panel of judges, including his father's appointment.


You're worried about a 4th level engineer in a multi-billion dollar company being a councilman?

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm

First, thanks to Whistleblower for a very well researched narrative.

I think the standard should be "an appearance" of conflict. As I've said before, the reason for recusal is for the loser, not the winner. If Siemens is awarded this contract, its competitor will never know if Mr. Fergusson's involvement played a role. For the sake of fair play, Mr. Fergusson should recuse herself. Unfortunately, she's consistently disappointing and I she won't.

With regard to Black & White's cheap shot at Mr. Carpenter for an alleged conflict because the Menlo Fire District buys computers with Intel chips (Mr. Carpenter's wife serves on their board), I seriously doubt that the fire district board is specifying the brand and capability of the district's computer purchases. While I cannot speak for Mr. Carpenter, I'm sure he would have no issues recusing himself in any matters related to those purchases. However, in the case of Ms. Fergusson, she IS involved in lobbying officials regarding the specs and capabilities of our proposed high speed rail system.

Posted by Former official, a resident of another community
on Aug 2, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Actually, a council member has a duty to consider and vote on every issue that comes before them unless there is an actual financial conflict of interest (not the "appearance" of one, an ACTUAL one.) The point about buying computers with Intel chips inside them is relevant. Terms like "subject matter jurisdiction" are somewhat vague and subject to interpretation. If the decision could clearly DIRECTLY financially benefit the council member and/or his/her family members, then they must recuse themselves. Otherwise they have an obligation to do their job.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 2, 2011 at 4:25 pm

So, Former official, should Ms. Fergusson recuse herself or not?

By the way, the ethical standard for recusal is "even the appearance of conflict." Web Link

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 3, 2011 at 12:33 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

From: Peter Carpenter
Date: August 3, 2011 12:29:49 AM PDT
To: harold schapelhouman , Fire Board of Board of Directors
Cc: DEANNA RIDING , Jon Hitchcock, Art Hartinger
Subject: Recusal

It has been brought to my attention that there may be a perception that I have a conflict of interest that is not covered by current FPPC standards. Specifically, since my wife serves as the Chair of the Board of Intel and given the ubiquity of Intel chips in most computers any vote which I make to authorize District expenditures which includes computers could be perceived an inappropriate.

I would therefore ask, in an abundance of caution and in deference to the concerns which have been raised by a citizen, that any motions brought to the Board authorizing expenditures be bifurcated to isolate any computer equipment into a separate motion from which I will recuse myself.


Peter Carpenter

Posted by sunshine, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm

She hasn't broken any law. We could only wish that anyone from Menlo Park had influence on this foolish project! If and when her employer has a relationship with HSR authority, she must recuse herself just as she does on matters involving Stanford (her husband works in information technology). She could distance herself more now, but what she is doing is a far cray from breaking any law.
This inflammatory headline sounds like a witch hunt that our city doesn't need.

Posted by Former official, a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2011 at 5:47 pm


I have no opinion, either way, about Ms. Fergusson. I don't even live in Menlo Park. But you are incorrect - the standard for recusal is actual conflict of interest, not "appearance". And this standard is not set by an on-line dictionary, it is set by the FPPC.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Former official - a link to the FPPC text, please. Recusal is an ETHICAL issue, not a LEGAL one. Officials with real conflicts often do not recuse themselves and there are few legal remedies.

Sunshine - You miss the point completely. No one ever said or suggested that Ms. Fergusson broke a law. Some of us have suggested that because her employer is vying for a high speed rail contract, her lobbying efforts on behalf of high speed rail is an ethical issue.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm

18703.3. Economic Interest, Defined: Source of Income.

(a)(1) For purposes of disqualification under Sections 87100 and 87103, a public official has an economic interest in any person from whom he or she has received income, including commission income and incentive compensation as defined in this regulation, aggregating five
hundred dollars ($500) or more within 12 months prior to the time when the relevant governmental decision is made.

18702.3. Determining When a Public Official is Using or Attempting to Use His/Her Official Position to Influence a Governmental Decision.
(a) With regard to a governmental decision which is within or before an official's agency or an agency appointed by or subject to the budgetary control of his or her agency, the official is attempting to use his or her official position to influence the decision if, for the purpose of influencing the decision, the official contacts, or appears before, or otherwise attempts to influence, any member, officer, employee or consultant of the agency. Attempts to influence include, but are not limited to, appearances or contacts by the official on behalf of a business entity, client, or customer.
(b) With regard to a governmental decision which is within or before an agency not covered by subsection (a), the official is attempting to use his or her official position to influence the decision if, for the purpose of influencing the decision, the official acts or purports to act on behalf of, or as the representative of, his or her agency to any member, officer, employee or consultant of an agency. Such actions include, but are not limited to the use of official stationery.

Web Link

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

On Tour at Selective Schools: Chapman, La Verne, Redlands, Whittier
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 0 comments | 1,669 views

The dress code
By Jessica T | 15 comments | 1,485 views

. . . People will never forget how you made them feel.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 848 views

Anglo Menlo Park
By Paul Bendix | 0 comments | 577 views

Council election, and then some.
By Stuart Soffer | 1 comment | 355 views