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Carpenter to recuse himself from computer votes

Original post made on Aug 3, 2011

Peter Carpenter, a member of the governing board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, has decided, "in an abundance of caution," to recuse himself from computer purchasing decisions by the board. The reason: His wife is chairman of Intel Corp.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 3, 2011, 10:49 AM

Comments (37)

Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2011 at 11:23 am


Great example.

Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm

and who does councilman Furgusson's husband work for?

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Very honorable, Mr. Carpenter. You continue to set an excellent example and "walk the walk." All of our elected officials should take note.

Your turn, Council Member Fergusson.

Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Peter and Michael.....

I am not sure I agree with Peters decision. Taken to its logical conclusion no member of a governing board that owns stock in Intel, even in a pension plan, should vote on the purchase of computer systems.

My concern here is that Peter having recused himself may not even speak on the issue of such purchases, which means that a consistently analytical and common sense voice on such matters will not be heard.

I can understand that the perception of "Conflict of Interest" is of paramount importance to Peter, and I am sure he has weighed the conflict carefully against his fiduciary responsibilities as a public official, however it seems to me that the Board can determine without him the basics of the system they wish to purchase and then include him when such a decision has been made.

It would then be a simple matter of comparison between the specifications between different vendors. A comparison which Peter is eminently capable of making and defending.

Posted by bob
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 3, 2011 at 1:22 pm

It is a noble gesture, but there are not many computer systems out there that do not have an Intel chip somewhere in the system. It will be interesting to see if other local politicians are as open and honest.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Aug 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm

The point here is that Peter took quick action to solve.

Many of our elected officials in San Mateo County deny that they have conflicts even when it is quite obvious that they do.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 3, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Agree with POGO and Mr. Stogner. Peter deffinatley walks the walk. Good on ya Peter. Oh, and POGO, I hope your not holding your breath while you wait for Kelly to do the right thing. I'd like to have lunch again and I'd like you to stick around. I think it's my turn to buy.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 4, 2011 at 12:32 am

The public's trust in their elected and appointed officials requires that those officials not only comply with the minimum standard set by the law but that they also be perceived by reasonable citizens as always acting in the public's interest and not in their own interest.

Ever since I first joined the Fire Board my wife was serving on the Intel board and that relationship has been recorded on every Form 700 that I have filed over the last 10 years. I have never felt that I had a conflict when voting on the District's budget because of this relationship nor under the law was there a conflict.

However, recently a fellow citizen stated "The MPFPD buys computers with Intel chips inside. You approve the budget which allows them to do so." This perception caused me to rethink my position, not in light of the minimum standard set by the law but by the much higher standard of 'perception of conflict'. My decision to recuse myself from future decisions of the Fire Board regarding computer purchases was made out of "an abundance of caution and in deference to the concerns which have been raised by a citizen" and "and given the ubiquity of Intel chips in most computers".

I am confident that the Fire District's decisions on computers will not suffer by my silence and I hope that my decision on recusal will serve to enhance the public's trust in their officials.

Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 4, 2011 at 7:26 am

Peter Carpenter did the right thing. About 18% of all PCs have AMD CPUs. Purchasing computers have many evaluation criteria such as cost, performance, reliability, energy consumption, etc. I prefer computers with Intel CPUs. Others prefer AMD.

Mr. Carpenter, in my opinion is a fair minded man; but more importantly he is above reproach. He has set for himself a much higher standard. He doesn't even want an appearance of impropriety.

As far as Fegusson is concerned, until Siemans attends a bidders conference or submits a proposal there is no conflict of interest on her part. But as a council person, it would be wise for her to adopt the higher level of ethics that Mr. Carpenter has demonstrated and simply recuse herself. The downside to her reputation far outweighs any potential gain.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2011 at 11:38 am

This higher level of ethics, which Mr. Carpenter has elegantly demonstrated, requires the ability to think past one's own ego. Time will tell if Fergusson's capable of that. Mr. Carpenter refuses to play small, to not just avoid risking his reputation, but his wife's and the fire board's as well, thus preventing needless drama and conflict. As Coco Chanel said, "Elegance is refusal."

I hope she reads these comments and rises to the occasion if it presents itself.

Posted by E.CAYCE
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Somehow I don't understand the "front page news" of Peter Carpenter recusing himself.
He is so interested in local political issues from fallen trees to lights in ball parks to the CalTrans and he appears to not be a very busy man unless he is employed by The Almanac for the time he must devote every day for what be hours.
If he is showing his honesty in the midst of the mess in Washington with the "officials behaving like spoiled children", he is being very forthright with his supposedly harmless participation because of his connection with the computer chip company.
It is rather odd or almost too much patriotic behavior when there are more important issues with very suspect members of the governing of San Mateo County from bribes in construction which are brought up, to his rather innefectual political therapy he hands out daily almost religiously.
I could easily have found it not that newsworthy.
It actually makes me, who has dealt with legal issues in other counties, more suspect of the time he puts in for Atherton and almost every city in the County.
To the editor: There are far more important issues going on almost anywhere than this "noble" gesture.
Does his spouse contribute to this paper as well? She sounds as if she has a job.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 4, 2011 at 6:42 pm

E Cayce = R. Gordon

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2011 at 7:33 pm

Menlo Voter - how clairvoyant of you to see who E. Cayce really is! You might have a new career w/this psychic ability. What Cayce is ignoring is not that this was vitally important news, but rather, it's exactly what I said before - it's to avoid problems, prevent drama. It's not meant to be big news, it's meant to inform.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 4, 2011 at 8:43 pm

I respect Hank Lawrence but respectfully disagree with his assertion "As far as Fegusson is concerned, until Siemans attends a bidders conference or submits a proposal there is no conflict of interest on her part."

Suppose an elected official is also employed by a phone company. Wouldn't you expect them to refrain from influencing the elected body's discussions and decisions about issuing permits to build cell phone towers? Just because their employer has yet to submit a bid doesn't mean the official is without conflict.

Ms. Fergusson has a pattern of very questionable ethics. Ms. Fergusson may not realize it, but if Siemens ever wins a contract, she has given the competition a highly colorable issue to litigate. She would be wise to step aside...

Posted by Get Real
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 5, 2011 at 8:41 am

Nice disclaimer when your running for some other office as a do good er but really this gesture has no content am I am not impressed.

Posted by Black & White
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2011 at 10:43 am

fa·nat·ic /fəˈnatik/ - Noun: A person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, esp. for an extreme religious or political cause.

The fundamental trait of the fanatical character is irrational enthusiasm …

But when an enthusiastic disposition is permitted to curb the reason, and its possessors follow their passionate impulses as the true guides, enthusiasm degenerates into fanaticism.

A man of a sound enthusiasm uses his feelings as the ministers of his reason. A fanatic dwarfs his reason into a servant of his feelings. A fanatic studies as an advocate of a cause which he takes up, sometimes from rational conviction, sometimes from inheritance, sometimes from a social exigency, sometimes from momentary passion, and which he is determined, whatever his reasons may be, and whether he has any reasons or no, to maintain at all hazards.

He teaches but one side of a question, and lives not for all the truth he knows, but for the particular part of it about which his feelings have been excited.

The fanatic with his exaggerated notions of the importance of his own projects is ready, and even eager to do all the harm, which may be involved in an immediate attempt at perfect success. He attacks institutions which have done and which continue to do good, not only because they ought to do more good, not only because they do a certain amount of evil, but also, and especially because he thinks that institutions which he wishes immediately to establish will do more good, and no harm.

The fanatic having expected to realize his ideal, by the machinery of some new plan, and having provided for no evils incident to his own faults, is unprepared to meet those evils when they come; is unable to help society to protect itself against his own mistakes; is disappointed by accomplishing less good than he had hoped; and instead of learning even by experience, blames others for preventing his success, without attributing his failure to the folly of his own plan.

Charles Edward Grinnell, Jan 4, 1871

Web Link

Posted by sam sell
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Aug 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

Not voting on laptop purchases?

Meaningless gesture.

Meant to hide something else?

Posted by E.CAYCE
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2011 at 1:17 pm

BLACK AND WHITE put it superbly.
All of us find it not entirely "newsworthy" to make Mr.Carpenter's gesture deserving of his and his wife's photos and resumes on the front page.
I would be more interested in all of the mountain lion stories which appear daily.
Had I mentioned that anyone here appears to be a fanatic, I would be edited rapidly. I don't know if any of Mr. Carpenter's fans know that saying " a fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.
Mr. Carpenter just needs to focus on less even though he now has probably more time.....yee gads!

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 5, 2011 at 1:24 pm

Public service has taught me to tolerate both fools and their foolish comments.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 5, 2011 at 1:51 pm

E Cayce:

you should just stick to posting as R. Gordon. You're not fooling anyone with this new handle.

Posted by tolerant
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 5, 2011 at 3:07 pm

Peter Carpenter states:
Public service has taught me to tolerate both fools and their foolish comments.
So Peter, while you are busy tolerating people and their comments you then denigrate what they have said by calling them fools and their comments foolish. So exactly what has public service taught you? To be tolerant of others opinions even if you don't agree or to get angry and call them fools?
Usually you call them not qualified to comment because they hide behind monikers, or are not regular posters etc. However your tolerance has now produced creature, "fools".

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 5, 2011 at 4:06 pm

tolerant - you appear to be protesting a bit too much. Mr. Carpenter's comment didn't single you out.

Others - I would rather have an elected official error on the side of recusal instead of watching a tone-deaf elected official ignore her obvious conflict of interests.

Posted by Inevitable
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 5, 2011 at 4:24 pm


I don't know if it is political caution, basic human compassion, or just a basic lack of faith in the charges, but no one who feels as you do appears comfortable with filing a complaint with the FPPC. You have done your best to ring the alarm bell and throw water at the flames, as have others. But at some point you just have to sit back and let the house burn to the ground. Later when hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake, you might be right about a lawsuit being filed by a competitor. Whether it is meritorious or not, what a mess that will be.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Inevitable -

People, especially politicians in positions of power, need to be circumspect about their influence and their conflicts.

I honestly don't know if Ms. Fergusson is unethical or just ignorant. Her behavior is embarrassing.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 5, 2011 at 6:10 pm


please read all posts. If you don't think some of them are ridiculous or stupid then I feel sorry for you, because clearly you don't have a clear grip on reality. Some of the things posted above are just stupid as are many of the things the "public" comes up with. Anyone who has worked with the public as I have, and is being candid, will tell you the "public" is generally stupid.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Aug 5, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Yeah, I gotta side w/Mr. Carpenter on this one. Only, I have to change his quote a bit to fit my life: "Adulthood has taught me to tolerate both fools and their foolish comments." Only I'm probably less tolerant than Mr. Carpenter.

The one time I held a public-type office, some of what we heard w/so moronic you'd think people were joking. I can barely stomach listening to the cretins in my community whining & complaining, blaming public officials for crime, for example. Then there are the public officials whose moronic behavior can only be the result of stupidity, provincialism or bribery. It's refreshing to have people like Mr. Carpenter, w/whom I have several disagreements, but I never think he's being dishonest or trying to make a big deal out of something. WE'RE the ones, posting here, making a deal out of it, not him.

Posted by Black & White
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 8:12 am

Convinced of the truth of a certain fact, the correctness of a certain theory, or the expediency of a certain policy, the fanatic exclaims to himself: I must declare, prove, and urge my view because it is true, although it may not be expedient; or because it is expedient, although it may not be true. Away with courtesy from the face of truth; and let justice and honesty wait until my conscience has satisfied the claims of opinion!

He admits, voluntarily, no speculative doubt into his mind. When an uncertain mood threatens to render an opponent's view attractive to him, he fortifies his resolution rather by dwelling on the horrors of losing his present convictions, than by seeking whether he can fairly reassure himself of their truth; not perceiving that if he were convinced by his adversary he would share the confidence of the other side.

He may be devoted to philanthropy; but his eloquent deeds inevitably betray that he helps other men rather because he suffers on account of their peculiar forms of discomfort or degradation because they suffer, no matter what their ills may be. They whose sufferings lead them to oppose the fanatic, but whose pain is not shared by his imagination, receive his curses.

Charles Edward Grinnell, Jan 4, 1871

Posted by E.CAYCE
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 10:03 am

[Post removed. Using multiple names.]

Posted by M.Antony
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 10:21 am

[Post removed. Poster using multiple names.]

Posted by PONTIFF
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 11:58 am

[Post removed. Using multiple names.]

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm

"I wold not be in a folis paradyce."

Posted by Black & White
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 6, 2011 at 1:41 pm

If the aspiring creative writers on this thread were to offer their wares in the marketplace the unemployment rate would soar.

Posted by Black & White
a resident of another community
on Aug 6, 2011 at 3:55 pm

It is [the fanatic's] mission to fly into the face of the' sun. He feels that his eyes, like the eagle's, were made to stare unmoved at what is above him, as his talons were made to destroy what he can seize below.

The peculiarities of any single fanatic, indisputable and widely acknowledged as may be his claim to that title, are of interest to lawmakers chiefly as conspicuous symptoms of a disease that exists in the body-politic, affecting more or less every part of the State, and requiring careful observation and judicious treatment.

How shall the statesman attempt to make his official dealings with such troublesome people contribute as much as possible to the safety, convenience, and harmonious development of the State? A politician must make some use of fanatics; if he will not neglect one of the opportunities for power, and one of the duties of government. He must follow with them the rule which holds in all human dealing, that it is necessary to take men as they are before we can make them any wiser or better, and to use what they can give before asking them for more, in, order to help one's self and them to the most good in the best way.

Whether they curse him or bless him, he should pursue an even course of toleration and intelligent sympathy towards them, as towards all other parts of the community.

When they advocate unjust or absurd measures, and clamor for what they call reform, the wise legislator does not rest in a majority, if that happens to be his fortune; he looks to see whether there is not some just cause for even a foolish tumult; and if he finds that the machinery of the State needs improvement, he considers the means of progress, proposes better plans than the fanatics, and tries to reform them and the whole State together.

Charles Edward Grinnell, Jan 4, 1871

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

I am in the UK as I read the above postings - distance gives a lovely perspective.

I remain confident in my decision and I am totally unaffected by the, mostly deleted, trash talk that played frivolous with the issue at hand - integrity of public decision making.

Thanks to the Almanac for creating a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. And thanks to the readers for appropriately ignoring the trash talk.

Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Aug 7, 2011 at 11:09 am

What power this man must yield to leave and come and still have time to have his public locally control this paper.
Sometimes, one has to resort to pseudonyms or the posts get blocked by the editor and my wisdom is surrendered to the likes of you.
BLACK AND WHITE obviously sees what I am trying to say. Primarily, that you have control over the press in almost every opinion including your own self aggrandisement.
No matter, I am working on finding housing and medical care for those veterans of the Mid East "wars" who never have been addressed here unless I missed it.
If you happen to be at the, you wouldn't know it.

Posted by tolerant
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 7, 2011 at 11:41 am

The mark of a fanatic

George Santayana famously said that "Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim." But that describes the most extreme fanatics. The lesser fanatic is harder to spot. Fanaticism partakes of some of the characteristics of a cult.

Fanatics have extreme world views; they don't see shades of grey. Phrases like "If you're not part of the solution then you're part of the problem" are symptomatic. To a fanatic, if you're not 100% on his side then you have to be 100% opposed to him. It is not possible to somewhat agree with a fanatic; absolute agreement is the only acceptable alternative.

To a fanatic, the message is important. Therefore normal rules of social decorum do not apply; the vital importance of the message overrides such trivial concerns. Everyone will hear the message all the time, everywhere. It's simply too important not to take every opportunity to spread the word.

Of course, since the fanatic is obsessed with the subject matter, everyone else must be secretly whether they admit it or not. If they object to the message it can't be because they're bored with it, or because they think that the forum is inappropriate. It must be because you've tapped a secret fear. You've reached something! Time to pour on the message.

Of course, the subject of obsession is too important to joke about, and any attempt at a joke will be treated as a pathological manifestation of deep-seated fears, not as a conversational gambit to deflect the conversation to other more interesting subjects. (There can be no more interesting subject, after all, and we already know that if someone doesn't want to hear the message it's because they're part of the problem.) If he's cracking wise it's because he really knows, deep down, how important the subject is and is trying to hide from it.

There will invariably be at least one unfalsifiable or tautological aspect to the obsession. For instance: if you agree with me, then my thesis is true. If you refuse to talk about it it's because deep down you know I'm right but you refuse to admit it. If you disagree with me then it's because you've been deceived or because you are part of the active opposition.

There is an element of paranoia in true fanaticism. It isn't possible for a fanatic to accept that the subject is unimportant or less important to others. A fanatic can't accept the idea that someone else partially agrees with him, for instance, let alone the idea that someone else simply doesn't care at all. There is an active conspiracy of people opposed to this vital truth, but you never know when you'll encounter one of their agents, let alone someone who has unwittingly been indoctrinated by the opposition.

The difference between an advocate and a fanatic is a matter of degree. One can be an advocate without being a fanatic. Fanatics are the extreme case of advocacy.

An advocate recognizes that the subject isn't really important to everyone, and that there are places where the subject isn't appropriate for discussion. A non-fanatical advocate keeps a sense of proportion, and recognizes that there can be shades of grey in other people's opinions. An advocate may have opponents but recognizes that there are neutrals, too. (A fanatic, on the other hand, doesn't accept this possibility.)

The most important difference is that an advocate chooses his fights, and saves his ammunition for the big battles. To a fanatic, they're all big battles.

Fanatics are objectionable mostly because they're tiresome. There's a time and place for everything. For a fanatic, now is the time and everywhere is the place.

Editor's note: It looks like this thread is exhausted so I'm closing it.

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