Kelly Fergusson elected Menlo Park mayor by 3-2 council vote

Split vote follows policy despite last-minute manuevers

To follow policy, or not follow policy? That question has weighed on the minds of the Menlo Park City Council since the November elections, and now has an answer. With a 3-2 vote, the council selected Kelly Fergusson to serve as mayor. Former Planning Commissioner Kirsten Keith will sit as vice mayor.

Council policy states that the title rotate among members who have served at least one year, with priority going to whoever has had the most amount of time go by since last holding the position. That left Kelly Fergusson as the likely choice if the council follows the non-binding policy.

Likely choice, but not automatic. Previous council members selected mayors contrary to the policy at least twice since it was enacted in 1993.

Planning Commissioner Henry Riggs and outgoing incumbent Heyward Robinson traded e-mails via the City Council list server on Monday, Dec. 6, debating whether the council's non-binding policy should, in fact, bind the next choice of mayor.

Mr. Riggs, who helped organize Measure L, the pension reform initiative approved by voters in November, stated Ms. Fergusson's opposition to the measure should knock her out of the running for mayor.

"Designating Kelly Fergusson as mayor is nonsensical," wrote Mr. Riggs. "She lead the opposition to Measure L, a measure supported by an unprecedented 72% of the voters, a measure guiding the most critical issue before Council, and the only issue that must not be deferred, re-studied or otherwise dodged."

Mr. Robinson's response said that's no reason to ditch a policy that was created to help minimize the influence of politics on the selection process.

Later that afternoon, Ms. Fergusson sent out an e-mail newsletter that included a section listing who the next three mayors should be, according to the policy: Herself, followed by either Peter Ohtaki or Kirsten Keith, who would each have equal seniority once Ms. Fergusson's term ends.

A vague implication of political doom for non-supporters entered into her analysis. "However, if the rotation policy is disregarded as it was in 2002 and 2005, history suggests unfavorable voter reaction (2006 Results)," she wrote.

Despite that, freshly minted Councilman Peter Ohtaki nominated colleague Andy Cohen for mayor. While making his pitch for the title, Mr. Cohen pointedly asked the city attorney if there was anything he wanted to bring to the council's attention.

City Attorney Bill McClure told the council that Mr. Cohen had asked him to investigate an e-mail sent to the council by Peter Carpenter, known for his advocacy of open government and the Brown Act.

The e-mail stated Mr. Carpenter had reliable information that "one of the Council members has engaged in a serial meeting to solicit support for that person's election as Mayor."

Mr. McClure said he had not yet had time to pursue the matter. The e-mail was sent half an hour before the council meeting began at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 7.

Both Mr. Ohtaki and Mr. Cohen voted against Ms. Fergusson's mayoral bid.

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Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 7, 2010 at 10:07 pm

Hopefully the city can get something accomplished even though Kelly was elected mayor.

Like this comment
Posted by violation???
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 5:43 am

In the Menlo Park Email log was this entry from Peter Carpenter, claiming a Brown act violation and the buzz last night was it was against Kelly Fergusson, who was chosen as the next Mayor.

Carpenter often posts here, and he should make clear just what his allegation is and its basis. City Attorney McClare when asked whether he had looked into the matter, said he had not had time to do so.

This should be investigated thoroughly and not covered up, as so many issue seem to fade away without proper airing.


Begin forwarded message:

> From: Peter Carpenter <>
> Date: December 7, 2010 6:36:49 PM PST
> To: Bill McClure <>
> Subject: Brown Act
> Bill,
> I have been reliably informed that one of the Council members has engaged in a serial meeting to solicit support for that person's election as Mayor.
> You may wish to ask the Council members to declare if they did or did not engage in such a serial meeting.
> Peter

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 6:51 am

Oh well, the only hope for us MP citizens is if the council enacts the same three minute comments limit on the council members as it does for speakers from the public. Bring your sleeping bags if you plan on attending any council meetings.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:13 am

Violation states:"Carpenter often posts here, and he should make clear just what his allegation is and its basis."

I have informed the City Attorney of my concerns and I am confident that he will ask each council member to respond. The Town Forum is not the place to conduct such an investigation.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:42 am

Here is the relevant Brown Act section (note language re intermediaries):

"2. Serial Meetings
The issue of serial meetings stands at the vortex of two significant public policies: first, the constitutional right of citizens to address grievances and communicate with their elected representatives; and second, the Act’s policy favoring public deliberation by multi-member boards, commissions and councils. The purpose of the serial meeting prohibition is not to prevent citizens from communicating with their elected representatives, but rather to prevent public bodies from circumventing the requirement for open and public deliberation of issues.

The Act expressly prohibits serial meetings that are conducted through direct communications, personal intermediaries or technological devices for the purpose of developing a concurrence as to action to be taken. (§ 54952.2(b); Stockton Newspapers, Inc. v. Redevelopment Agency (1985) 171 Cal.App.3d 95, 103.) This provision raises two questions: first, what is a serial meeting for purposes of this definition; and second, what does it mean to develop a concurrence as to action to be taken.

Typically, a serial meeting is a series of communications, each of which involves less than a quorum of the legislative body, but which taken as a whole involves a majority of the body’s members. For example, a chain of communications involving contact from member A to member B who then communicates with member C would constitute a serial meeting in the case of a five-person body. Similarly, when a person acts as the hub of a wheel (member A) and communicates individually with the various spokes (members B and C), a serial meeting has occurred. In addition, a serial meeting occurs when intermediaries for board members have a meeting to discuss issues. For example, when a representative of member A meets with representatives of members B and C to discuss an agenda item, the members have conducted a serial meeting through their representatives as intermediaries.

Like this comment
Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 7:46 am

Does anyone know who voted for/against?

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Posted by Joanna
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 8, 2010 at 8:34 am

1) To those who voted for her... What were you thinking???
2) This is an embarrassment for Menlo Park.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:41 am

If Ms. Fergusson were truly a leader and not a lightning rod then her selection for mayor should have been obvious and consistent with past practices. Rather, it seemed as if she needed to "campaign" for the job by justifying, rationalizing and, at times, "pleading" to do the right thing. Her own words at last night's meeting indicated that if she were not elected mayor other cities would be saying "what were they [MP's City Council] thinking?" At least two-fifths didn't agree with her position.

While there may be ceremonial duties associated with the position, it also requires leadership, something Ms. Fergusson needs more of. I certainly hope that last's night fumbles in trying to follow the agenda are not an indication of what's to come.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 9:48 am

Should the City Attorney find that any one of the council members OR their intermediaries discussed this matter with two or more other council members prior to the meeting then last night's election would be null and void.

Like this comment
Posted by curious about policy
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 10:24 am

why wasn't Peter Ohtaki elected Vice Mayor? He was the top vote getter in this election, and the policy would have him, not Keith, as Vice Mayor. Or could he be Mayor next year and not Keith even though it's common for the vice mayor to become mayor next?

Like this comment
Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 8, 2010 at 10:47 am

I can answer both Curious' and Central Menlo's questions with a single answer.

Q1 Who voted for & against?
Q2 Can Ohtaki be elected mayor next time instead of Keith?

A Cohen & Ohtaki no, Kieth, Cline, Fergusson yes

see how easy it is.......

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I'm dissappointed that so many of the councilmembers got tripped-up -- even Kiersten. The rotation as a policy is a like a guideline.

If Kelly were well respected it would have been easy; if she were mature she would have realized that whether she was mayor or not was irrelevant. But she's a narcissist.

I was surprised how un-mayoral and childish her display of pleading, bad reasoning and public groveling was; surely here colleagues might have been offended by the display. I felt sorry for her.

I can only think Kirsten made a deal with Kelly for mutual support.

Like this comment
Posted by Dharma
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

What the political machine maneuvering cost us: the city pension reforms that will be or not be enacted next October.
Its not just about retirement age and multiplier for tier two. The current suffocating cost of non-safety pensions is in the escalating contributions that the city is on the hook for, not the employee, and this should change. Even more than that, the safety workers (police) have not even been addressed, new or current. As if that's going to happen under Fergusson and Keith.
What a waste of the effort of so many citizens to get this issue up front and solvable. The message of a historic vote goes in some file.

Like this comment
Posted by get real
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

If one's choice for Mayor is between Andy Cohen and Kelly Fergusson, that is a no brainer. Why in the world would Peter Ohtaki shoot himself in the foot right out of the blocks and nominate Andy Cohen to be Mayor given Andy's unstable performance to date? Andy shoudl never again be Mayor. He has had major health issues, displayed erratic almost bi-polar behavior as well as poor judgment (sexist comments reported publicly that embarass the City), and has been against every major development -- including the new Gym that everyone loves, and most recently the Gateway project which Ohtaki eventually publicly supported. As Mayor he missed appointments to make public appearances, and more recently too often seems to almost be falling asleep during Council meetings, too -- which would make it hard to effectively chair the meeting, to be sure. Comparatively, Kelly is far superior -- for one thing, she will be awake to chair the meetings.

Measure L has already been decided and no one on the council including Fergusson disagreed with 2@60. Who the next Mayor is should not be decided by a single issue, either.

Kirsten Keith and Rich Cline did the right thing - picked the better of the two, and followed the policy.

Peter Ohtaki failed his first test of common sense judgment and political savvy on the Council. This does not bode well for Ohtaki to be the kind of collaborative team player he represented himself to be during the campaign.

Let's hope the Council will work quickly on its own group dynamics so that an environment of constructive engagement and collaborative spirit still has a chance of being established for the good of the whole City, despite Ohtaki's initial misstep. Then in two years Andy Cohen will be replaced by someone more centrist and stable and further improve that dynamic.

Like this comment
Posted by what DuBoc says:
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm


Fellow Residents,

On Tuesday, Kelly Fergusson was elected Mayor and Kirsten Keith was elected vice mayor. Did Fergusson violate the Brown Act in her bid?

The Brown Act is specifically designed to prevent decisions from being made behind the public's back. In a five-member Council, a Brown Act violation occurs when one council member discusses an issue with more than one other council member on a subject on which the council will vote--such as the selection of Mayor. The conversation can happen serially or directly.

On Tuesday night, Kelly Fergusson, won 3 votes to become Mayor. Somehow Fergusson was able, before the Council meeting, to tell Peter Ohtaki that she already had the 3 votes needed to win the Mayorship, even without his vote. Sure enough, 3 votes for Fergusson--by Kirsten Keith, Rich Cline and Fergusson herself--clinched the deal.

At the Council meeting, Councilmember Cohen asked the City Attorney to investigate an allegation written to the City email site, that the Brown Act had been violated.

I will keep you informed as to how this plays out.

With a heavy heart,

Lee Duboc,

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm

William McClure
City Attorney
City of Menlo Park

Via email

Subject: Cure and Correct regarding the 7 December 2010 election of Mayor

Dear Mr. McClure,

Pursuant to the Brown Act this is a Cure and Correct demand that the Menlo Park City Council’s election of Mayor and Vice Mayor be declared null and void because of the violation of the Brown Act’s prohibition of serial meetings.

There is reasonable cause to believe that at least one council member and or his/her intermediaries communicated with two or more of the other council members or council members-elect in private prior to this meeting regarding the agenda topic of election of Mayor and Vice Mayor.

Since such private communications are prohibited by the Brown Act, I hereby request that you, as the City Attorney, declare the Council’s actions on this item at their 7 December 2010 to be null and void and that you then direct that this item be placed on a future open meeting agenda. I further request that you direct the council members that they are prohibited by law from discussing this matter amongst themselves or via intermediaries except in open public session.


Peter Carpenter

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Posted by Maria
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 8, 2010 at 2:51 pm

XhTwo different ponts:

Why do reidents of Menlo always have to read and be swayed b y bnon residents - mainly Peter Carpenter who appears to have "diarreha of the mouth.

It is quite apparent that Ferguson chose Keith as Ferguson is supported by her. At one time I liked having Ferguson on the coun cil and even signed on as a supporter. No more!! It appears that Ferguson is strictly a politician and has her interests above the communuity she is supposed to be supporting. Ev en if she disagrees with the m ajority of residents, morally she should support their wishes. Hopefully, if she continues this b ehav ior she will be off the council next time she is up for election. B ecause Robinson didn 't listen to people, he is off.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 8, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Maria - clean up your language and then read the following:

54950. In enacting this chapter, the Legislature finds and declares
that the public commissions, boards and councils and the other
public agencies in this State exist to aid in the conduct of the
people's business. It is the intent of the law that their actions be
taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.
The people of this State do not yield their sovereignty to the
agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do
not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for
the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people
insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over
the instruments they have created.

Like this comment
Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardiña
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

Roy Thiele-Sardiña is a registered user.

Menlo Park Deserves Better than Kelly

Burt Prelutsky, a LA Times columnist said it best (see full quote below) with a near perfect description of California politicians like Kelly, she is like a "jackasses who happen to possess the gift of blab. You don’t know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words"

After listening to her meandering rambling on the dais all these years he captures my sentiments EXACTLY. She is UNFIT to be the mayor of our great city. She is out of touch with her constituents. She got in bed with the unions (SEIU and AFSCME) to go against Measure L. The Unions were the ONLY source of funds on the No on L Campaign.

So Kelly when you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas. And you have Union Fleas ALL OVER YOU.

Menlo Park Deserves better than Kelly.

Should the allegations of Brown Act Violations by Kelly during the mayoral selection prove to be true. She should resign.

Roy Thiele-Sardiña

Frankly, I don’t know what it is about California, but we seem to have a strange urge to elect really obnoxious women to high office. I’m not bragging, you understand, but no other state, including Maine, even comes close. When it comes to sending left-wing dingbats to Washington, we’re number one. There’s no getting around the fact that the last time anyone saw the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, they were stirring a cauldron when the curtain went up on ‘Macbeth’. The three of them are like jackasses who happen to possess the gift of blab. You don’t know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words.”

. . . . . columnist Burt Prelutsky, LA Times

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 4:31 pm

He who lives in a glass house (articulation-wise), should not be throwing stones.

Like this comment
Posted by discouraged
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 8, 2010 at 6:06 pm

I suspect if Madam Mayor had been up for re-election in November, she would have been defeated by 70%. Her advocacy efforts to kill Measure L were deplorable. Her "advocacy" in support of her mayoral selection were embarrassing. Where's the integrity?

Like this comment
Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 8, 2010 at 6:08 pm

No wonder anyone is critical of Washington, D.C. It starts here.

Two thoughts

Do we need to sort out whether we've elected delegates...or representatives. Have we elected intelligent people, with their own bias an opinions to promote an agenda that they believe is in our best interests, or have we elected figureheads to represent the views of the voting public. Either works, but it may help to let them know what we expect.

...and it may be well deserved, but the level of personal criticism to our elected officials, is awfully disappointing. Heartbreaking.

My desire is to see our city council succeed, and the council members be successful, in doing good by Menlo Park. They will need our guidance and support. And it's no secret that it is very, very difficult for the public to give guidance and support to those we dislike. It's tough for them too. Let's practice productive criticism.

Like this comment
Posted by pat cala
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Sorry I am not a resident, however, I am a citizen of this state and country. What Kelly did was wrong, wrong, wrong. Bad example to young people that want to be active in their community.

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

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