Menlo Park councilman chastises colleagues


In the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 18, Menlo Park Councilman Andy Cohen e-mailed a copy of a handwritten letter on city stationery to a list of recipients, including The Almanac, that asked, "What is ethical for politicians and consultants in their respective roles?"

The letter slammed two of Mr. Cohen's fellow council members, with the most pointed remarks directed at Kelly Fergusson for requesting $500,000 in landscaping for the Bohannon Gateway project before supporting it.

Two days later, Mr. Cohen told The Almanac the letter had been sent to the media by mistake. Others copied on the distribution list include residents known for taking public stances on controversial issues, such as City Council candidate Chuck Bernstein, Morris Brown, Planning Commissioner Vincent Bressler, and ex-mayor Paul Collachi.

Mr. Cohen made passing reference to Councilman Heyward Robinson and ex-mayor Gail Slocum, along with Ms. Fergusson, as "not all that different from consultants who sell their professionalism for money."

When asked for a response to that statement, Ms. Fergusson said: "That's a tough one. Those are some dark thoughts."

As for Mr. Robinson, he appeared to take the letter in stride, saying that he and Mr. Cohen mostly approach issues from a similar set of values.

"But there are going to be issues where we don't see things the same way. Menlo Gateway is one of these," Mr. Robinson said.

"Even though Andy had expressed support for Gateway and I had expressed concerns over its impacts, he ended up at 'no' and I ended up at 'yes," he said. "I respect his vote and I hope that he would respect mine."

He urged the council to remain focused and put aside disagreements.

Mr. Cohen explained that he occasionally loses his temper when observing "politicians, bureaucrats, and consultants all in a feeding frenzy at the public trough."

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Like this comment
Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

$500k for landscaping? Shame on you Kelly!

Like this comment
Posted by What took you so long?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Are you serious Joanna, that is what you took from the article. BTW the Daily Post "broke" this story almost a week ago (Friday?). There were many more details about the explosive and erratic behaviour of Mr. Cohen. What took the Almanac so long?

Like this comment
Posted by A Cohen Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Oh Boy, this train is barreling down the election 2010 tracks. The recipient list is the No Growth Hall of Fame with Collacchi leading from his Redwood City residence. Menlo Park voters need to acquaint themselves with this bunch before they vote. Council Member Cohen has relied on his "Kitchen Cabinet" for 6 years as he voted against every opportunity for the city to move forward and find a future source of revenue.

While many may have complaints about the incumbents Cline and Robinson which are valid, it would be better to give them 4 more years and help them evolve as decision makers. Both have children in our schools, mortgages on their homes and the experience now to wrestle with the city's problems.

This recipient list is made up of yesterday's thinkers. If you add Engle and Brady, it's the perfect Retirement Village.

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Andy Cohen hits the trifecta. Anyone who criticises Gail Slocum, Heyward Robinson, and Kelly Fergusson in one letter truly understands that the three provocateurs are motivated not by concern for the residents but for garnering contributions for their quests for higher political offices that lie entirely outside Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by MPObserveer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm

It seems as if Mr. Cohen is turning out to be the conscience of the Menlo Park City Council. His questions are spot on and deserve to be addressed. Mr. Robinsons's response to Cohen's queries was classy amd thoughtful. That is the way public servants should treat one another.

I also loved the way Cohen questioned Councilwoman Roseanne Foust of Redwood City, won with the suit, and now Ms. Foust cannot vote on any matters relating to the Cargill Project. Between the Cargill development and the lack of a proper EIR for the RWC downtown plan, Ms. Foust has wasted a lot of taxpayers dollars. Kudos to Judge Cohen!

Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Aug 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Ah yes,the old--gee, that letter went to the media by mistake line. And I have a bridge for sale.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Aug 26, 2010 at 7:03 pm

What took you so long? wrote, "What took the Almanac so long?"

The Almanac, unfortunately, endorses candidates at election time. It seems that they don't write pieces that are critical of those that they endorse.

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I don't believe the Almanac has made up its mind yet. It usually does not until mid October. While Rich and Heyward do not have enviable records, the other candidates still have to convince Mr. Gibboney that they have a viable and credible plan for accomplishing the City's business. Right now I believe that Chuck Bernstein and Peter Ohtaki are credible candidates who deeply care about the community and would be very good council members.

Russ Petersen has good values but has not quite articulated his message to a broad base of voters. He is very smart and has good ideas and needs to let the public know what they are.

Kirsten Keith is a very thoughtful and caring person and it would serve her well to renounce the Slocum support and stand on her own two feet. Gail Slocum has been a polarizing figure on the Menlo Park political landscape and it would not serve any candidate well to be associated with her.

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 27, 2010 at 6:34 am

Gail has every right to be involved in Menlo Park politics and as long as she advocates policies that places the Unions' interests above the residents' she will be taken to task for it. No one can make Gail "turn out to pasture". We live in a free country and she is free to express her ideas no matter how repugnant they may seem to be to moderate individuals. And we are also free to criticize her when her ideas clash with ours.

Like this comment
Posted by No Surprises
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 27, 2010 at 9:55 am

Pretty lame email by Andy, but then he's been a pretty lame Council Member for the last 6 years. Whenever there's a need to get out and tackle the tough issues with people who may have different but valid opinions, he just gets deeper into the bunker with his extremist advisors.

At first it was surprising that Hank Lawrence would be sidling into Andy and Chuck's camp, but now it makes much more sense- they're all ideologues, who explain away legitimate differences with absolutist statements and paranoia, and turn everything into 'us' and 'them'. That's easy to do, and it may be satisfying for them at some level, but is it the right thing for Menlo Park?

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 27, 2010 at 10:31 am

If being fiscally responsible and standing up to employee Unions' egregious demands is being an ideologue then most residents of Menlo Park are ideologues.

The Union chauvanists do not have any rational arguments to justify their positions. So being true to their character they engage in name calling to divert attention away from their frivolous arguments. They have now been reduced to being puerile apologists for the Unions and are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

This upcoming election is about fiscal responsibility. The lines have been drawn and the incumbents running for re-election (Heyward Robinson and Richar Cline) are on the wrong side. Now it is up to the voters to decide how much fiscal pain they are willing to endure.

We have some fresh talent out there with energy and devotion that will be directed towards solving the problems of the City of Menlo Park. They deserve your careful consideration. Heyward Robinson and Richard Cline have had 4 years to prove themselves and quite frankly they have been a disappointment. Now we have the opportunity to correct the mistakes we made 4 years ago.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 27, 2010 at 11:30 am

I think that our communities are finally realizing that we are in DEEP financial trouble and there are a very few individual members of the local city councils who, while having very different political views, have reached this same conclusion. Andy Cohen and John Boyle have many political differences but they are two of the local elected officials have have seen the light of the financial crisis and trying to encourage their colleagues to take the necessary and painful steps to start solving this problem. An essential ingredient for dealing with our financial crisis is to have a majority of the local city/town council members who are committed to having balanced budgets without recourse to reserves, which will be soon depleted, and that will require restructuring public employee salaries and benefits as well as aggressive outsourcing - particularly of the big ticket services like the police departments.

Like this comment
Posted by TooShay Peter
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 27, 2010 at 12:24 pm

The more I pay attention to our governments, local, county, state and federal, the more I think we need people that actually know how to use a calculator, and are tough enough to make the difficult choices. Terminating positions, cutting resources etc., can bring about good change. There are ways of making these tough choices that don't effect current employees immediately. We can grandfather out a few of these non-essential positions, we can payout some dollars for severance, we can eliminate un-filled positions, etc. If we acted more as a private business, we'd be in much better shape. This constant "none decision making" garbage that goes on with this current council, and many of our other governments, just delays the inevitable to the point where it gets really ugly. We need to elect people that can make these decisions, and not worry about what people think of them, or worry about what unions might say, etc. This is for the good of the whole, kinda like governments USED to do.

Like this comment
Posted by serial voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 27, 2010 at 1:24 pm

Andy Cohen may not be an accounting whiz, but he has convictions, is solidly on the side of the general public, and isn't afraid to speak up. I can't tell you how disappointed I have been in Heyward and Rich, whom I supported in 2006, and Kelly always seems a half step behind what's going on.

Why is it so hard to find smart people with integrity?

Like this comment
Posted by What convictions?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 27, 2010 at 1:41 pm

What convictions does Andy Cohen have? You're confusing outbursts of anger with convictions.

Like this comment
Posted by disgusted
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

Right - Andy's midnight handwritten blast was, he himself admitted, a fit of anger. And he later claimed he didn't mean to send it to the press.

This is just one of many such signs of Andy's tempermental unsuitability for public office. It would be just "sad" but it actually harms the Council's ability to work well together. It is one thing to disagree on the issues, it's entirely another to start spewing vitriol and slinging mud at people you will need to keep working with every week for the next 2 years. It is too bad Andy is not up for re-election. Though I supported him both times, I would not do so again.

Like this comment
Posted by serial voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Aug 27, 2010 at 3:07 pm

I'm not understanding the relationship between convictions and outbursts of anger -- is What? suggesting that people who lose their temper occasionally can't have any convictions? Then I'd guess that most of us have no convictions at all!

I agree that it was impolitic of Andy to send that email. But I would rather have a council member who sometimes puts his foot in his mouth than a council member who talks out of both sides of his. Since I first started watching the council, about ten years ago, he's been the only member that never seems to forget whom he's working for and consistently tries to do the right thing, big money interests and unions notwithstanding. We don't all have to agree with each of his votes or with everything he says to appreciate his dedication and honesty.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 27, 2010 at 3:17 pm

The pressures of Group Think amongst our elected officials often lead to total inability to make decisions. And fortunately Andy, in the wee hours of the morning, was able to think for and express himself. I agree with Serial Voter - Thank you Andy for speaking out and for having consistent convictions which put the people whom you serve first.

And I say this even though Andy and I disagree on many issues - it is always reassuring to know where he stands isn't going to change depending on which way the political winds are blowing.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 27, 2010 at 8:49 pm

serial voter -

You asked "Why is it so hard to find smart people with integrity?"

Because it takes a lot of effort to raise your hand and say I'm going to run for office.

I think you should try it - it's not that difficult. Look at the people who have done it and been elected.

Like this comment
Posted by Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Aug 28, 2010 at 9:30 am

Good for Andy ! It's good to see someone validating openly, what
everyone already knows but is afraid to speak their piece. We need more comments like Andy's wether it's anger or not, some times anger
is the best truth but in a non PC form of delivery.. GO ANDY

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 28, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Andy Cohen derserves the award for the most improved Council member. It was courageous of him to splinter off from the Slocum machine. Good for Andy and Good for Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by swap meat
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I live in Atherton not Menlo Park
We would be happy to trade you any or all, of our council members in exchange for Andy--any body but McKiethen that is--she is not up for grabs.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 28, 2010 at 3:09 pm

One interesting way to save taxpayers' money AND improve the quality of our city/town councils would be to consolidate Menlo Park and Atherton into a single entity - Menlo Atherton.

And in the process the voters could pick the best new council members.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm

While we are at it, let's really make some changes:
1) consolidate Menlo Park and Atherton
2) add in the adjacent unincorporated areas of San Mateo County
3) 1 City Council elected on the basis of fiscal responsibility
4) 1 police department or outsource to the Sheriff
5) add in ALL the schools which all located within the new city boundaries and have the City Council also serve as the Consolidated School Board with a Schools Committee

The result - Huge savings and clear accountability and responsibility.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Aug 28, 2010 at 9:26 pm

That would make way too much sense which is why it won't happen. We don't want to be efficient, smart and cost effective. After all, governments live for their fiefdoms.

Like this comment
Posted by Andy fan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 30, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Yes, Andy sometimes goes off on a tangent but I think you'd hardly find a more compassionate and principled elected official. He can be unpredictable but willing to stand up for what he thinks is right. Best of all, he actively seeks input from a lot of different people who have a lot of different perspectives and then makes his own decision. From what I've experienced, he's the only one on the current or former councils to do so.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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