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MP Transportation Commisioner Katherine Strehl Should Step Down Due to Major HSR Conflict of Interest

Original post made by Bob, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park, on Feb 26, 2011

Katherine Strehl, appointed transportation commissioner in April 2010, started working for HSR's pubic relations firm a month ago to "coordinate (HSR's) public information and outreach efforts statewide."
Even though it though there is nothing illegal about her serving as a commissioner while working for the efforts of the state agency that the city has fled suit against, she should step down to prevent any chance of improprieties.
As a transportation commissioner what is there to prevent her from using her position to provide herself, her PR firm and HSR with info regarding city efforts re HSR. As a "city insider" she has easier access to coordinated efforts with other communities and an insiders read on the thinking, mores and strategies of those involved on the cities side. In a sense an HSR trojan horse.

San Jose Mercury News article - Web Link

Comments (20)

Posted by not worried
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 26, 2011 at 1:37 pm

First, commissioners rarely are exposed to any of the city's innermost workings, so it is highly unlikely she will have the chance to leak any "secrets" to her employer. I have been a city commissioner, and -- except for the planning commission -- commissioners generally don't have much power, period. You advise the council, and if the council wants to ignore you, they do.

Second, I think it is great to have a pro-HSR person on the transportation commission. Because of her presence, no one can say "those ostriches in Menlo Park were totally ignorant of the benefits of HSR." Instead, we can point to her input as proof that the HSR perspective was provided and the residents made an educated decision to oppose HSR.

How can she be a trojan horse when we all know she's there? If she'd kept her job a secret, that would be a different story.

Posted by Roxie
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm

The lawsuit against HSR should be dropped. The majority of citizens of Menlo Park voted for High Speed Rail, even though members of the Menlo Park City City Council had written editorials and proclaimations against it. Yet the City Council, in defiance of the democratic process, decided to continue with the lawsuit even after the citizens had voted yes -- instead bowing to special interest groups and putting their own agendas before the obvious will of the public.

Menlo Park should not have an adversary relationship with any state organization, especially important transportation agencies like the High Speed Rail Authority. I think we are lucky to have Ms. Strehl on the Transportation committee and strongly disagree with Bob's suggestion that she should step down.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm


the democratic process was subverted when those pushing HSR lied about the cost, lied about the ridership numbers and lied about it being self supporting. The vote for HSR was based upon LIES. That is why people are fighting it. We don't want this albatross around our necks and the necks of our children and grand children; which is exactly what the boondoggle that is HSR will be.

Posted by Roxie
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm

I do not feel that I was lied to when I voted for High Speed Rail.

People want transportation that will work and not pollute our air. The petroleum industry lies to people, and we pratically loose the Mississipi gulf for it. Rail systems are the most fuel efficient transportation options and people will be able to drive cars less, cleaning up the air. I'm tired of children having asthma, people dying of heart attacks, wars being fought and who knows what climate changes are lying in wait. We can do this, only big oil, maybe some airline companies trying to keep their monopoly on travel and a few misguided people led mostly by even fewer selfish people are against it. They are the ones that should quit with their LIES.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 4:29 am

Let's get back on point.
Should someone who has a major role working for a firm representing an entity involved in a lawsuit with the city of Menlo Park retain her position as a Menlo Park transportation commissioner?
Peter Carpenter -you're usually quite informed when it comes to issues like this - any comments?

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:08 am

Bob asks:"Peter Carpenter -you're usually quite informed when it comes to issues like this - any comments?"

Yes, she will have to disclose this on her Form 700 and is precluded from voting on any matter in which she has a financial interest ( except, in general, her personal residence).

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 28, 2011 at 5:32 am

Correction - She is precluded from being present or participating in any discussion or voting regarding HSR or voting on HSR matters as it appears that she has a financial interest in this matter (beyond the general impact which HSR might have on her personal residence - unless that residence is within 500 ft of the proposed HSR route in which case she would also be precluded from participating in the commission's discussions or voting BUT not from being in the room during those discussions).

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Elected and appoint officials are supposed to be above reproach. Either way there seems to be a conflict of interest -- real or perceived. Given recent events in Menlo Park, I would think its leaders would want to be squeaky clean and not even have cause for concern.

Aside from the legal questions, the real one is does Menlo Park really want invite more negative attention?

Posted by henry
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 28, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Katherine Strehl has a broad background in transportation issues, having worked for Bart for 9 years. She knows far more than even staff. We are extraordinarily lucky to have her on the transportation commission. If the HSR issue comes to the Transportation Commission--which,so far, it has not--than she will not participate.

The anti-HSR paranoia has no place here.

Posted by Watching
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

Henry, I don't think this is anti-HSR paranoia. People have legitimate concerns with the HSR Authority, which hired a spin-meister firm to try to restore the confidence of people who felt betrayed by the dishonest campaign it waged to sell HSR. The PR firm has to expect some of the taint from the Authority's lies to be passed along to it, and hiring a transportation commissioner to sell its message is sure to make some of us uncomfortable. Why wouldn't it?

Although I'm uncomfortable with the arrangement, I'm not sure it rises to the level of impropriety. But I don't think it's fair to call our unease paranoia. In fact, Bob's questions make it more likely that things will proceed as they should, above-board, which is usually a happy result of public scrutiny.

Posted by Watching too
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Feb 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm

More likely she used her commission position as a selling point to get the HSR PR job.
I'm not comfortable with it.

I wonder what her retirement benefits are? Isn't she already retired?

Posted by Roy Thiele-Sardina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm

You people are kidding right?

The majority (that's three out of five for you mathematically challenged) of our city council have taken money or help from unions and they didn't even recuse themselves from the Union Contract discussions or votes. So please remember this is a commission that makes recommendation. NOT an enforcement body (which is the council).

She is PERFECTLY capable of working on the large number of other issues concerning transportation and letting the city council continue their Quijote "Windmills" battle, that is the HSR lawsuit.....

Roy Thiele-Sardina

Posted by Henry Riggs
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Feb 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Henry Riggs is a registered user.

Staff, fellow commissioners and the public will all expect Katherine Strehl to recuse herself, if and when the transportation commission has a hearing related to HSR. And so I'm sure she will. How hard is that?

I'm grateful that someone with extensive and real transportation experience is willing to be on our commission.

Disclosure: I know Katherine, and am not in any way worried her new employment will conflict her about our Menlo Park transportation commission issues.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Henry - as a member of the Planning Commission and the El Camino and Downtown Visioning Committee, if your architecture and design firm was in contention for a major portion of the planning and architecture on the El Camino Corridor would you consider it sufficient to just recuse yourself?
A major issue re the conflict of interest is perception and trust. And I perceive that a conflict is possible and I do not trust the concept that someone can separate their work life from their civic life.
And who knows, Katherine may very well be running for city council in a couple years.
According to the Daiy News Strehl has already "acknowledged she was "remiss" in not officially informing the city that she's now campaigning on behalf of the controversial bullet train project." What else will she be remiss in doing regarding this conflict?
The best thing to do is not give the conflict a chance - Strehl should step down now.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 1, 2011 at 5:45 am

We benefit from having people with expertise involved in the development of sound policies;we suffer if those individuals use their position for personal advantage. The law allows individuals with expertise to freely participate in any decision which does not gain or create the appearance of gaining them personal advantage. In this case the individual with financial ties to HSR cannot be present, participate in or vote on matters having to do with HSR and she must publicly state her conflict before departing the room, nor may she discuss HSR matters with any of her colleagues that serve on the same commission either in or outside of commission meetings.

It is a balancing act and the appointee must understand her responsibilities including full and timely disclosure of her conflict.

Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 1, 2011 at 9:11 am

All Council members and commissioners have conflicts of interest from time to time. If we were to require commissioners and council members to resign every time there is a conflict of interest we would have a continuous revolving door. Katherine Strehl did noting wrong. If she were to vote on an HSR matter than she would have done something wrong. But she did not! So why are people trying to manufacture a scandal where none exists. To loosly quote the Bard of stratford upon Avon "Me think you doth protest too much"

Posted by Ray Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm

As a Menlo Park Transportation Commissioner who has worked with Ms. Strehl, and who presently has a differing view point from Katherine with respect to High Speed Rail in it's present form, I want to go on record as stating I hope she does not resign from the Transportation Commission.

Katherine has a wealth of experience dealing with public transit issues. She is knowledgeable, affable, and respects differing view points. Certainly she will have to recuse herself from High Speed Rail discussions, but the real danger that the Commission faces is losing her expertise in other subject areas, because she will leave the Commission precisely so she can talk about High Speed Rail.

We are a facing a real public transit crisis on the Peninsula. It would be a tragedy to lose her expertise, credibility, and voice in the discussion of how to solve problems unrelated to High Speed Rail. Moreover, one need only attend one Transportation Commission meeting to learn that the anti-High Speed Rail view point is well represented; the subject undoubtedly is raised by someone almost every meeting.

And for those of you who are like me and have deep concerns about the present High Speed Rail plan, you should know that part of me is actually relieved to know that Katherine is now formally involved in the process on behalf of HSR, because I believe there will be less stonewalling from the High Speed Rail Authority as a result of her involvement.

And for those who believe Katherine should go, simply because she is a HSR supporter, irrespective of whether she properly recuses herself from HSR issues or not, I say this, albeit humbly, in response: We must not fear those with differing viewpoints from our own, but rather embrace the opportunity to engage them in debate with intellectual honesty. How would they, or we, ever learn whether the other was wrong about any issue otherwise, but for the tragedy of absolute failure?

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I do not believe Kathrine should go because she is an HSR supporter.
I believe she should go because of the potential for conflict between her civic post/city and her job/employer/employer's client. By serving on the commission she gains an insiders view which would not normally be available to he employer and employer's client.
Unfortunately it can be seen as improper that while the city is suing HSR and hoping to deal with the potential negative impacts upon the city it has a transportation commissioner who says she "coordinate(s) public information and outreach efforts statewide" for HSR and that she's now campaigning on behalf of the controversial bullet train project.
But hey, it's Menlo Park and were not known for doing things properly or logically.

Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 1, 2011 at 3:25 pm

And I'm not known for proper punctuation.

insider's view
we're not known

Posted by Ray Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 1, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Bob, I appreciate your concern, and I think your concerns are important to address:

First, we on the Transportation Commission are not privy to an insider's view of the process. Everything Ms. Strehl will learn in the future as a Transportation Commissioner about High Speed Rail, she could also learn by attending the Transportation Commission meetings as a member of the public and reading the staff reports. We receive nothing confidential, that I am aware of, nor do we have closed session meetings. We are bound by the Brown Act. And all of our meetings are tape recorded and put online, and all the information we are provided is put online. So in short, there is nothing confidential Ms. Strehl will learn as a result of being a Transportation Commissioner. She gains no advantage she otherwise could have enjoyed by being an engaged member of the public.

Transportation Commissioners are basically volunteers. We primarily serve to disperse information to the public, as it made available to the public, and then assist the City in the collection of public feedback. From time to time as a result of collecting public feedback, we get to vote on a recommendation for Council to consider. The recommendation is public record. But that recommendation is basically advisory and non-binding. We are just creating work product for Council to consider in the exercise of their judgment. Moreover city staff creates a separate advisory report. After that Council can choose to do whatever they want, irrespective of the advisory reports they are provided.

So if HSR gains no advantage by having Ms. Strehl serve a commission member, who does gain an advantage?

We do.

Because Katherine has made the commitment to stay informed and stay engaged, we get to enjoy her perspective in the discussion on the range of other Transportation issues facing the City, outside of High Speed Rail, as we put together our work product for Council to consider in forming their decisions. If our aim is to provide the highest quality of work product for Council to consider on public transit issues, it seems short sighted to exclude the formal external director of BART. If anything, assuming Katherine will recuse herself when HSR issues are discussed, she is limiting her ability to promote HSR by being a commissioner.

I hope this information addresses your concerns, and is helpful.

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