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In controversial vote, council picks new firm for Menlo Park's legal services

Original post made on Feb 25, 2021

In a tense 3-2 vote, the Menlo Park City Council opted to end its decadeslong ties with the Menlo Park-based law firm Jorgenson, Siegel, McClure and Flegel in favor of a new legal services contract with Burke, Williams and Sorensen.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 25, 2021, 2:56 PM

Comments (5)

Posted by Happy Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 25, 2021 at 3:04 pm

Happy Resident is a registered user.

Remember the old saying "if it ain't broke don't fix it" well the council has just fixed something that has been working well for decades -

Posted by Reference Check
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 25, 2021 at 5:24 pm

Reference Check is a registered user.

According to the South Lake Tahoe website, Ms. Doherty is not their city attorney. Heather Stroud has been the city attorney since 2018.

Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 26, 2021 at 12:48 pm

Observer is a registered user.

The Menlo Together cohort now controls the council 3-2. Expect more decisions that reflect the group's hidden and not-so-hidden agenda.

Posted by SoodyQ
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 27, 2021 at 2:29 pm

SoodyQ is a registered user.

There is nothing 'unbroken' when the same contractor has the contract for one of the most powerful positions in a city government for over 60 years. Allowing it to retain such contract in perpetuity is undoubtedly ill-advised.

I hope that the new firm can competently represent the City of Menlo Park. That said, change and fear of change should not hinder progress. Many of the new contract provisions were not even present in the original contract or its amendments with the former city attorney. It is refreshing to see that the new contract includes so much more than the old one (and its amendments). What never made sense was that the former firm's representative, although termed as 'independent contractor,' received certain compensation that only employees are to receive. Thus its full compensation was no less than the current firm's and perhaps even higher. So making the cost comparison is not quite a 1 to 1.

While institutional knowledge is critical in any organization, what is being confused here, is which institution should retain that knowledge. In this case, that institution is the City and not its contractor. Even in the same organization, relying on any one person is not what 'institutional knowledge' refers to, let alone an outside contractor. If the City wishes to retain institutional knowledge within the City, it must bring the function entirely in-house. I trust the former firm will exercise its best efforts to transfer files and knowledge that belongs to the City to the City and the new firm.

I hope that now that the decision has been made, all the council members and city management support the new firm to ensure that it is destined for success in its representation of Menlo Park.

Thank you, Council, for making this much-needed change.

Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2021 at 4:20 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

I concur with Soody’s comments. In addition, the prior City Attorney’s firm also received ample fees paid by developers doing business before Menlo Park.

However, I am most troubled by the prior firm’s inadequate legal advice and the lack of a focus on protecting the public good, especially our most vulnerable residents. The District 1 residents also live in an area with the most predicted impact from natural disasters.

Some laws we haven’t followed along with a major conflict of interest:
• The ConnectMenlo so-called General Plan update which concentrated development in District 1 as a way to generate revenue. The effort was an illegal substitution for an authentic General Plan Update. The public and Council were assured that the CM process would follow all applicable laws. It did not. Our trust was misplaced. The Statue of Limitations has unfortunately passed. However, it’s not too late for the new City Attorney to do something about the egregious harm done to the Belle Haven Community via the CM zoning changes.

• A major property owner in District 1 also received a seat on the CM Advisory Committee. This developer benefitted materially from the CM zoning changes that he helped oversee. This represents a major conflict of interest.

• The City needed the threat of a lawsuit from East Palo Alto to update its Housing Element. The City has concentrated affordable housing in the Belle Haven area in violation of the Fair Housing Act provisions. In addition, the last Housing Element update unfairly concentrated the new housing in District 1 instead of evenly distributing it throughout the City.

There are other laws that we haven't been following.

The SB1000 Environmental Justice law was passed before the CM zoning changes were approved. The Environmental Justice movement has focused on fixing the kinds of egregiously unfair land use policies that CM exemplifies. The City Attorney’s office should have been aware of this law and brought it to the attention of Council before it was asked to approve ConnectMenlo.

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