News


DA: Menlo Park did not break law by hiring consultant, publishing info on Measure M

 

There was "no violation of the law" by the city of Menlo Park in hiring a consultant and producing materials, including a web page, to inform voters about a controversial ballot measure last year, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office announced on Thursday, Feb. 5.

California law prohibits spending public money on campaign activities. Proponents of Measure M, an initiative seeking to change Menlo Park's downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, questioned the legality of the city's activities after a public records request by former councilman Heyward Robinson uncovered the hiring of a public relations consultant who produced the materials in the months leading up to the Nov. 4 election.

Mr. Robinson then asked the state attorney general, county district attorney and civil grand jury, and the state Fair Political Practices Commission to investigate. The attorney general declined to get involved, he said.

Malcolm Smith's initial proposals were rejected by City Manager Alex McIntyre "because they would amount to a 'campaign' as opposed to simply providing information to the public. Additionally, the City Manager rejected much of Smith's work because he felt it crossed the line from providing information to advocacy. Thus, it appears that City officials recognized and sought to adhere to the line set forth by the law," Assistant District Attorney Al Serrato wrote to Mr. Robinson.

Mr. Serrato noted that while specific content would always be subject to some debate, that he found the materials did not amount to campaign activity, and that state law does not require the city to be completely neutral in its assessment of Measure M. "Indeed, it is to be expected that the administration in power would express a view as to the merits of the proposed changes" so long as it's not spending taxpayer money to campaign for or against them, he wrote.

Mr. Robinson said he disagreed with the DA's conclusions, and alleged that the city has not produced all the relevant documents.

"I have to wonder if the DA would have reached a different conclusion had all relevant documents been available," he said. "The DA's office did make it clear that they could reopen this investigation should new evidence come to light."

He called on the council, which has been given copies of documents produced in response to Mr. Robinson's record requests, to provide the public "with a full accounting of staff's activities around Measure M." The first step, he said, should be to insist on what he considers full compliance with all public records requests.

Currently traveling in India, Mayor Catherine Carlton told the Almanac that she was relieved for Mr. McIntyre and not surprised by the outcome of the DA's investigation.

Councilman Ray Mueller, who had asked his colleagues to consider hiring an independent investigator before the DA had agreed to look at the case, said he appreciated the thorough investigation, "closing the issue of whether City Manager McIntyre or city staff acted criminally with finality."

The District Attorney's Office said the inquiry is considered closed. "However, as in all cases that we consider, should new evidence be uncovered, we would want to review it to determine what impact, if any, it has on our determination," Mr. Serrato said.

Measure M advocates also recently asked the city to file a Form 460, the campaign finance disclosure form that the state requires all political action committees and candidates for public office to file.

"It is clear from the documents produced by the City that the City Staff was engaged in a campaign to defeat Measure M and therefore should be completing a 460 filing as did Menlo (Park) Deserves Better and Greenheart Land Co.," Menlo Park resident Brielle Johnck wrote in an email to the city on Wednesday, Feb. 4.

City Attorney Bill McClure told the Almanac that the DA's findings "clearly show that the city did not engage in any political activities that would require the city to file a Form 460." The findings are consistent with Menlo Park's position that it did not engage in any prohibited activities, he said.

Comments

1 person likes this
Posted by the bill please
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 5, 2015 at 6:01 pm

Please publish all costs related to all the time spend by the city extracting documents for the public records request.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 5, 2015 at 8:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

When you tote up the bill for Measure M don't forget to add the cost of the study done by the City, the cost of the election and the forever lost property tax revenues from projects that have been delayed 12-18 months.

And then add a contingency of another million or so for the slew of lawsuits that the Measure M folks will file in their continued attempt to stop the earth from revolving and freeze everything in time.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 6, 2015 at 6:59 am

When I first read the allegations, I was suspect. I will have an extremely hard time believing anything this person says in the future. Maybe never.


4 people like this
Posted by lessons learned
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:34 pm

lessons learned is a registered user.

Good job staying within the letter if not the spirit of the law, city manager! You figured that stonewalling and refusing to produce documents would allow you to avoid prosecution, and you were correct. You won the battle but you will most assuredly lose the war.


5 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm

Conspiracy-believers will never be satisfied as they find no amount of conflicting evident sufficient and feel no need to produce their own persuasive evidence. It's best to simply ignore them and be thankful they are a minority.


Like this comment
Posted by henry fox
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:10 pm

Lessons Learned writes "You won the battle but you will most assuredly lose the war." What "war" is referred to?


8 people like this
Posted by more sunshine needed
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 1:13 pm

The city has stonewalled the inquiry by refusing to provide a number of documents produced by the consultant hired by they city. The city staff should be ashamed of themselves, and the City Council needs to act to provide more sunshine. If additional information supports the DA's conclusion, then this can be put to rest. But if additional information contradicts it, then appropriate actions can be taken by the DA and the City Council.
This is not at all about Measure M and all about a government we can trust.

California and the City of Menlo Park have sunshine laws. The City needs to enforce them. Since the City Manager and senior staff are in the middle of this controversy, it is up to the Mayor and rest of City Council to insist on sunshine.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

After an independent investigation by the DA found insufficient evidence to prosecute the nay-sayers now want more -" If additional information supports the DA's conclusion, then this can be put to rest."


As I posted above "And then add a contingency of another million or so for the slew of lawsuits that the Measure M folks will file in their continued attempt to stop the earth from revolving and freeze everything in time."


4 people like this
Posted by 27 YEAR RESIDENT
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:05 pm

The DA may have passed on this, but the council definitely should not! We compensate this guy, McIntyre, north of a quarter million a year and he has to pay someone to read newspapers and write position papers on a topic with which he should be thoroughly familiar. What gives? Is he intellectually challenged? There is no way he could get away with this behavior in private industry.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 3:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I love all of these pro Measure M folks posting under anonymous names and calling on the Council to waste more time and effort on a DEAD issue. They will do anything to try to bring everything to a halt.


7 people like this
Posted by more sunshine needed
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:04 pm

The city has an ordinance, and so does the state, requiring public information to be made available upon request. The failure - no, the refusal - of city staff to provide requested information should be of concern to everyone. As stated previously, this is not about Measure M; it is about sunshine and it is about following the laws of our city and state. We should care very much about this.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 6, 2015 at 5:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

""It is clear from the documents produced by the City that the City Staff was engaged in a campaign to defeat Measure M "

Please be so kind as to post these alleged documents.


5 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 6, 2015 at 9:20 pm

Even though there was no violation of the law, the City Manager did not use good judgement, wasting time and money on a pointless anti-Measure M puff piece.


Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 7, 2015 at 7:25 am

Council directed McIntyre to hire a consultant and approved it prior to the consultants hiring - see Cat Carlton's statement published by this paper. The City Manager didn't want to throw the council under the bus.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 7, 2015 at 8:34 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

""It is clear from the documents produced by the City that the City Staff was engaged in a campaign to defeat Measure M "

Please be so kind as to post these alleged documents.


1 person likes this
Posted by Integrity
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2015 at 1:59 pm

Dear @Robert, you are very creative. This was a witch hunt, so there as no bus involved.

This story always ends the same, the grand inquisitor will eventually end up in the river.


Like this comment
Posted by Two cents
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2015 at 8:55 pm

Maintaining a city website that is accurate and up-to-date is a big deal. Hiring people that know how to do this kind of work is very difficult, especially in Silicon Vally when the economy is booming. Malcolm Smith should have been the perfect person for the job based on his resume, but he clearly doesn't understand the role of government. We can safely assume Malcolm Smith's name won't be showing up on those new hiring reports.

Not so long ago, people made a big stink about the Nutty costume. If you attend any of the events the city puts on in Freement Park, you will see Nutty out with the kids, and everyone seems to be having a great time. We are fortunate to have a city manager that has some enthusiasm for making Menlo Park a wonderful place to live, work and raise a family.


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

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