News

Locals challenge authenticity of former councilwoman's ballot designation

Kirsten Keith. Courtesy Scott R. Kline.

Two current and former City Council members in the area have challenged the three-word personal description that former Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith has asked to be placed next to her name on the November ballot.

Keith is a candidate for the San Mateo County Harbor District who describes herself as a "Conservation Agency Director."

The San Mateo County Elections Office has looked into the challenge and will let the description remain on the ballot.

Keith is running for the District 5 seat on the San Mateo County Harbor District against another Menlo Park resident, incumbent Virginia Chang Kiraly, who is also running to keep her seat on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board.

Keith works as an attorney and was appointed by the City Council to be Menlo Park's representative on the board of directors for the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) in 2013.

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She said in an email that she chose the designation because her seven years on the board of BAWSCA is the most relevant for the elected office she is seeking on the harbor district board, and because she cannot use more than three words to describe her position because it is not an elected office.

She noted that she describes her full title in her candidate statement, and provided alternate designations that included her work as an attorney, but the Elections Office confirmed that her first proposed designation was "legal and appropriate."

The elections code, she added, "does not state that a candidate is required to designate a profession, vocation or occupation that provides the largest percentage of income or takes up the most hours in a week."

Portola Valley Vice Mayor Maryann Derwin said she and former Menlo Park Councilman Heyward Robinson challenged Keith's ballot designation.

"We both saw it and said, 'No, this is not right,'" Derwin said in an interview.

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After receiving the challenge, the county Elections Office contacted Keith, who provided additional information and reference materials that "reaffirmed that her designation was factually accurate and a principal profession," Jim Irizarry, assistant chief elections officer for the San Mateo County Elections Office, told The Almanac in an email.

Derwin said that she challenged the designation for several reasons – first, that being a BAWSCA board member does not appear to be Keith's primary occupation. She is a private criminal defense attorney who works with the San Mateo County Private Defender program.

"That's something she should tout," Derwin said.

By contrast, the BAWSCA board meets six times per year, has 26 members, and pays board members $100 per meeting, said Heyward Robinson in an email to the county Elections Office challenging the description.

According to Irizarry, the ballot designation, a description that appears under a candidate's name on the ballot, is meant to convey "the current principal professions, vocations or occupations of the candidate."

Another problem she had with the designation, Derwin said, is that it could lead voters to believe Keith is an executive director, rather than a member of a board of directors.

A third issue, Derwin said, is that BAWSCA isn't exclusively an environmental nonprofit. It supports a number of water conservation initiatives, such as its "Lawn Be Gone!" program, which provides rebates to households to replace their lawns with more water-efficient native plants. But its primary goals, its website states, are to ensure a reliable water supply, high quality water and a fair price.

Keith recently wrote a piece on Medium about additional efforts to conserve water that BAWSCA takes, accessible here. Other programs include rebate offerings for rain water barrels and high-efficiency toilets.

Legally, Irizarry said, the county is required to reject a ballot designation in a few circumstances – like if someone says he or she is an incumbent but really isn't.

In this situation, though, the county Elections Office doesn't have the authority to reject the designation and would have to take the candidate to court, he said.

"We were not provided information that would warrant that action, and we do not conduct background investigations or inquiries into candidates' lives," he said. "When a candidate files to run for office and selects their designation, they do so with the understanding that false information they provide would be considered perjury. Absent information to the contrary, we assume the truthfulness of the information provided by the candidate."

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Locals challenge authenticity of former councilwoman's ballot designation

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Sep 4, 2020, 10:28 am

Two current and former City Council members in the area have challenged the three-word personal description that former Menlo Park Councilwoman Kirsten Keith has asked to be placed next to her name on the November ballot.

Keith is a candidate for the San Mateo County Harbor District who describes herself as a "Conservation Agency Director."

The San Mateo County Elections Office has looked into the challenge and will let the description remain on the ballot.

Keith is running for the District 5 seat on the San Mateo County Harbor District against another Menlo Park resident, incumbent Virginia Chang Kiraly, who is also running to keep her seat on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board.

Keith works as an attorney and was appointed by the City Council to be Menlo Park's representative on the board of directors for the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA) in 2013.

She said in an email that she chose the designation because her seven years on the board of BAWSCA is the most relevant for the elected office she is seeking on the harbor district board, and because she cannot use more than three words to describe her position because it is not an elected office.

She noted that she describes her full title in her candidate statement, and provided alternate designations that included her work as an attorney, but the Elections Office confirmed that her first proposed designation was "legal and appropriate."

The elections code, she added, "does not state that a candidate is required to designate a profession, vocation or occupation that provides the largest percentage of income or takes up the most hours in a week."

Portola Valley Vice Mayor Maryann Derwin said she and former Menlo Park Councilman Heyward Robinson challenged Keith's ballot designation.

"We both saw it and said, 'No, this is not right,'" Derwin said in an interview.

After receiving the challenge, the county Elections Office contacted Keith, who provided additional information and reference materials that "reaffirmed that her designation was factually accurate and a principal profession," Jim Irizarry, assistant chief elections officer for the San Mateo County Elections Office, told The Almanac in an email.

Derwin said that she challenged the designation for several reasons – first, that being a BAWSCA board member does not appear to be Keith's primary occupation. She is a private criminal defense attorney who works with the San Mateo County Private Defender program.

"That's something she should tout," Derwin said.

By contrast, the BAWSCA board meets six times per year, has 26 members, and pays board members $100 per meeting, said Heyward Robinson in an email to the county Elections Office challenging the description.

According to Irizarry, the ballot designation, a description that appears under a candidate's name on the ballot, is meant to convey "the current principal professions, vocations or occupations of the candidate."

Another problem she had with the designation, Derwin said, is that it could lead voters to believe Keith is an executive director, rather than a member of a board of directors.

A third issue, Derwin said, is that BAWSCA isn't exclusively an environmental nonprofit. It supports a number of water conservation initiatives, such as its "Lawn Be Gone!" program, which provides rebates to households to replace their lawns with more water-efficient native plants. But its primary goals, its website states, are to ensure a reliable water supply, high quality water and a fair price.

Keith recently wrote a piece on Medium about additional efforts to conserve water that BAWSCA takes, accessible here. Other programs include rebate offerings for rain water barrels and high-efficiency toilets.

Legally, Irizarry said, the county is required to reject a ballot designation in a few circumstances – like if someone says he or she is an incumbent but really isn't.

In this situation, though, the county Elections Office doesn't have the authority to reject the designation and would have to take the candidate to court, he said.

"We were not provided information that would warrant that action, and we do not conduct background investigations or inquiries into candidates' lives," he said. "When a candidate files to run for office and selects their designation, they do so with the understanding that false information they provide would be considered perjury. Absent information to the contrary, we assume the truthfulness of the information provided by the candidate."

Comments

frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2020 at 12:41 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 4, 2020 at 12:41 pm
31 people like this

Kristen can call herself anything she wants but it won't help her get re-elected. Just look down El Camino and see the oversized wall-to-wall development that has changed the character of Menlo Park forever. Kristen support these projects.


Logan
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 4, 2020 at 12:42 pm
Logan, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 4, 2020 at 12:42 pm
30 people like this

Keith meets with this board a grand total of six times a year and is paid six hundred dollars for the effort?
And she claims that as her occupation for the voters?

If anyone was holding out hope her loss in the election two years ago would have reformed how she approaches politics that hope has been dashed. What a pity.

I am voting for Kiraly.


nancy
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 4, 2020 at 2:34 pm
nancy, Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 4, 2020 at 2:34 pm
30 people like this

As a City Council member Kisten Keith failed to serve the citizens of Menlo Park well. She has always aimed for higher office (as when she ran unsuccessfully for County Supervisor while on the council). I'm dismayed to see that she aims to gain another position in our county. Her designs seem wholly personal. Bravo to Derwin and Robinson for challenging her spurious ballot designation.


conscience
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 4, 2020 at 4:37 pm
conscience, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 4, 2020 at 4:37 pm
24 people like this

This is a classic Keith political move: position herself as something she is not. Was hoping that she would reform her ways after she was trounced two years ago in her re-election bid (for a third term) to the City Council. I'll be voting for Kiraly.


Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 4, 2020 at 8:37 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 4, 2020 at 8:37 pm
25 people like this

It is no secret, if you followed the City Council elections in 2018, that I did not like what Keith had done for the city and what she failed to do for her own neighborhood. I have met and talked to Virginia Chang Kiraly and found her to be honest and upfront, so I will be voting for her. I encourage everyone who plans to vote in November to take a look at what Keith brought to Menlo Park and where here campaign donations came from.


Kirsten Keith
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:45 pm
Kirsten Keith, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:45 pm
12 people like this

Frugal, I've always supported mixed-use development along the Caltrain corridor, and feel strongly that more housing downtown is critical to the success of our downtown shops and restaurants. Ultimately, Menlo Park voters allowed these projects to move forward in 2014 when Measure M was defeated.


Kirsten Keith
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:45 pm
Kirsten Keith, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:45 pm
8 people like this

Brian, I appreciate what we were able to accomplish in the Willows with your help. Your efforts were critical in rallying residents for the "No Right Turn" signs onto Willow Road. Those signs greatly improved the quality of life for our Willows neighborhood. I am grateful that we were able to accomplish this while I was on City Council, and your effective lobbying is what made it happen.


Kirsten Keith
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:46 pm
Kirsten Keith, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:46 pm
9 people like this

While at the elections office, I asked about using my full BAWSCA title as my seven years of experience on this board is most relevant to the work of the Harbor District. As BAWSCA is not an elected office, I was limited to three words, per the Elections Code.

Although I also provided alternate designations that included the word "attorney," it was much less accurate to describe my role with BAWSCA in just two words.

The appropriate place to provide clarifying information is on the candidate statement, which reads, "Occupation: Water Supply and Conservation Agency Director. Education and Qualifications: J.D., Law with Public Interest Law Award, B.A., Political Science with an International Relations Emphasis" and further explains, "I currently serve on the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency Board, ensuring over 1.8 million residents have reliable, high quality water at a fair price, while providing water conservation programs."

There is some confusion regarding the term "principal" with respect to ballot designations. In this case, the definition is a legal one. Involvement which is only nominal, pro forma, or titular in character does not meet the requirements of the statute. My role on BAWSCA impacts over 1.8 million residents and requires that I submit financial disclosure documents, as I did while on city council. This occupation meets the requirement for a "principal" occupation according to the Elections Office.


Council Watcher
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:47 pm
Council Watcher, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:47 pm
22 people like this

Wanted to add one more fact. Unlike the custom and tradition, Kirstin Keith did not resign from her position with BAWSCA after she was defeated by Drew Combs in the last election. The Council appointed liaison roles are for the purpose of fostering two-way communication and inter-jurisdictional cooperation. So I was quite surprised when Kirstin Keith gave an update on BAWSCA to the new Council, including her opponent Drew Combs.

I looked into the matter and learned that Keith could hold onto her role because Council policy (which needs updating) did not require her to resign. However, there was an established tradition and expectation that one resign once elected service (in MP) is over. Keith's hanging on to the role did a disservice to the people of Menlo Park and her Council peers as one of them should have replaced her.

Her giving her title as "Conservation Agency Director" is troubling. Please see this article regarding Keith traveling to China, on personal business, and appearing to sign a document while wearing an official City of Menlo Park pin. Web Link

I'm voting for Virginia too. She's an elected official that I trust and have complete confidence in.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:58 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 5, 2020 at 1:58 pm
13 people like this

In filing as a candidate for the Fire Board I went through the same kind of discussions with the Elections Office as did Keith.

In my case my principal activity for the last 30 years has been as the Founder of the Mission and Values Institute which serves as an umbrella for all of my public service and non-profit service activities. However, the Election Office prohibits the use of the title of "Founder" (even if you are one) so I was required to use the title Corporate Office/Director based on my role as a Director of Annual Review, Inc. which is one of the non-profit boards on which I have long served. The Elections Office required that I provide documentary evidence of my position at Annual Reviews.

In my opinion the San Mateo Elections Office sets a high standard and runs a tight shop. The are also one of the best Elections Office's in the Nation.


Kirsten Keith
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 5, 2020 at 2:28 pm
Kirsten Keith, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 5, 2020 at 2:28 pm
6 people like this

Council Watcher,

Actually, the custom is for people to complete their term on BAWSCA, just as former council member Kelly Fergusson did when she was on BAWSCA. I am not aware of anyone resigning before their term is up from BAWSCA if they are no longer on council. I can imagine someone resigning for other reasons, for example if they move away from the area. Additionally, there are many former elected officials on the Board of Directors of BAWSCA. Many city councils have appointed former council members for several years. This practice is quite common. 


Heyward Robinson
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 6, 2020 at 12:45 pm
Heyward Robinson, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 6, 2020 at 12:45 pm
18 people like this

The California election code governing ballot designations can be found here. Web Link

Please read it for yourself and decide if "Conservation Agency Director" is in compliance with either the letter or spirit these regulations. I do not believe that it is which is why I (along with Maryann Moise Derwin) submitted the challenge to the County Board of elections. The code is clear that the designation should not confuse voters. Kirsten is a practicing attorney from which she derives most of her income. Voters should know this.

There are additional problems with the designation. Here is part of what I wrote to the County elections office: "BAWSCA is first and foremost a water supply agency. It represents wholesale customers in Santa Clara, San Mateo and Alameda Counties in a water supply agreement with the City and County of San Francisco. Its primary mission is to ensure affordable, reliable supplies of water to these customers. It does support water conservation programs but it would be misleading to state that as its primary focus. A designation of "water agency director" would be more accurate. That said, Ms. Keith's most appropriate designation would be "attorney". "

Clearly Kirsten believes that "Conservation Agency Director" will be more attractive to voters which is why she chose it over her primary and principal occupation of attorney. We will find out in November whether voters agree.


Logan
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 8, 2020 at 1:53 pm
Logan, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2020 at 1:53 pm
1 person likes this

Thank you Almanac for removing one of the most offensive posts I have ever seen.


frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 8, 2020 at 3:46 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 8, 2020 at 3:46 pm
7 people like this

Kristen say: "I've always supported mixed-use development along the Caltrain corridor, and feel strongly that more housing downtown is critical to the success of our downtown shops and restaurants".

You've changed the subject. The subject is your being a party in approving those massive buildings on El Camino. Are you happy with the scale of what you see? I know no one who is and sadly the damage has only begun. The street name should be changed from El Camino Real to El Camino Tunnel. The northern end of the tunnel has already been completed in Redwood City.


frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 10, 2020 at 6:52 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 6:52 pm
2 people like this

Kristen, I don't think you've answered this. Are you still ok the scale of the projects on El Camino?

'You've changed the subject. The subject is your being a party in approving those massive buildings on El Camino. Are you happy with the scale of what you see?'


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 10, 2020 at 8:38 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 8:38 pm
2 people like this

Frugal - What do you questions have to do with the Harbor District?

Are there any plans being considered by the Harbor District for new construction or rezoning?


frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 10, 2020 at 9:21 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 9:21 pm
2 people like this

Hi Peter, I'm sorry if I mislead lead. I don't follow the Harbor District except to say I miss Petes Harbor. My question to Kristen was to ask how she feels about the development on El Camino. I'd like to see the Almanac interview all those who contributed to the scale of those monster buildings and ask them to defend their votes, maybe starting with Kristen if she'll surface. It's been 6 days now.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 10, 2020 at 9:25 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 10, 2020 at 9:25 pm
2 people like this

Frugal - What do your questions have to do with the Harbor District?

Are there any plans being considered by the Harbor District for new construction or rezoning?


frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 14, 2020 at 1:15 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 1:15 pm
Like this comment

"Kristen, I don't think you've answered this. Are you still ok the scale of the projects on El Camino?"

No answer yet? Can I assume that you are embarrassed? I would be.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 1:56 pm
Like this comment

Frugal - What do your questions have to do with the Harbor District?

Are there any plans being considered by the Harbor District for new construction or rezoning?


frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:09 pm
Like this comment

Peter, I'm commenting on this headline/article.

"Locals challenge authenticity of former councilwoman's ballot designation"


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:41 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2020 at 2:41 pm
2 people like this

Frugal - But what control does the Harbor District have over development on ECR????


George Fisher
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2020 at 5:22 pm
George Fisher, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 5:22 pm
Like this comment

Is pushing through this project Web Link Consistent with a description of a “conservation agency director “? That description claim is the focus of article.


wrangler
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 15, 2020 at 6:57 pm
wrangler, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 6:57 pm
4 people like this

George, it's true the entire city council opposed 2014's Measure M, but wasn't it Menlo Park voters that allowed these projects to move forward by defeating M?

On Nov 5, 2014, the Post reported, "Measure M, which proposed to limit the construction of new offices in Menlo Park, was resoundingly defeated in yesterday’s election by nearly a two-to-one ratio, and the three City Council incumbents who opposed M coasted to re-election."


George Fisher
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:54 pm
George Fisher, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:54 pm
2 people like this

Measure M was an unsuccessful effort to restrict the office space development we now see that was pushed through by pro development council members, who also opposed the measure m effort to restrict development. However, The present question is whether one of those pro office space development council members can now properly, if not fairly, be described as a conservation agency director. Office space development, particularly that we now see and to benefit those described in the cited article, seems the antithesis of Conservation, the prevention of wasteful use of resources.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:59 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 7:59 pm
2 people like this

" The present question is whether one of those pro office space development council members can now properly, if not fairly, be described as a conservation agency director."

The factual answer is that the approved ballot designation of "conservation agency director" correctly describes the candidate's occupation as defined by law.

The law does NOT permit the ballot occupation designation to be used to describe a candidate's policies or philosophy.


frugal
Registered user
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Sep 15, 2020 at 10:25 pm
frugal, Menlo Park: Downtown
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2020 at 10:25 pm
2 people like this

Wrangler: Amazing what developer money can buy. KQED reported at the time "Greenheart donated $200,000 to a Committee for a Vibrant Downtown to fight Measure M with mailers, ads and phone banking. Also against the initiative was Menlo Park Deserves Better, a citizen group not affiliated with Greenheart that received over $17,000 in small campaign contributions.

Pushing for Measure M was Save Menlo, supported by more than $75,000 in campaign donations."

Please Wrangler and Kirsten, just look around and tell us if you're proud of what you see? Wouldn't something maybe 1/3 smaller have been more attractive? Poetic Justice but all that office space will likely remain empty for years to come with workers now working from their homes.


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