Tonight: Menlo council may break from mayoral policy

Cline says 'anything could happen'

When Kelly Fergusson resigned as mayor of Menlo Park a mere four days after being elected, the roar of the power vacuum could be heard for miles as those interested in the outcome scrambled to suggest replacements.

Councilmen Rich Cline and Andy Cohen emerged from the noise as the two most likely candidates for mayor, but the seat remains up for grabs to everyone except Ms. Fergusson, who said she won't stand as a candidate this time.

"We have moved somewhere outside the traditional protocol so I think anything can happen. As I said before, if my name is called I will vote for myself and accept the job as mayor," said Mr. Cline.

Elected mayor last week by a split 3-2 vote, with Peter Ohtaki and Mr. Cohen dissenting, Ms. Fergusson resigned on Dec. 10 following revelation of Brown Act violations committed as she lobbied two council colleagues for the position.

Despite Ms. Fergusson urging the council to follow policy in selecting a mayor last week, her resignation letter stated that now the policy should be suspended "because of the unusual circumstances associated with this year's mayoral selection process."

By the city's non-binding policy, Ms. Fergusson and Mr. Cohen were the most eligible to pick up the gavel, as members must serve at least one year on the before becoming mayor.

If the candidates have all served as mayor before, then the one with the longest time elapsed since holding the position gets priority.

That leaves Mr. Cohen, who, despite statements to the contrary -- "I didn't campaign for this position," he told the audience at last week's council meeting before the vote -- had asked the council and incoming members Kirsten Keith and Mr. Ohtaki for the job in a memo mailed last month that outlined his qualifications.

Mr. Cohen has not responded to the Almanac's requests for comment.

The mayoral policy has been ignored at least twice by previous councils since its enactment in 1993. If this council chooses to do so, all bets are off.

Both the position of vice mayor and mayor pro tem are filled by Ms. Keith until the re-vote, according to the city attorney.

Tonight's council meeting begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the civic center (701 Laurel St.) There will also be a closed session following public comment at 5:30 p.m.

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Posted by Stevo
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:06 pm

Peter Ohtaki or Andy Cohen as mayor; Kirsten Keith as Vice.

Cline's a nice guy and did well as mayor, but the honor should be moved around.

Oh, has the city manager resigned yet?

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Posted by restoring equilibrium
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 14, 2010 at 12:48 pm

Cline should continue as Mayor. This is a no brainer. It is the only way to truly put this whole nonesense behind us so our Council can move forward on the real, important issues at hand

Andy Cohen shoudl never be Mayor again -- he is too unstable and polarizing. He also has had major health issues after he was Mayor -- a year in which he (embarassingly) failed to show up for several important events over which he was to have presided/represented the City.

Kirsten Keith should continue to be vice mayor, and being on the Planning Commission is better preparation for filling in as Mayor than being on the Fire Board is.

Peter Ohtaki showed very poor judgment in nominating and voting for Andy Cohen for Mayor. Peter shows promise but he needs at least a year under his belt on the wide range of City issues before he is ready for Vice Mayor, which he should be next year.

We can only hope that tonight is not a huge piling on session with lots of counterproductive sniping. That would be an unwelcome change. We need to avoid any devolution into a dysfunctional council because there are so many big decisions in the next 2 years that will shape our City for decades. Rich CLine is the only one well-positioned and experienced enough with the right temperment to steer the Council back to some semblance of functionality.

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Posted by Council Watcher
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 1:43 pm

If you noticed at the last meeting Ms. Fergusson was imploring the other council members that we should adhere to policy. Cline nominated Fergusson for mayor and Keith seconded the nomination. Fergusson won the vote 3 to 2 with Keith Cline and Fergusson voting for Fergusson.

Then Keith asked many questions about the policy in an attempt to justify departing from the policy. The policy has been that the newly elected council member with the most votes be elected vice mayor. Then Fergusson in a departure from policy nominated Keith over Ohtaki, who is not only more qualified but received over 500 more votes than Keith.

This sent a clear message to the residents of Menlo park that "When it is in our best interests we will abide by policy and when it is not in our best interest we will ignore the policy-- the residents be damned!"

So Peter Ohtaki who has superior Financial Management skills over Keith, has beeen an elected official (Which Keith has not!), has managed budgets as large as Menlo Park's (Which Keith has not), has liased with many county governmental entities (far greater than Keith) was passed over for Keith who received far few votes than Ohtaki.

When Keith was elected Vice Mayor there were gasps in the audience. She told some people, including Hank Lawrence, that she did not want to be Vice Mayor and that Ohtaki deserved it. But when it came time to vote Keith voted for herself. This gave the definite impression of a Quid-pro-quo; or in a former mayor's parlance "Its my way or the highway".

Now it may not have been out of selfishness that Ms. Keith voted for herself. There very well may have been pressure from Kelly Fergusson's mentor, a meddlesome former mayor, who believes that she should control city council activities from behind the scenes, or it could have been from other people in Keith's own political party who demanded that Keith throw Ohtaki under the bus if she wanted to have a future within her party. Whatever the reason Keith's actions were contrary to her words.

To borrow from West Side Story "Tonight Tonight won't be just any night, tonight there will be no morning sun".

If Keith wants the sun to shine on Menlo Park and put this digusting contretemps behind us she should nominate Peter Ohtaki for Vice mayor and vote for him. Ms Fergusson should abstain from voting for both mayor and vice mayor and Cline should be nominated and elected mayor.

This should go a long way to wash the sleaziness of last week's council meeting from our memories.

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Posted by Central Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 1:56 pm

Well said, Council Watcher

Re the previous post from 'restoring equilibrium':

If the mayoral rotation policy included clauses for qualified selection, then we could consider stability, polarity, health, work experience, elected experience, and tempermant, but it doesn't. The good news, is that general elections are great ways to exercise these judgements, and we all get to vote!

No doubt, we have our opinions and favorites for mayor & pro-tem. We'll want to be special-careful to qualify who-should, who-shouldn't as the selection process is applied. Or maybe we should vote for the men, not the women, just because more men have been in elected office...or age over youth. I doubt that would make sense.

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Posted by Sally
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 14, 2010 at 8:08 pm

So, who is your new Mayor of Menlo Park? Someone can text it to us.

Like this comment
Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 9:20 pm


Rich Cline is mayor again.

Web Link

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 14, 2010 at 10:23 pm

I supported Rich when he first ran, but his attitude has changed during her term in office. Most notably, he has made it clear that the concerns of residents annoy him and that he would prefer to serve the interests of developers.

According to protocol, Andy should have been mayor and Peter vice mayor (and since when does Heyward have any credibility in evaluating the mental stability of others...that's hilarious!) There are good reasons for not allowing someone to be in the mayor's seat for multiple consecutive years. I regret that this unanimous decision -- and does anyone else find it odd that the decision was so quick and unanimous? -- will not serve our city well.

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Posted by trying to be helpful
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Last December 7, the candidate who ought to have been selected mayor based on the mayoral selection process was Kelly Fergusson. Ohtaki and Cohen ought to have voted for her if they both believed in the rotation policy of mayoral selection. They did not vote for Fergusson, and voted thereby against following the mayoral selection policy.

I find it very hard to suggest to the remaining council members to vote to someone based on the mayoral selection policy if those other members do not agree to follow the policy themselves. Andy and Peter seemed to realize that. It is a new ballgame, and the policy in this case got ignored, mainly because of Cohen and Ohtaki.

Since Kelley declined to be reconsidered again for mayor, that left Keith and Cline. Cline is the only one who had any experience on the council. And Keith nominated Cline.

It was clear to me that everyone wanted to put this controversy behind them and move forward with the many pressing issues: balancing the budget, negotiating with SEIU, Willows traffic plan, downtown parking, El Camino revitalization, and finalizing any remaining issues with the Menlo Gateway project. That is a lot of hard work and studying.

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Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 14, 2010 at 11:37 pm

"Ohtaki and Cohen ought to have voted for her if they both believed in the rotation policy of mayoral selection."

Even if they had reason to believe she had violated the Brown Act? Had they voted for her, they would not be upholding their fiduciary responsibilities to the residents. I have a hard time criticizing any council member for demonstrating some integrity.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 16, 2010 at 3:33 pm

§ 34900. At any general municipal election, or at a special election held for that purpose, the city council may submit to the electors the question of whether electors shall thereafter elect a mayor and four city councilmen, and whether the mayor shall serve a two-year or four-year term. In cities presently having elected mayors, the city council may also submit to the electors the question of whether the mayor shall thereafter serve a two-year or a four-year term.

§ 34901. The questions shall be printed on the ballots used at the election in substantially the following form: "Shall the electors elect a mayor and four city councilmen?" "Shall the term of office of mayor be two years?" "Shall the term of office of mayor be four years?" The words "Yes" and "No" and "two years" and "four years" shall be so printed on the ballots that the voters may express their choice. The term of office of mayor shall be that preferred by a majority of those voting on the proposition.

§ 34902. (a) If a majority of the votes cast on the proposition is for it, the office of mayor shall thereafter be an elective office, except as provided in subdivision (b). At the next succeeding general municipal election held in the city one of the offices of city councilperson, to be filled at the election, shall be designated as the office of mayor, to be filled at the election. The person elected at the election as mayor shall hold office from the Tuesday succeeding his or her election, and until his or her successor is elected and qualifies.

In the case of a vacancy in the office of the mayor for any reason, the council shall fill the vacancy by appointment. If the council fails to fill it within 30 days, it shall call an election to fill the vacancy to be held on the next established election date to be held not less than 114 days thereafter. A person appointed or elected to fill a vacancy shall hold office for the unexpired term of the former incumbent.

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