Redwood City council member Rosanne Foust sounds confident that a state ethics commission will rule in her favor when considering a complaint filed last week by Menlo Park council member Andy Cohen over her ties to a lobbyist organization that endorsed the Cargill Saltworks project.
"I do not believe that I have violated the rules and trust that the [Fair Political Practices Commission will reach the same conclusion," she said. " I am quite disappointed that he failed to inform me before he filed the complaint."
The controversy hinges on Ms. Foust's employment as the chief executive officer of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association. However, she does not sit on the SAMCEDA board, which she has said was solely responsible for the endorsement.
That seems to cut too fine a line for Mr. Cohen. "I live right on the railroad track, so when high-speed rail comes up I am required to recuse myself and I am not allowed to act like a council member to influence public decision," he said. "I am painfully aware that when I represent Menlo Park, I am precluded from speaking as a result."
Mr. Cohen pointed to a 1981 "best advice letter" from the FPPC that stated, "There is an inherent appearance of conflict as well as an actual conflict when an official is being paid to promote or represent certain positions, on the one hand, and on the other, she is being called on to determine public policies and positions in the same area."
Ms. Foust has avoided other conflicts of interest. While mayor of Redwood City in 2008, she along with council members Jeff Ira and Jim Harnett recused themselves from a council vote on the Preserve of Redwood Shores project, as all three were residents of that neighborhood.
"I hope the object of Mr. Cohen's complaint is not sheer disruption of the process in order to force me to recuse myself," she said. "As a fellow council member, he should both be more aware and sensitive to the often difficult positions under which councils do the public's business."
The current conflict of interest couldn't be clearer to some local environmental advocates. "If she's not doing everything in her job at SAMCEDA to get this project approved by the city council, then SAMCEDA shouldn't pay her," said David Lewis, executive director of Save The Bay, an organization that opposes the Cargill plan. "She is the voice of SAMCEDA."
Ms. Foust told The Almanac that she is following the Redwood City attorney's advice and will continue to do so. However, Stanly Yamamoto left the position in January, and his replacement, Pamela Thompson, starts Aug. 4. It remains to be seen whether the incoming city attorney will agree that there is no conflict of interest.