Menlo Park City Councilwoman Kirsten Keith's chair at the dais in the local council chambers was empty on March 27, when she was on vacation and the City Council was examining details of the largest proposed development in the city of Menlo Park's history. Facebook's proposed Willow Village, if built, will dramatically affect the future of Menlo Park, which is already heavily burdened by traffic and housing problems that have worsened the quality of life for many residents.
It's no small irony, then, that while three of her council colleagues (Councilwoman Cat Carlton is recused from Facebook matters) and concerned members of the community were engaged in the arduous effort of studying details and possible consequences of this massive proposed development, Ms. Keith was instead mingling with the people of Chengdu, China, reportedly addressing future business possibilities in Silicon Valley for Chengdu businesses.
We emphasize the word "reportedly" here, not only in fairness to Ms. Keith but to underscore the murkiness that hangs over the March 27 event she attended in Chengdu along with Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel and Dublin Mayor David Haubert. The Chinese press reported that the event was a signing ceremony that involved former Mountain View councilman Mike Kasperzak, Chengdu business representatives and the three Bay Area elected officials.
Many questions surround this event, as detailed by an article by Kate Bradshaw in this week's Almanac. It is clear that Ms. Keith, whose term as mayor ended last year, was not authorized by her council colleagues to represent the city in China. But beyond that, questions include:
● What exactly was in the document, called an "agreement" and a "memorandum" by the Chinese press, that appears to have been signed by the Dublin mayor, as Ms. Keith and Mr. Siegel stood by? The Chinese press reports, according to certified translations, that the agreement was signed on behalf of the three Bay Area representatives there, including Ms. Keith.
● In at least one photo published by the Chinese press, Ms. Keith appears to be wearing the city of Menlo Park's "Mayor" pin. Why would she represent herself as the city's mayor when she doesn't serve in that capacity?
● What was the purpose of Ms. Keith's participation, wearing a city of Menlo Park pin, at a ceremony that, according to the Chinese press, benefited a private firm whose CEO is the former Mountain View council member, Mr. Kasperzak?
● Why would Ms. Keith, Menlo Park city pin affixed to her blazer, attend a function in another country representing the city when she was not authorized by her council colleagues to do so?
These are questions the public has a right to ask, and to have answered.
Members of the community have been asking them, including resident and attorney George Fisher, who paid hundreds of dollars to obtain certified translations of articles in the Chinese press in his quest to pin down details of the event.
Ms. Keith's City Council colleagues also need to raise these questions. And it appears the time has come for the council to create a firm policy spelling out the conditions under which one council member might be given the authority to represent the city outside the city itself. Such a policy should require authorization by the City Council for a single member to represent the city abroad.