News

Editorial: Questions surround councilwoman's trip to China

 

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.

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Comments

22 people like this
Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 9:37 am

As we know from news from our national Capitol there are those in public office for reasons other than serving the public, including to serve themselves and business associates.


10 people like this
Posted by Jackrabbit
a resident of Portola Valley: Westridge
on Apr 18, 2018 at 2:12 pm

‘Shades of Steve Mnuchin’...’Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Much like Facebook, “it’s all about ME”!


22 people like this
Posted by MPer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:04 pm

MS. Keith is the worst kind of small town politician. She wants to represent the city, but not interested in the communities opinions nor needs. While she was in China begging for more (un-needed) foreign investment, our sidewalk crumble. The only thing that would come out of this "agreement" is even higher property prices, which would directly benefit our city council. hmmm


28 people like this
Posted by plain and simple
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2018 at 4:55 pm

Thank you Editor for asking good questions that deserve answers, especially when Ms Keith wants to run for a rare 3rd term on our City Council.
It appears that this trip was not official Menlo Park business, so she had no business implying that she was there on city business, wearing a city nametag with a city title on it (not even her current role as Councilmember but her former title as Mayor), and being involved in activities as part of a "Silicon Valley City Group".
She is an attorney, so higher standards of ethical conduct should apply. She is no dummy, so should have recused herself the instant she became aware this trip was based on her official city role. That was BEFORE she got her plane tickets.

This is conduct unbecoming, plain and simple.


23 people like this
Posted by Rudy
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 18, 2018 at 7:25 pm

Keith should resign but that will never happen. She needs a strong opponent from her district to run this fall. She has an awful record that should be pointed out by an opponent. Remember her murky role in Signgate? o4)But she needs just ONE opponent. If there are several, she’ll win based on the votes of know-nothings who only go by name recognition. Multiple opponents will split the vote of informed voters. It’s time for her to go.


25 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 18, 2018 at 8:09 pm

Keith has been a huge disappointment in my opinion. She is gone on multiple trips when she is needed to vote on important community issues. She is no where to be heard from when the willows went through and still deals with all the cut through traffic in our neighborhood. Her interests are are self serving and she is not needed on the council any longer. Their is plenty to question about her ability to represent her district with issues from facebook growth, Traffic in the Willow corridor and concerns about pedestrian safety in and around the Willows neighborhood.


14 people like this
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 18, 2018 at 9:53 pm

You have to look at things in perspective. When compared to Gail, Kelly, or Heyward, then Kirsten comes out smelling like a rose.


21 people like this
Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 19, 2018 at 9:58 am

There’s actually more going on.

I have encountered Cat Carlton on my I international travels.

Here’s an upcoming meeting in Bulgaria where she is billed as Mayor Elect, Menlo Park City.

Web Link



2 people like this
Posted by Crisis Situation?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:22 pm

According to Google, Catherine Carlton is and has been Mayor of Menlo Park Since 2014: Web Link

The editor is correct, the public has a right to ask questions, but we should not assume these are supporters that are now upset. Some people will be overjoyed to have a story to attract so many anonymous negative comments.

Under the law, elected officials have earned the right to represent themselves as such. When a public entity pays for a trip. there are guidelines for how much can be spent without approval from their elected body. This trip does not appear to be authorized or subsidized by the city, as with previous council trips to China.

Elected officials never get a break; they are always representing themselves as an elected official. For example, if a council member is traveling and is arrested for rowdy behavior or drunken driving, this can be made public and is seen as a blemish by their constituents. Having an elected official stand in for a photo shoot is the other end of the spectrum and is generally considered an honor. If this story is not newsworthy for the Mountain View Voice (Web Link), standing in for this photo shoot may not be a crisis situation, but is certainly a perfect example to reflect on how these events could be better organized.


21 people like this
Posted by Give her a break from office
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 19, 2018 at 1:55 pm

I used to support Kirsten. I won't anymore.

How in the world can she claim she may have accidentally wore her old Mayor pin? That's ridiculous.

How can she explain the City manager saying she didn't tell him about the ceremony and that she said she was going on vacation?

How can she explain to me that this mess is why she missed the City Council meeting on the Facebook development?

I don't know why Mountain View's Voice hasn't covered it yet. But the Daily Post has already written one story on the topic and it serves Mountain View.

I agree Kirsten needs a break. She needs a break from serving in office.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crisis Situation?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 19, 2018 at 2:38 pm

Ordering a new pin with both English and Traditional Chinese, so that people on that trip could read it, would have been best. Do dignitaries in China speak and read English?


25 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 20, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Read Stu's post: all the council members have taken international trips where they represented themselves as affiliated with the city.

* Who is paying for these trips?

* Do we care about repeated absences? Our council members are gone a lot on these junkets? I have also heard from firsthand observers that their behavior has not always been exemplary either.

* And, most importantly, why do council members for a small city -- with plenty of problems at home -- feel the need to travel internationally on behalf of our city? We elected them to handle issues at home!

No Hank, the council members you name served our city with integrity. They weren't taking these kinds of trips, and they didn't appear to be in the pockets of development interests either.


5 people like this
Posted by Faction fighting
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 20, 2018 at 1:31 pm

And with that, let the faction fighting commence. Please everyone, argue about past political alliances and self branding, commence over generalizations and obfuscations, and divert attention from the simple fact pattern before you. Let's divide everyone up by who their friends are and who they voted for and what they think about city issues generally. That's what we should focus on right now, instead of getting the basic answers the editorial discusses.


16 people like this
Posted by plain and simple
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 20, 2018 at 5:18 pm

@Crisis Situation? "Under the law, elected officials have earned the right to represent themselves as such."
I can understand that when an elected official is in the grocery store or a local community meeting, but I think it is a real stretch when officials seem to be representing the city and its interests without specific authorization, such as the Chengdu case.
How is it beneficial to Menlo Park for our councilmembers to head of on international junkets and avoid their local duties? These officials seems to be feathering their own nests and aspirations, not paying attention to the job they were elected to do.


9 people like this
Posted by Faction Fighting
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 10:55 am


The organization who Keith said was going to pay for the trip, US Gateway Innovation, website is no longer up, and there is an error message saying the "usasiaig.org" server IP address can no longer be found.

Why take the website down now?


4 people like this
Posted by Faction Fighting
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 11:38 am

The name of the organization is U.S. Asia Innovation Gateway.


Like this comment
Posted by Stats
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Apr 24, 2018 at 1:48 pm

@Faction,
That website works for me - no errors. Home page shows New York City skyscrapers. no conspiracy here.


Like this comment
Posted by Faction Fighting
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 24, 2018 at 2:39 pm

Is your paged is cached?


14 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 24, 2018 at 3:04 pm

Unfortunately most politicians succumb to bending the truth or stretching the limits of honesty and being ethical. Keith has fallen under this umbrella and when you get the little power a small city politician has you want more. It gets easier when you don’t have to spend your own money to go to go on guestionable trips representing our city. This won’t change but only get worse. Her interests do not benefit Menlo Park and she does not deserve to serve on the council any longer:


Like this comment
Posted by disclosure
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 25, 2018 at 2:41 am

@Jenson may not know that elected officials must file economic disclosure document yearly, listing all sources of income including that of their spouse. They must also list real property, stocks and other investments over $2,000. Very few people are interested in disclosing all this information with the world.


14 people like this
Posted by Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 26, 2018 at 5:32 am

Too bad Chuck Bernstein is not running? Why not Chuck, the fire district needs more work? Move on, you're too good for that agency.....the city needs you.


Like this comment
Posted by vacation
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 28, 2018 at 4:47 pm

Daylight saving time started on March 11, which puts Chengdu 15 hours ahead of Menlo Park. The March 27 event in Chengdu (as reported by the press release) would have occurred during the Menlo Park Planning Commission meeting on March 26. Residents may expect Keith would spend 9am to 2pm sitting in a hotel room participating in a recorded study session while on vacation with her daughter; that may be a lot to ask.


5 people like this
Posted by Cut the bull
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 28, 2018 at 5:42 pm

1. Keith missed the City Council meeting not the Planning Commission meeting. The City Council was studying the new Facebook development and she skipped it.

2. The rest of us don't get our "vacation" trips to China paid for and then attend signing ceremonies wearing pins saying we are Mayor when we aren't while our friend pitches business deals to foreign officials. The whole thing smells bad.


Like this comment
Posted by vacation
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 28, 2018 at 6:57 pm

"Keith missed the City Council meeting not the Planning Commission meeting."

If the press conference in Chengdu was during the day on March 27, it happened around the time of the planning commission meeting on March 26. Chengdu is 15 hours ahead of Menlo Park. People can still be distraught Keith didn't call into the study session, but the timing of two events in this article is off by one day.


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