News

Menlo Park councilman behaving badly

Andy Cohen crosses ethical line?

Click on pictures to enlarge.

By Sandy Brundage

Almanac Staff Writer

"I'm going to do whatever I can to help you out, because you're such a good-looking woman."

That remark raises no eyebrows in some contexts -- between good friends, for example.

In others, it crosses an ethical line -- such as between a business owner and potential vendor.

How about between a Menlo Park councilman and a developer with business shortly coming before the council?

Kim LeMieux, who asked the City Council to overturn a commission decision and allow her to cut down a heritage redwood tree at 240 University Drive, spoke with several council members before the meeting, including Andy Cohen.

During their lengthy phone conversation preceding the Oct. 26 council meeting, Mr. Cohen made the above remark.

He told The Almanac he thought she was a woman he'd met at the Golden Acorn awards last month, and didn't realize until the meeting started that he'd actually never met Ms. LeMieux.

"Is that what I was quoted as saying? Jesus. That's really terrible. I was really impressed by her integrity, which I think influenced me to make that remark," said the councilman, who is a former judge with a Stanford law degree.

"I guess I should be red in the face. But you know, one thing I think is, if I don't have anything to be ashamed of, and I didn't even know Kim before this, I have nothing to be ashamed of. Her openness with me was extraordinary, and I think that's beautiful. So that's one thing in my defense."

The Almanac was unable to speak with Ms. LeMieux on Thursday to ask for her assessment of the pre-meeting conversation with Councilman Cohen. She did respond earlier in the week to questions about her reaction to the council's decision.

Mr. Cohen, along with colleagues Kelly Fergusson and Heyward Robinson, voted to have a third-party architect attempt to design a new home around the tree, preserving the redwood while still allowing Ms. LeMieux to develop the property -- a decision that left her "very disappointed."

"How many more expert opinions do they need to make a decision?" she asked. Her presentation to the council included alternate designs drawn at her own expense before she concluded it wasn't possible to save the towering redwood.

Mr. Cohen said he had coached her on how to make the presentation, but also did the same for a neighbor who opposed cutting down the tree. At 70 feet tall and 52 inches in diameter, the redwood looms large enough to provide shade for houses next door.

Explaining his vote to delay deciding the tree's fate, he said his perspective is that further research may allow both parties in the dispute to walk away happy.

"If Kim says it's impossible to do something with the alternatives being presented, I'm going to vote to remove the tree. I tried to make that very clear Tuesday night in the fluff Kelly and Heyward create when they do their dance," Mr. Cohen said.

Mayor Rich Cline voted to grant the developer's request to cut down the tree.

"Well, he didn't help her much," observed Mr. Cline after a long pause when asked about the comment.

He noted that his colleague, known for scathing criticism of other council members in Menlo Park and beyond, seems to get a pass on controversial remarks, unlike everyone else on the dais.

Still, Mr. Cline hesitated to reach a conclusion regarding Mr. Cohen's conduct. "If I took it at face value, a lot of times I'd be very disappointed in what I'm hearing. At best it's a sloppy comment; it's a lazy use of the English language. At worst, it's an offensive comment. It's up to the person who heard it to define that," he said.

If it's an ethical misstep for a business owner, how much more so for a council member? "It's probably pretty egregious from an elected official," Mr. Cline said.

Menlo Park, however, has no ethics policy for the council. There is, according to City Attorney Bill McClure, a policy adopted in 1995 for city employees, but nothing specific to council members. He said that nothing in Mr. Cohen's remarks appears to raise a legal issue.

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Another Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 28, 2010 at 8:40 pm

"I was really impressed by her integrity, which I think influenced me to make that remark,"

Seriously? It's when someone demonstrates integrity that they bring on sexist, harassing remarks? So it's Kim's fault?



Like this comment
Posted by what is the point?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 28, 2010 at 9:17 pm

I have read this article several times, and all I con conclude is "What is the Point"

Sandy Brundage seems to be trying to write a hit piece against Cohen, but Cohen isn't running for council. This also is not the style, at least before now, of the Almanac.

Did the Almanac editor see this before it was published?

As noted by Mayor Cline, Cohen didn't vote in her favor. So again what is the point?

Then, Brundage, says this was all in a phone conversation. How did Brundage, get access to that phone call. How did she even know about it? That may be the key question. Who tipped Brundage off that this conversation even took place.

Ms. Brundage is sure trying to make a big deal of this, since she interviews Mayor Cline and City Attorney.

We need much more explanation from the author than from anyone else.


Like this comment
Posted by cojones for brains
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 28, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Seem to recall Kim being quoted during the substandard lot FAR deliberations some years back as pontificating on the need to get rid of some many of these "tacky little houses".
In the current appeal, she gets a bunch of friends to email the council with "We Love Kim" letters of support.
So typical of this generation of transplants who are driven by the almighty peso at the expense of preserving local heritage.
Scrape and rape, we'll just plant some pretty flowers to remind the community of the fallen Giant Redwood.
If Kim were really sincere in using her vast wealth and make the larger community proud of her desire to preserve some legacy for future generations, she would get an architect, say like Sam Sinnott, locally born and bred, or Chuck Kinney, or Bob Peterson, designer of Menlo Center, to design a timeless redwood contemporary that would showcase that magnificent tree.
Garage in the front left, sanctuary entry around the Redwood, with the house in the rear.
Now, that would be something that Frank Lloyd Wright fans would get lathered up about and Kim would gain instant fame as the Mother of All Heritage Trees.
Limb the tree to let in light and viewing angles up into its grand majesty.
Think how much she could sell the house for with the worldwide acclaim for her "out of the box" thinking.
It would be a show stopper and Kim could bask in her celebrity status.
Save that tree, it's worth a million bucks.


Like this comment
Posted by Neighborly
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 2:47 am

Kim and luxury home realtor husband Tom bought the 7750 sq ft 240 University lot for $1.32 million in June 2007, with full knowledge that there was a heritage tree on the lot that would potentially preclude them from building another McMansion with a basement.
Kim is a developer, her concerns are not for the enjoyment of living on that particular piece of land but instead to make as much money as possible for her family by exploiting the land and the neighborhood.
I'm sure she and Tom could have found another suitable lot at the time which would not have involved a heritage tree issue. But those lots without the heritage tree cost more.
The fact is they decided to take the gamble of paying less for a lot with the heritage tree encumberance. They hoped their usual call for bigger homes (for the needy wealthy families who can't move to Menlo Park because the homes are too small) would work as usual.
Well it's time for the LeMieuxs to bite the bullet and realize you can't always bend the rules for the sake of a dollar.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 7:23 am

"Save that tree, it's worth a million bucks."

Until it falls down and crushes that lovely house you suggest bulding aroud it thanks to the damage to the root system caused by the construction.


Like this comment
Posted by Another Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 8:44 am

Back to the thread please.

If you would like to start a post about the merits of the tree and this project, go ahead, but this article is about the comments made by a Council member saying inappropriate comments (at best) to a resident.

Are we all going to accept that kind of behavior and change the conversation so quickly? Should the occupation of the recipient of the comment be relevant here? I hope not.





Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 8:55 am

While Council Member Cohen's conduct is truly deplorable and disgusting (and his lame excuse that he said that because he thought he knew her is almost worse), the underlying story about a property owner's effort to build on their residential lot should not be lost.

The story noted, "Mr. Cohen, along with colleagues Kelly Fergusson and Heyward Robinson, voted to have a third-party architect attempt to design a new home around the tree..."

At considerable expense, this property owner had already retained at least one architect to do just that without success. But the Town Council, including the boorish Mr. Cohen, in its infinite wisdom, knows better than everyone else and will now impose it's will on the property owner and make them spend another $50,000 or so to try again.

Do people not realize that some builder or developer cleared their lot when they built their house? Do people not realize that the lumber, cabinets, doors and roof in your house came from a tree?

Just make the property owner buy a Prius and wear Birkenstocks (preferably with socks) and call it a day.


Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:07 am

I just wonder who the pretty girl was that Cohen met at the Golden Acorn Awards and thought he was talking to on the phone. Seriously, the comment was inappropriate by today's standards relative to such issues.


Like this comment
Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:21 am

First, I'd like to know how anyone managed to capture the allegedly verbatim comments made by a council member. Is his phone tapped? Are illegal recordings being made? That concerns me far more than the possibility of his having made a flirtatious comment to a developer. (Someone may feel patronized by being called "good looking" but the comment hardly constitutes sexual harassment.)

Second, would the Almanac even be writing this story if the council had voted in favor of LeMieux? I wonder what motivated them to run a piece that seems more appropriate for a supermarket tabloid.

Finally, the neighbors should have spoken up at the planning commission meeting. There was no opposition then.

The Almanac could have written a neutral story about this particular project and the challenges the developers have encountered along the way, including the council's baffling decision on Tuesday. But a petty personal attack? Please, Almanac, you can do better.


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:33 am

council watcher -

Mr. Cohen acknowledged the inappropriate comment so it's accuracy is not disputed.

While it's not the worst thing in the world, to say "I'm going to do whatever I can to help you out, because you're such a good-looking woman" to a member of the public who was honestly trying to seek help from her elected official is wrong and it is a legitimate story.

We should know when our elected officials behave like boors, especially to a citizen seeking help.


Like this comment
Posted by mpnative
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:45 am

I agree with 'What is the Point". Sandy Brundage please clarify where you got your information.

To Ms. Lemieux regarding your financial loss, CRY ME A RIVER!


Like this comment
Posted by Another Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:48 am

Agree with POGO's last post--

Council members are in a position of power when a resident is seeking help with an issue that is to be decided at council. For a person in power to make a resident-- any resident-- feel like they are receiving that help because they are a "good looking woman" (or whatever physical characteristic they choose) is an abuse of power. It causes the recipient of the comment to not say anything about it until the council member no longer is "in control."

And what if he thought she was not a "good looking woman?" Would he have been even LESS helpful?





Like this comment
Posted by council watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

"Is that what I was quoted as saying?"

Doesn't sound like he acknowledges anything to me.

I still wonder how the Almanac managed to get a transcript of this conversation.

Since it sounds as though he was giving advice to both sides, I don't see a whole lot of bias. That, I think, is what would concern most residents. However, it might be best if he stopped talking to any constituents lest his "help" be misinterpreted and blown up into scandal proportions. This story illustrates why council members would be better off to ignore residents altogether!


Like this comment
Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 29, 2010 at 10:24 am

Cohen is one of the worst city council members this city has seen in decades. Manic letters at 4am, storming out of the council meetings, potential sexual harassment garbage. It goes on and on.


Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2010 at 10:41 am

Its human nature and very common for people to react to stories such as this based on whether they like or dislike or support or don't support the person who is the subject of the article (e.g. Meg and the housekeeper). I have no opinion about Mr. Cohen at all; never met him personally. Here is my take away from this article. I believe it is unbiased. According to Mr. Cohen's response, I take away that, while he didn't admit he said exactly what he was quoted as saying, it was close enough to whatever he said, that he felt the need to explain he thought he was talking to someone he met at the awards dinner until he saw the woman in person at the council meeting. What bothers me is, what if this had been the same woman he met at the dinner? Would he have supported her appeal for reversal of the commission's ruling because "she is a beautiful woman".


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2010 at 11:15 am

I think the background of this conversation is important to the overall reporting of this alleged conversation. LeMieux has an agenda. How was this conversation verified - was it taped or were notes taken during it and reported to - who? The media? The rest of the council? Her mom? If the remarks were made, Cohen played right into her hands & she can now potentially spin them w/favorable results for her agenda.


Like this comment
Posted by mpnative
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 11:35 am

This was apparently a private conversation between Cohen and Lemieux. Do you think it was Cohen who called the reporter? I don't think so!


Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 11:47 am

This thread reminds me of the old trial lawyer's adage that when the facts aren't on your side, argue the law. And when the law isn't on your side, argue the process.

Not only did Mr. Cohen NOT deny the comment, he said "I guess I should be red in the face." At minimum, this sounds like a straightforward acknowledgement to me.

So the fact that Mr. Cohen came down against this woman - never mind that his reversal could be based on the fact that she wasn't the "good looking woman" he expected! - makes it all okay.

Actually, no, it doesn't.

Instead of dealing with Mr. Cohen's boorish remark and the implication that his decisions are made based - even if joking - on a female applicant's physical features - people on this thread argue about how these comments might have been obtained by The Almanac.

See my first sentence about how lawyers argue cases.


Like this comment
Posted by focus on the question
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 11:48 am

What does it matter who called the reporter? Andy owned up to making the comment. The question is: Do you think such a comment is appropriate? It was made to a person who has an appeal before the council, by a councilmember who will participate in deciding the fate of the appeal.

Is it appropriate? In my opinion, NO. No matter what your opinion is of the person and her request, put yourself in her shoes. An elected official who will be part of a decision that will greatly affect YOU tells you he will (or will not) try to help you out because he likes (or doesn't like) your looks. If a comment like that were made to you, would you think it appropriate?


Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Oct 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

I find the topic itself really OFF JOURNALISM and an inciter of gossip like a rag from the supermarket.
The editors ought to think twice before criticizing readers' opionions when they put up such crap for debate.
DISGRACEFUL

THREE ATTEMPTS TO POST


Like this comment
Posted by Sxcholar
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 29, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Oooh a little flirty comment! Enough to titillate some of the oldsters and creep out the youngsters.
Having a Stanford law degree and being a judge is not a pedigree that guarantees sterility or perfect judgement all the time. Andy is pretty good at coming up with a deflecting sort of defense though, isn't he.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 1:15 pm

[Post removed; personal attacks violate terms of use.]


Like this comment
Posted by bored
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

Dog bites human. No story here.


Like this comment
Posted by interesting
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 29, 2010 at 2:27 pm

Andy supporters see no story. Naturally.


Like this comment
Posted by Not Kim
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 29, 2010 at 3:31 pm

[This and subsequent posts removed; personal attacks violate terms of use.]


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

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