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Menlo Park: Public outcry over city's plans to hire lobbying firm

The Menlo Park City Council is facing lots of objections to a proposal by city staff to hire a Washington, D.C.-based firm, Mercury Public Affairs, to lobby on behalf of the city in Washington, and maybe in Sacramento, too.

A leader of the Mercury LLC team that would work with the city, according to the firm's proposal, is former GOP congressman Vin Weber, who is under scrutiny in a federal investigation of ties between President Trump's campaign and Russia, according to the Associated Press.

Another leader of the team, Bryan Lanza, was communications director of the Trump transition and of Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit, before being hired by Mercury LLC in February of this year.

In a staff report released Nov. 2 in advance of the City Council's Nov. 7 meeting, city staff recommended that the council hire Mercury LLC at a rate of $8,000 a month ($96,000 a year) to lobby on behalf of the city.

The Associated Press reported on Nov. 2 that Mr. Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into ties between the Russian government and President Trump's campaign.

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The AP reports that Mr. Weber and Tony Podesta, a "longtime Democratic operative," were "hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by (Paul) Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates." Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates were indicted Oct. 30.

Mercury LLC allegedly received a subpoena from Mr. Mueller's investigation in August, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reports that the firm was asked to "answer questions and provide records regarding their interactions with the consulting firms led by Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to President Trump, and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign."

Reactions

When asked about Mr. Weber being named in the investigation, Menlo Park city staffer and analyst Peter Ibrahim responded, "We are aware of that," and noted that staff planned to meet to talk about the news.

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"(Mr. Weber) would not be our direct contact at Mercury," he added. The man who would be Menlo Park's direct contact is Mr. Lanza.

The City Council has received many emails from the public opposing this recommendation. (As of 9 a.m., Nov. 6, there have been about 60 emails opposed and two in favor.)

Betsy Nash, a member of the city's Complete Streets Commission, wrote to the council: "As a resident and taxpayer I am stunned that our city would even consider hiring Mercury Public Affairs and Bryan Lanza. Please do not execute this contract for government relations and legislative advocacy with this firm."

Katie Behroozi, also a Complete Streets commissioner, wrote: "I understand that we are looking for public funding for our much-needed infrastructure projects, and that DC, a potential source of funding, might currently be dominated by the Trump wing of the Republican Party. So hiring a firm that can work across the aisle makes sense. But – Bryan Lanza, communications director of one of the ugliest campaigns in history? If you think he's put that campaign behind him, do check out his current Twitter feed, in which he enthusiastically retweets his former boss's inanity and distortions while calling our junior senator a liar."

Mr. Ibrahim, the city staffer, said that the decision to recommend Mercury LLC came after the city received 13 proposals and interviewed four firms: Carpi & Clay, Federal Advocates, Townsend Public Affairs and Mercury Public Affairs.

The interviews were conducted by a panel of three city staffers: Mr. Ibrahim, Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya and Housing and Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan.

Mercury was the costliest of the finalists, at $8,000 per month.

Mr. Ibrahim said a big consideration was on what might work best to secure funding for the city's big-ticket projects -- adding that the specifics of what the city would seek funding for haven't been ironed out yet.

The City Council is interested in hiring a lobbyist to drum up federal and state funding for major projects the city can't finance alone, such as infrastructure along and near the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor.

"I don't see this as a red or blue issue," he said. "I think the focus is on funding, especially federal funding – how to position the city to receive that sort of funding that is out of the scope of the general fund."

Another priority, Mr. Ibrahim said, was to find a firm that offered both federal and state advocacy. "Bryan (Lanza) brings several years of experience in the California state government," he said. "That was a bonus in and of itself."

He said it is not yet known if Mr. Lanza would represent the city just in Washington or in Sacramento, too.

Jim Cogan, Menlo Park's housing and economic development manager, told the Almanac, "We were simply given the task of finding people who could help us get federal money from the administration. Our recommendation was based on who we thought would be the most effective at lobbying this administration."

He cited the old political adage, "There's no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole." "As staff, our recommendations are supposed to be apolitical."

The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Nov. 7, beginning at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at 701 Laurel St.

Access the agenda here or watch the meeting online here.

Access the emails people have sent the City Council here.

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Menlo Park: Public outcry over city's plans to hire lobbying firm

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Nov 3, 2017, 5:23 pm
Updated: Mon, Nov 6, 2017, 7:49 am

The Menlo Park City Council is facing lots of objections to a proposal by city staff to hire a Washington, D.C.-based firm, Mercury Public Affairs, to lobby on behalf of the city in Washington, and maybe in Sacramento, too.

A leader of the Mercury LLC team that would work with the city, according to the firm's proposal, is former GOP congressman Vin Weber, who is under scrutiny in a federal investigation of ties between President Trump's campaign and Russia, according to the Associated Press.

Another leader of the team, Bryan Lanza, was communications director of the Trump transition and of Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit, before being hired by Mercury LLC in February of this year.

In a staff report released Nov. 2 in advance of the City Council's Nov. 7 meeting, city staff recommended that the council hire Mercury LLC at a rate of $8,000 a month ($96,000 a year) to lobby on behalf of the city.

The Associated Press reported on Nov. 2 that Mr. Weber, a former Republican congressman from Minnesota, is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into ties between the Russian government and President Trump's campaign.

The AP reports that Mr. Weber and Tony Podesta, a "longtime Democratic operative," were "hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by (Paul) Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates." Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates were indicted Oct. 30.

Mercury LLC allegedly received a subpoena from Mr. Mueller's investigation in August, according to the Washington Post.

The Post reports that the firm was asked to "answer questions and provide records regarding their interactions with the consulting firms led by Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to President Trump, and Paul Manafort, former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign."

Reactions

When asked about Mr. Weber being named in the investigation, Menlo Park city staffer and analyst Peter Ibrahim responded, "We are aware of that," and noted that staff planned to meet to talk about the news.

"(Mr. Weber) would not be our direct contact at Mercury," he added. The man who would be Menlo Park's direct contact is Mr. Lanza.

The City Council has received many emails from the public opposing this recommendation. (As of 9 a.m., Nov. 6, there have been about 60 emails opposed and two in favor.)

Betsy Nash, a member of the city's Complete Streets Commission, wrote to the council: "As a resident and taxpayer I am stunned that our city would even consider hiring Mercury Public Affairs and Bryan Lanza. Please do not execute this contract for government relations and legislative advocacy with this firm."

Katie Behroozi, also a Complete Streets commissioner, wrote: "I understand that we are looking for public funding for our much-needed infrastructure projects, and that DC, a potential source of funding, might currently be dominated by the Trump wing of the Republican Party. So hiring a firm that can work across the aisle makes sense. But – Bryan Lanza, communications director of one of the ugliest campaigns in history? If you think he's put that campaign behind him, do check out his current Twitter feed, in which he enthusiastically retweets his former boss's inanity and distortions while calling our junior senator a liar."

Mr. Ibrahim, the city staffer, said that the decision to recommend Mercury LLC came after the city received 13 proposals and interviewed four firms: Carpi & Clay, Federal Advocates, Townsend Public Affairs and Mercury Public Affairs.

The interviews were conducted by a panel of three city staffers: Mr. Ibrahim, Assistant Public Works Director Nikki Nagaya and Housing and Economic Development Manager Jim Cogan.

Mercury was the costliest of the finalists, at $8,000 per month.

Mr. Ibrahim said a big consideration was on what might work best to secure funding for the city's big-ticket projects -- adding that the specifics of what the city would seek funding for haven't been ironed out yet.

The City Council is interested in hiring a lobbyist to drum up federal and state funding for major projects the city can't finance alone, such as infrastructure along and near the Dumbarton Transportation Corridor.

"I don't see this as a red or blue issue," he said. "I think the focus is on funding, especially federal funding – how to position the city to receive that sort of funding that is out of the scope of the general fund."

Another priority, Mr. Ibrahim said, was to find a firm that offered both federal and state advocacy. "Bryan (Lanza) brings several years of experience in the California state government," he said. "That was a bonus in and of itself."

He said it is not yet known if Mr. Lanza would represent the city just in Washington or in Sacramento, too.

Jim Cogan, Menlo Park's housing and economic development manager, told the Almanac, "We were simply given the task of finding people who could help us get federal money from the administration. Our recommendation was based on who we thought would be the most effective at lobbying this administration."

He cited the old political adage, "There's no such thing as a Democratic or Republican pothole." "As staff, our recommendations are supposed to be apolitical."

The Menlo Park City Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday, Nov. 7, beginning at 7 p.m. in the City Council chambers at 701 Laurel St.

Access the agenda here or watch the meeting online here.

Access the emails people have sent the City Council here.

__

Comments

whatever
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 7:03 pm
whatever, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 3, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Are the city staff and council out of their effing minds! First off why do we need a lobbying firm for our little city, what a joke. And to waste $96K a year which can be spent on true resident needs...time to recall the council and replace some city staff members.


Jenson
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 4, 2017 at 6:07 am
Jenson, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 4, 2017 at 6:07 am

This is the dumbest idea this council/ staff has come up with yet. This firm won't do anything for Menlo Park except pad their pockets. Besides what in the world could the city need to have lobbied for. If the city has $96,000 to spend why don't they use it for something that matters. Let's see a library upgrade in belle haven or road improvements. What about the bike tunnel at Middle ave. Can't wait to vote again on council appointments so the current ones can be kicked out the door


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 4, 2017 at 10:25 am
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Nov 4, 2017 at 10:25 am

Huge waste of money and more proof that our City Council is out of touch with the residents and needs to be replaced.


nanc
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 4, 2017 at 7:42 pm
nanc, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 4, 2017 at 7:42 pm

The City Council authorizing expenditure for a lobbyist is crazy, the City Staff choosing a lobbying firm that is under federal investigation is ludicrous. makes one wonder if these folks are wholly incompetent.. or worse.


Stu Soffer
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 4, 2017 at 9:00 pm
Stu Soffer, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 4, 2017 at 9:00 pm

Terrible ideas.

I think the city will need to hire a PR firm just to fumigate this faux-pas.


Nanc
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2017 at 10:38 am
Nanc, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2017 at 10:38 am

True, Stan. Unless the City Manager already signed a contract with Lanza, the Council would be wise to scrap this whole thing. I already made my views known by emailing the council at [email protected] If they are going to proceed with their plan to hire a lobbyist, and the most corrupt one at that, with the belief that Mr. Lanza will convince his pal Trump to give the City of Menlo Park funds to improve the Dumbarton transportation corridor they will indeed need to be hiring a public relations firm to help them out of the swap they dove into head first.


Nanc
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm
Nanc, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm

PS
It would be enlightening to see the City staff emails on this topic and find out why Mr Lanza was chosen - and any personal relationships City management or City Council might have with him. Smells fishy.


Member
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 1:35 pm
Member, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 1:35 pm

Sounds like the cart before the horse if they don't even know WHAT they would be seeking funding for! Isn't it the city council's job to weigh cost vs. benefit before spending our tax dollars? And then to justify their selection of the most expensive firm with the "bonus" of Bryan Lanza's experience in the California state government when they're not even sure if Mr. Lanza would represent the city "just in Washington or in Sacramento, too". COME ON PEOPLE, WAKE UP AND SHOW UP! We may not be able to curb the corruption in DC, but if we turn a blind eye to what's going on in our own city, we will get what we deserve!


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2017 at 2:34 pm

What strange priorities!

The Fire District has voted to pay for half of the cost of a Hawk signal array on Middlefield to protect pedestrians and bicyclists and even offered to loan the City the other half of the cost and the City says it does not have the time to do this until FY 2019!

Yet the City has the time and the resources to spend on lobbying in Washington.

Why lobby for money when you don't even have the ability to spend what another agency has already given you???


Say What?
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 2:38 pm
Say What?, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 2:38 pm

It is a fantasy that our little town would get anything substantial from a lobbyist acting solely for our city government. IF - and I mean IF - there is a need to lobby any body AND - and I mean AND - there is a substantial likelihood that such lobbying would make a positive difference, then Menlo Park should band with similar other cities so there is some clout and a reason for a legislator to listen.

Then, to seriously consider a tainted candidate is even more ridiculous.

It is utter nonsense and the height of hubris (city manager? council?) that this matter has even made it onto a council agenda. Don't touch this. Don't approve ANY lobbyist, not just this one.


Elizabeth
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 4:22 pm
Elizabeth, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Nov 5, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Abhorrible. I'm sure our power grubbing council and city manager are behind this stupid, stupid move.
Get facebook and stanford to pay for the infrastructure improvements - they are whom the improvements benefit.
Abhorrible.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Nov 5, 2017 at 8:25 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Nov 5, 2017 at 8:25 pm

This is stupid. Just what does the council think they will get by lobbying Washington? My opinion: ZERO. Don't waste our money.


Louise68
Menlo Park: other
on Nov 5, 2017 at 10:21 pm
Louise68, Menlo Park: other
on Nov 5, 2017 at 10:21 pm

Even thinking of hiring this person is horrible, but seriously putting him near the top of the list is awful. Our City Council members are selling their souls, and for what? A slim chance that a man, a trump insider, who works for a corrupt company (which is under federal investigation) will NOT just take our money and do absolutely NOTHING for our once-fair city? Why would any Trump insider do anything to help Menlo Park?

Hey, City Council - get out of the swamp you have dived into before you drown in it!


no to hiring lobbyist
Menlo Park: other
on Nov 6, 2017 at 2:41 am
no to hiring lobbyist, Menlo Park: other
on Nov 6, 2017 at 2:41 am

Does MP City Staff not know about the previous hiring of a lobbyist?

Certainly Rich Cline knows. The City spent many thousands of dollars years ago and hired a Sacramento lobbying firm, which was to work for the City's interests in dealing with High Speed Rail. It resulted in a total wast of funds.

Rich Cline was a big supporter of the hiring. It took several years to finally cancel the contract.

The firm accomplished nothing of note; the expenditures were a complete waste of City funds.

Don't go off on such a venture again. Learn from the Past. I'm disappointed that our City Manager would allow this item to be brought forward. Who on Council is pushing this?


Stu
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2017 at 7:28 am
Stu, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2017 at 7:28 am

I suggest that people forward their comments to the City Council email, which is their official channel.

[email protected]


Lobby Day
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 6, 2017 at 8:37 am
Lobby Day, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 6, 2017 at 8:37 am

Last year Kirsten Keith and Cat Carlton went to Washington DC with the City Manager. Did the City of Menlo Park paid for their trip to go? Afterwards Kirsten Keith approved this item on the agenda.


W Brown
Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 6, 2017 at 11:03 am
W Brown , Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Nov 6, 2017 at 11:03 am

There are really 3 questions:
1) What are we asking of the federal government? (Big money for rail grade separation is one obvious need)
2) Do we need a lobbyist to help us, or can we obtain the funding with direct help from Feinstein, Harris, Eshoo, and State Agencies?
3) If we need lobbyists, is this the right firm?

A knee-jerk anti-lobbyist response ignores the city's needs and the realities of politics.


Nanc
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm
Nanc, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2017 at 1:15 pm

You know what, I hope the City Manager and the City Council just go ahead with their scheme to hire a corrupt lobbyist. At this point the damage is done and they might as well show the voters exactly who they are and how they have no problem wasting our tax dollars. if they want to swim in the D.C. Swap with the worst of the worst, that stink will stay with them a very long time. Stay on this story, Alamanc news - and follow the money..


Conscience
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm
Conscience, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm

Agree with all of the above comments. The City should start by building consensus with its neighboring cities that Dumbarton rail is a priority and then work collectively to make sure that Dumbarton Rail is included in the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's regional priorities.


member
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 6, 2017 at 2:35 pm
member , Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 6, 2017 at 2:35 pm

This is nuts. Spending tax payers money to have someone B.S. around Washington.
Let the residents vote to show how assinine this idea is.


Julie
Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 6, 2017 at 6:32 pm
Julie, Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 6, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Hmmm, didn't the City Manager recommend a similar action at his prior place of employment? Perhaps, he will share the result of that expenditure of local public monies? Might be helpful in evaluating this "staff" recommendation.


Nonsense
Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2017 at 10:26 pm
Nonsense, Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Nov 6, 2017 at 10:26 pm

$175,000 to send cops to meditation to pad the Chiefs resume? Now over $90,000 for a PR firm. They can’t even say no to Facebook and have made traffic ten time worse. None of this is in the public’s interest


Jen Wolosin
Registered user
Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:02 am
Jen Wolosin, Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
Registered user
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:02 am

I just emailed the Mayor and the City Council to request that Agenda Item I3 (Contract with Mercury Public Affairs) be moved up the agenda so that it can be discussed with the greatest amount of public participation (City Council meetings tend to run very late).

From reading the emails that have been sent to City Council about this issue (67 against hiring Bryan Lanza, 3 for), and the NextDoor and Almanac threads, it appears there are a handful of common concerns that people have (please forgive me if I've oversimplified any of these or left any off):

1. Issues with Bryan Lanza in particular due to his ties with Trump/Citizens United.
2. Issues with Mercury Public Affairs (Vin Weber) due to the Mueller investigation.
3. Issues with hiring any lobbying firm (shady practice, won't work, don't need, we shouldn't outsource this task, MP shouldn't use its money in this way/waste of money).
4. The infrastructure projects that are the reason for the lobbying should be handled in a multi-jurisdictional fashion/cart before the horse (need to know what we need regionally first).
5. Lobbying isn't the answer...curtailing development/holding "traffic makers" responsible is.
6. Lack of public input in process/unclear reasoning.

I don't know how many people are planning to attend tonight's City Council meeting (meeting starts at 7pm at City Council Chambers, 701 Laurel St.. Agenda here: Web Link),">Web Link but I have a suggestion:

Rather than having a huge number of citizens each stand up and speak for 3 minutes about the same 6 issues above, we could have a few people make public comment and the others in the audience can stand up and show their support if the issue resonates with them. The benefit of this system is that instead of having one hour or so of people saying the same thing, the time can be spent hearing the City Council actually discuss and debate the issue without fear of them getting sleepy or continuing the decision to a later date. The downside of this approach is that those who are fired up to speak may not have an opportunity, however, no one needs to abide by this approach. If they really want to speak, they can speak.

I heard about this strategy (having just a few articulate people speak for a group and have others stand) from Santa Clara County Supervisor, Joe Simitian's great talk on "13 Tips for Successful Advocacy". If this idea makes sense to you, and you would like to attend tonight and be counted, please meet outside City Council Chambers (701 Laurel St.) at 6:45 tonight so we can organize who will be speaking. If you want to go your own way, no hard feelings.

Regardless, here are some important links:
Tonight's agenda: Web Link
Agenda Item I3 Staff Report: Web Link
To email City Council: [email protected]
To read others' emails to City Council: Web Link
To watch City Council meetings live: Web Link

Thank you for paying attention and being engaged!
Jen


Billl H.
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:29 am
Billl H., Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 7, 2017 at 11:29 am

I am also very upset at this recommendation. I've spent some time this morning reviewing public information for Mercury Public Affairs. They have NEVER represented a city or any other public entity. Looks like they have a list of corporate clients. Therefore, I struggle to see any examples of their success in helping municipal clients.

IMHO -

1. The Firm is NOT experienced in representing CA cities
2. The individual assigned to represent the City through Mercury is at odds with our federal elected officials.
3. I struggle to understand how a communications director is now a lobbyist
4. The Firm will implode like sleazy Tony Podesta's lobbying shop and that will put our city right in the crosshairs

I for one would like to understand more about the process the city went through to interview and select a lobbying firm. For instance, what in the background of Mercury led the city to believe that they would be the best fit?


George Fisher
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm
George Fisher, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm

If it wasn't for all the unbelievable things happening nationally, this proposal would seem to be a simple joke. Does Menlo keep money off shore as well?


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