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Portola Valley's mayor reveals why fellow council candidate was fired from town committee

There was no public explanation when Dale Pfau was removed from the Wildfire Preparedness Committee in April

Portola Valley Mayor Craig Hughes addresses Dale Pfau's removal as vice chair of the Wildfire Preparedness Committee.

After months of speculation, Portola Valley Mayor Craig Hughes told the public why a fellow Town Council candidate was fired from his role on a town committee.

During The Almanac's Portola Valley Town Council election forum on Thursday, Sept. 29, Hughes, who is seeking reelection this November, said that Dale Pfau was removed as vice chair of the Wildfire Preparedness Committee in April because he tried to undermine other committee members and made disparaging remarks about them.

The topic came up when Hughes was explaining why staff needs to be able to supervise committee members.

...With the pattern of behavior over an extended period, toward pretty much every woman on the committee, I had no choice but to remove him.

-Craig Hughes, Portola Valley mayor

Hughes verbally read Pfau's emails, which The Almanac has also acquired through a public records request, and said Pfau was trying to work with the chair of the committee to "undermine other members of the committee" and remove them from being able to discuss the committee's work during meetings.

"He sent emails to the chair saying things like, 'Is this woman clueless or what?' 'Not sure if I trust Jennifer (Hammer) on anything right now. Her appointment is a disaster.' 'Please forward me Sarah (Wernikoff)'s agenda. We will completely ignore it of course.' 'I have a healthy skepticism of anything from MJ (Lee).'"

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On Friday, Hughes told The Almanac in a statement: "It (the emails) was not isolated, and with the pattern of behavior over an extended period, toward pretty much every woman on the committee, I had no choice but to remove him to allow that committee a chance to return to being functional."

Pfau asked to rebut Hughes' comments during the forum, a break from the usual format, and was given equal time to respond.

Portola Valley council candidate Dale Pfau responds to Mayor Craig Hughes about Pfau's removal from the Wildfire Preparedness Committee.

"He was attacking me personally, so I think it's important that I get a chance to respond," Pfau said. "It's interesting the mayor never let me have a discussion about these issues. The mayor informed me that there was a problem and in a four-minute phone call removed me from the committee. There were never any complaints that I was aware of on these issues. And he said 'you can resign or be fired' and I said 'you'd have to fire me.' So at no point was there a personal discussion – 'Gee, can you do this? Can you work with this person?'"

Chair of the Emergency Preparedness Committee Dale Pfau. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Pfau said that he requested additional information about the complaint that led to his removal from the committee. He was told that attorney-client privilege prevented any disclosure of the nature of the complaint, including the person who made the complaint, the circumstances surrounding it and any other related information.

"For the mayor to wait months to provide his purported reason and to do so for the first time in a public forum is nothing less than a deliberate attempt at a broader smear campaign," Pfau said Friday in a statement. "Is this what the residents of Portola Valley deserve?"

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Town officials had previously declined to state why they removed Pfau, who was the chair of the town's Emergency Preparedness Committee, from his seat on the committee earlier this year.

In an email Monday, Hughes said that Pfau was aware of the reasons behind his removal, despite claiming in public that he did not know why he was ousted.

"He has been saying this in public, repeatedly," Hughes said. "This is false. I explained to him why he was being removed in a meeting witnessed by Dale's attorney (who he asked to attend), and by Jeremy Dennis, the town manager."

Portola Valley Mayor Craig Hughes. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In late April, the Town Council voted to change the Wildfire Preparedness Committee to reduce its size from nine to seven members to make it easier to reach a quorum for meetings. The committee's April meeting was canceled when it didn't have enough members present. Aside from Pfau, five members of the committee had resigned since November 2021.

"Unfortunately, the committee has suffered from a number of resignations and loss of committee members, including the former council liaison," Hughes said in a memo at the time. "As the alternate liaison, I recommend the following actions to strengthen the committee's ability to meet regularly, as determined by a future chair; amend the committee's charter to reduce its membership from nine to seven."

Following the forum, Rob Younge, who serves on the Emergency Preparedness Committee with Pfau, said he was disgusted that Hughes decided to comment about the matter in the "middle of a civil meeting." Younge also previously served on the wildfire committee with Pfau.

"He's (Hughes) searching for any dirt he can get out there to smear Dale," Younge said.

When asked for a response to Hughes' allegations, Pfau sent a written statement to The Almanac, which he demanded be published in its entirety, and if it was not, he would rescind it and have no comment.

His full statement reads: "The mayor refused, before, during and after my removal from the Wildfire Preparedness Committee, to provide me with any specific reason for my removal – or any information at all about the matter – based on his claim of 'attorney-client privilege.' The Town Committee Handbook, as it existed at the time prior to and as of my removal, clearly spelled out procedures to be followed, particularly if there was an issue 'over an extended time,' and those procedures were not followed here. I was deprived of any opportunity to respond to any purported complaints and, if their substance was as characterized by the mayor at the recent debate, I could have easily and successfully done so. For the mayor to wait months to provide his purported reason and to do so for the first time in a public forum is nothing less than a deliberate attempt at a broader smear campaign. Is this what the residents of Portola Valley deserve?"

Sparring over town audit

Pfau and Hughes also butted heads over the town's financial audits.

Pfau questioned why the town has not completed financial audits for 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Hughes' response to Pfau echoed those of Town Manager Jeremy Dennis. Dennis told The Almanac that the 2019-20 audit has been delayed from its normal completion about one year after the completion of the previous fiscal year because of the impacts of the pandemic (such as inability to have audit staff visit during closure of facilities), changes to the process for submitting materials to the auditors because of the pandemic, managing two fiscal systems during a transition from a legacy product to OpenGov, scheduling challenges and staffing challenges.

Its 2019-20 audit should be headed to the Finance and Audit Committee this month, Dennis said. The 2020-21 audit should be ready in early 2023, he said.

Watch the forum in its entirety here.

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Portola Valley's mayor reveals why fellow council candidate was fired from town committee

There was no public explanation when Dale Pfau was removed from the Wildfire Preparedness Committee in April

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Mon, Oct 3, 2022, 10:38 am

After months of speculation, Portola Valley Mayor Craig Hughes told the public why a fellow Town Council candidate was fired from his role on a town committee.

During The Almanac's Portola Valley Town Council election forum on Thursday, Sept. 29, Hughes, who is seeking reelection this November, said that Dale Pfau was removed as vice chair of the Wildfire Preparedness Committee in April because he tried to undermine other committee members and made disparaging remarks about them.

The topic came up when Hughes was explaining why staff needs to be able to supervise committee members.

Hughes verbally read Pfau's emails, which The Almanac has also acquired through a public records request, and said Pfau was trying to work with the chair of the committee to "undermine other members of the committee" and remove them from being able to discuss the committee's work during meetings.

"He sent emails to the chair saying things like, 'Is this woman clueless or what?' 'Not sure if I trust Jennifer (Hammer) on anything right now. Her appointment is a disaster.' 'Please forward me Sarah (Wernikoff)'s agenda. We will completely ignore it of course.' 'I have a healthy skepticism of anything from MJ (Lee).'"

On Friday, Hughes told The Almanac in a statement: "It (the emails) was not isolated, and with the pattern of behavior over an extended period, toward pretty much every woman on the committee, I had no choice but to remove him to allow that committee a chance to return to being functional."

Pfau asked to rebut Hughes' comments during the forum, a break from the usual format, and was given equal time to respond.

"He was attacking me personally, so I think it's important that I get a chance to respond," Pfau said. "It's interesting the mayor never let me have a discussion about these issues. The mayor informed me that there was a problem and in a four-minute phone call removed me from the committee. There were never any complaints that I was aware of on these issues. And he said 'you can resign or be fired' and I said 'you'd have to fire me.' So at no point was there a personal discussion – 'Gee, can you do this? Can you work with this person?'"

Pfau said that he requested additional information about the complaint that led to his removal from the committee. He was told that attorney-client privilege prevented any disclosure of the nature of the complaint, including the person who made the complaint, the circumstances surrounding it and any other related information.

"For the mayor to wait months to provide his purported reason and to do so for the first time in a public forum is nothing less than a deliberate attempt at a broader smear campaign," Pfau said Friday in a statement. "Is this what the residents of Portola Valley deserve?"

Town officials had previously declined to state why they removed Pfau, who was the chair of the town's Emergency Preparedness Committee, from his seat on the committee earlier this year.

In an email Monday, Hughes said that Pfau was aware of the reasons behind his removal, despite claiming in public that he did not know why he was ousted.

"He has been saying this in public, repeatedly," Hughes said. "This is false. I explained to him why he was being removed in a meeting witnessed by Dale's attorney (who he asked to attend), and by Jeremy Dennis, the town manager."

In late April, the Town Council voted to change the Wildfire Preparedness Committee to reduce its size from nine to seven members to make it easier to reach a quorum for meetings. The committee's April meeting was canceled when it didn't have enough members present. Aside from Pfau, five members of the committee had resigned since November 2021.

"Unfortunately, the committee has suffered from a number of resignations and loss of committee members, including the former council liaison," Hughes said in a memo at the time. "As the alternate liaison, I recommend the following actions to strengthen the committee's ability to meet regularly, as determined by a future chair; amend the committee's charter to reduce its membership from nine to seven."

Following the forum, Rob Younge, who serves on the Emergency Preparedness Committee with Pfau, said he was disgusted that Hughes decided to comment about the matter in the "middle of a civil meeting." Younge also previously served on the wildfire committee with Pfau.

"He's (Hughes) searching for any dirt he can get out there to smear Dale," Younge said.

When asked for a response to Hughes' allegations, Pfau sent a written statement to The Almanac, which he demanded be published in its entirety, and if it was not, he would rescind it and have no comment.

His full statement reads: "The mayor refused, before, during and after my removal from the Wildfire Preparedness Committee, to provide me with any specific reason for my removal – or any information at all about the matter – based on his claim of 'attorney-client privilege.' The Town Committee Handbook, as it existed at the time prior to and as of my removal, clearly spelled out procedures to be followed, particularly if there was an issue 'over an extended time,' and those procedures were not followed here. I was deprived of any opportunity to respond to any purported complaints and, if their substance was as characterized by the mayor at the recent debate, I could have easily and successfully done so. For the mayor to wait months to provide his purported reason and to do so for the first time in a public forum is nothing less than a deliberate attempt at a broader smear campaign. Is this what the residents of Portola Valley deserve?"

Sparring over town audit

Pfau and Hughes also butted heads over the town's financial audits.

Pfau questioned why the town has not completed financial audits for 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Hughes' response to Pfau echoed those of Town Manager Jeremy Dennis. Dennis told The Almanac that the 2019-20 audit has been delayed from its normal completion about one year after the completion of the previous fiscal year because of the impacts of the pandemic (such as inability to have audit staff visit during closure of facilities), changes to the process for submitting materials to the auditors because of the pandemic, managing two fiscal systems during a transition from a legacy product to OpenGov, scheduling challenges and staffing challenges.

Its 2019-20 audit should be headed to the Finance and Audit Committee this month, Dennis said. The 2020-21 audit should be ready in early 2023, he said.

Watch the forum in its entirety here.

Comments

Meg
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 3, 2022 at 1:07 pm
Meg, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 3, 2022 at 1:07 pm

Wow, total muck racking. Dubious attacks on committee members and members of the public using the Almanac has become the norm for PV Town government. They will cry about people not wanting to serve on committees and then go for the jugular of anyone who crosses them. Further Government unpleasantries include, leaving nasty filth laden phone messages on home answering systems, attempts to eject people who ask pointed questions from public meetings with three council members in attendance, and attacks on citizens using the PVForum. One wonders how low the current crop at PV Town Center will go and how much the Almanac will enable them. My personal experience is that it is the current town goverment that lacks respect for the opinions of women. It is truly embarrassing to see this behavior.


PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 4, 2022 at 9:41 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Oct 4, 2022 at 9:41 pm

Meg, the hyperventilated language isn’t just part of the problem; it’s the core. Who’d bother to engage? Dale may be smart and aligned with your priorities but he’s also demonstrated a well-established pattern as described. His twitter feed says all you need to know.


David B
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 5, 2022 at 9:17 am
David B, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2022 at 9:17 am

A few weeks ago, on another story, I commented that "I had heard that Dale was quite disrespectful of the women on the committee". The Almanac opted to remove that post, but I'm happy the truthfulness of that post has been validated.

The following is also truthful: people in PV are becoming aware of the radical nature of Dale's previous tweets and re-tweets on Twitter before he took them down. Including that his profile photo was a photo of G. Gordon Liddy (really?). Is this a person that PV wants in a position of leadership and power?


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Oct 5, 2022 at 9:22 am
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2022 at 9:22 am

I think Dale Pfau's e-mails did show a hostility to other committee members, and when committee members are unelected volunteers, there's some sort of understanding that there is supposed to be a relatively civil, apolitical, atmosphere.

Yet, this should not impact Dale Pfau's quest to join the Town Council as that is an elected, political, position, and the fierce advocacy he exhibits is appropriate for this position. Vote for him based on his platform, not the committee issue.


PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Oct 5, 2022 at 1:30 pm
PV Resident, Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2022 at 1:30 pm

I appreciate Thoughtful's suggestion that we have a baseline of decency for committee members. But are you saying that women volunteers on the town council should expect and submit themselves to a pattern of marginalization and denigration as part of their role? Your defence of "fierce advocacy" seem parallel to "locker room talk." One can be an advocate AND also be kind or at least respectful.


Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 6, 2022 at 4:17 pm
Resident, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 4:17 pm

More to the point about those considering voting for councilmembers Craig Hughes is that he was the only council member that did not endorse the recently passed Portola Valley School Bond Measure Z.

All other members supported this bond measure. I hope he responds to the Almanac and to Portola Valley Parents (who are likely also interested in public high schools -- he states his kids went to the Priory) why he took this position and how he stands on the Sequioa Union High School Bond (Measure W). If he supports one and not the other what is his rationale?


Menlo 2024
Registered user
Portola Valley: Ladera
on Oct 6, 2022 at 7:28 pm
Menlo 2024, Portola Valley: Ladera
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 7:28 pm

At some point you have to look at why it there a formal town government anyways? How much could be saved by going unincorporated???


Former PVSF board officer
Registered user
Portola Valley: Westridge
on Oct 6, 2022 at 9:18 pm
Former PVSF board officer, Portola Valley: Westridge
Registered user
on Oct 6, 2022 at 9:18 pm

Agreed that Dale's comments were not polite. However, linking them to sexism, locker room talk, marginalization, etc. seems a stretch. Correlation does not imply causation. As over 3/4 of Dale's fellow committee members around this time were women, it seems statistically probable that most or all comments would reference female members. None of the comments were sexist.

Dale's endorsements include three current and/or former female members of town committees Dale has chaired or participated in. Women who have served with him on the board of the Woodside Priory (which he chaired) speak highly of him.

As context, the Wildfire Preparedness Committee at that time had far greater problems than Dale's careless words. It had lost about half its members, couldn't raise a quorum and was facing a lawsuit regarding a Brown Act violation. Those wanting to dig deeper can reference Bob Turcott's June 17th posting (#163588) in the PV Forum. It includes several links, one of which links to a resignation letter from a Fire Preparedness Committee member.

Dale currently chairs the Emergency Preparedness Committee which by all accounts runs efficiently and functions well.

Those who view occasional disparaging remarks as an absolute disqualification for service should in good faith also eliminate Craig Hughes from consideration, as his harsh remarks to and about residents are legion.

And David B. - you would enhance your credibility by being honest about your place of residence. Many of us know you moved to Montecito years ago. Use the drop-down menu under "neighborhood" to choose "other" rather than "Central PV" - it's quite easy to do.

My pronouns are she/her


PV Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: other
on Oct 7, 2022 at 11:05 am
PV Resident, Portola Valley: other
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2022 at 11:05 am

Feels like a hit piece.
This is the organization who wants to keep Portola Valley from being dictated to by Sacramento.

https://www.ourfuturetogether.net

Read their stance and the above articles bias becomes clearer.

Vote out incumbent mayor and council in November!


David B
Registered user
another community
on Oct 7, 2022 at 1:10 pm
David B, another community
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2022 at 1:10 pm

Apologies to anonymous Board Officer... I selected "Central PV" out of many years of habit. I now live in another community (not Montecito) but can't edit that post.

Where I live now doesn't change the facts that I reported.


Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 7, 2022 at 6:07 pm
Resident, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 7, 2022 at 6:07 pm

Isn't it possible in a small town to stop the politics of personal destruction and run on this issues. I don't know that I agree that fire is the primary concern in PV. It might well be how we should inteligently comply with state mandates. I also am concerned about our elementary and high schools and strongly support bond issues that will provide better learning environments for our nect generation.

My disagreement with the Mayor (Craig Hughes) is his partial disclosure and whether the persons who accuse Dale of being disrespectful are of a different political persuasion. Dale has sat on the Priory Board and I have not heard these critiques (of sexism) made by those members,. If our mayor thought it necessary to name Dale at this point in the camopaign wouldnt it be helpful to know who was accusing him and whether they may have had a political motive (could it be another Committee member that has been politically active in the community?) As an independent minded person it would be helpful to know if there might be bias in the accusations. Our democracy depends on the accused having a fair right of defense and Craig Hughes attacks deny him that right, unless he was also willing to name the person bringing these accusations.


Lowell Sears
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 8, 2022 at 9:11 pm
Lowell Sears, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2022 at 9:11 pm

I am shocked and appalled by Mr. Pfau’s actions in disparaging and demeaning women volunteers who have devoted many years of service to our Portola Valley community. My wife MJ Lee has served conscientiously in multiple roles on town committees since moving here 28 years ago. She is currently providing guidance as a member of the Wildfire Committee in the weekly Wildfire Preparation Tips published by the town. Portola Valley deserves council members who treat dedicated volunteers with respect and equality. Mr. Pfau is clearly unfit to serve.


Resident
Registered user
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Oct 9, 2022 at 11:59 am
Resident, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
Registered user
on Oct 9, 2022 at 11:59 am

Congrats Lowell, I am glad to see that after so many years together you and MJ Lee are finally married.

I do not know if it is fair to judge Dave based on anonymous allegations. He was on the
board of the priory and didn’t have a problem there. Could it be that heated arguments over policy got conflated with being disrespectful? This seems to happening on all sides today.

What is really wrong in my opinion is to let disagreements over policy morph into a personal,attack. I have found virtually all of my Portola Valley neighbors to be good people, regardless of political persuasion. Coaching and an honest reflection on behavior can solve lots of problems that might arise in the heat of the moment. Couldn't that be the case here? Dave is making an honest effort to reconcile and that should be enough. We are nit electing the future president of the United States but a town council member.


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