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Menlo Park: Mysterious closed City Council meeting violates protocols and raises questions

Original post made on Oct 12, 2021

Three members of Menlo Park's City Council have authorized a closed session meeting at 3:30 p.m. today (Oct. 12), when the two other City Council members are unable to attend due to their full-time jobs.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, October 12, 2021, 11:58 AM

Comments (27)

Posted by Ali Mad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 12, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Ali Mad is a registered user.

I can't say I'm surprised. I warned against hiring the Burke Law Firm. They are so sleazy. This cabal of progressive females is disappointing. I am an indie-prog liberal and feminist. This looks bad. Bad look, ladies. Really outrageous and unacceptable. You should walk this back.


Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 12, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Enough is a registered user.

It looks like these three council members feel like hiding their business from the rest of the council. I hope we can get them all replaced as quickly as possible without having to go through a recall. However if that is what it takes to protect the integrity of the Menlo Park City Council maybe it should happen.


Posted by magster
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 12, 2021 at 1:19 pm

magster is a registered user.

This is truly underhanded and unacceptable behavior, regardless of whether or not it breaches the Brown Act.


Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 12, 2021 at 1:31 pm

Observer is a registered user.

Menlo Together now controls the council. What could go wrong?


Posted by Native
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2021 at 1:34 pm

Native is a registered user.

The heck are we talking about? If the other two want to attend, then attend…

So much hearsay in this article, yeesh.


Posted by local teacher
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 12, 2021 at 2:30 pm

local teacher is a registered user.

Thank you Almanac for shedding light on this. The optics are bad, no matter the intention. If it is important, then find a time that includes the important voices and representation of Mr. Combs and Mr. Mueller.


Posted by Henry Riggs
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 12, 2021 at 10:17 pm

Henry Riggs is a registered user.

The reason the mayor and another council member are excluded - not even advised of the plot - is that "the lawyer wasn't available"? Seriously?
The visuals here are unreal. Three council members who vote as a block set a closed door meeting (specific agenda not known by either the city manager or the mayor) as if the other council members simply don't matter, not to mention the residents, or sunshine laws.
Who is running the city if not the full elected council?
Sorry to say, "Something is rotten in Denmark".


Posted by mickie winkler
a resident of another community
on Oct 12, 2021 at 10:38 pm

mickie winkler is a registered user.

Are you aware of Menlo Together?
It is the de facto group that now, in effect, rules Menlo Park.
Menlo Together was funded with a grant of $40,000 from the Grove Foundation.
The Grove foundation is chaired by Karen Grove, an heir to Intel Founder, Andrew Grove.
She is also the immediate past and current chair of the Menlo Park Housing Commission (which is unusual but who nominated herself to succeed herself as Chair).

How is Menlo Together connected to the majority of Menlo Park City council members?
• Council-woman Nash was a founding member of Menlo Together.
• Council- woman Wolosin (now a member emeritus) was endorsed by Menlo Together in 2020. In that election it was disclosed that Karen Grove and another Menlo Together member tried to discourage Max Fennel from running against Wolosin and that Grove allegedly offered to support him, IF he dropped out of the race and moved to a district where the candidate was not a Menlo-Together affiliate.
• Council-woman Taylor founded, and is Executive Director of, Belle Haven Action, a member of Menlo Together. (Belle Haven Action is a major project of UnaMesa, to which the Grove Foundation contributed $30,000 in 2017.)

Money often influences politics—for good causes and for bad. No surprise there. But when money influences policy, from whatever source, we should at least know it.


Posted by Director Rob Silano
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 13, 2021 at 4:28 am

Director Rob Silano is a registered user.

Thank you Almanac for your article and the Honorable Former Mayor Winkler for your background information. As an elected official of the fire board, I was saddened to read such a move by the majority of the council? What’s up?


Posted by Wendyb
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2021 at 10:44 am

Wendyb is a registered user.

In this age of divisiveness on the national level, it is surprising and disheartening that a ‘private’ city council meeting is scheduled when not everyone can attend. And think of the possible uproar if the three people who wanted the private meeting were all men - might be a very different story.


Posted by Lynne Bramlett
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 13, 2021 at 1:57 pm

Lynne Bramlett is a registered user.

I believe yesterday's 3:30 pm meeting was cancelled and rescheduled for today at 5 p.m. I presume this was in response to concerns about wanting a time that works for all Council members.


Posted by A Willow
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 13, 2021 at 6:07 pm

A Willow is a registered user.

The Menlo Together council member group all voted in lock step on Tuesday against analysis of the city law firm. $1.6 million cost for "Legal" 2020-'21 fiscal year to date is already 40% higher than the previous fiscal year, and 50% higher to budget. The details beyond that are not readily available to the public.

The Menlo Together council members a few sessions ago voted against permanently preventing development of all city parks to save green spaces for future generations. Karen Grove had made comments that Sharon Park should be developed for housing. The MT councilors would not oppose Grove's view and neither would they provide much justification for their votes against saving green space.

Regardless of one's beliefs of the righteousness of their end goals, whatever they may be, the lack of public engagement and hidden discourse will erode the foundations of local governance and leave our city open to take over from other special interest groups. In the interim a tech heir has leveraged control on how the city will be shaped in the next decade.


Posted by Parent
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 14, 2021 at 11:06 am

Parent is a registered user.

I'm curious to know how developing Sharon Park, or Burgess Park, or Seminary Oaks Park would benefit the city or its residents, other than perhaps providing more local shoppers and therefore sales tax revenue. I assume the development of additional housing is due to a so called "crisis" in housing. I'm not seeing a crisis, there appear to be plenty of apartments available for rent between Palo Alto and Redwood City. Any homes placed on the site would surely start at 2-3 million, each. Condos would start at 1 million, each. Yes, a token amount of "below market" units could be mandated. But couldn't the new homes or condos be at a super affordable price, say $500,000. Sure, assuming the developer doesn't want to cover his acquisition and development costs and just builds housing units out of kindness and has some type of lottery event for the lucky buyers. So again how does the development of $1-2 million dollar-plus homes help anyone? What type of buyer has the resources to make the down payment and afford the mortgage payment and the property taxes? Does this help solve a "crisis" or does it just put a well paid tech worker a bit closer to his or her job. Usually the answers to a question such as this are answered with simple math. Here's starting calculation: the down payment on a 2 million dollar home is about $400,000. The annual property tax is $25,000. The mortgage payment of a 1.6 million dollar mortgage is about $7,000 per month. Add it all up.


Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 14, 2021 at 1:38 pm

new guy is a registered user.

Parent:

The reason the intel heir needed to include parks and green-space, is that the town is facing the creation of a new housing element and the latest RHNA allotments are significant (something like need to plan for over 3000 new homes), and the intel heir and type (go to YouTube and watch any housing commission videos to see what I refer to, note: there is, thankfully, actually one serious person on that commission) wants to take this opportunity to reshape the town (in their vision:). The housing commission and our town council know that RHNA cannot be satisfied by utilizing green-space, so they need to find someway to get those spaces reclassified as developable land, so they could use it to build housing. They literally want to build high density for low and very low income new residents in our parks and downtown parking lots.

As to what the council members were up to: I would still love to know, and hope there is follow-up on this story. Our mayor certainly is not a fan of what is going on, YouTube video of the mayor expressing this opinion starts at 4:15 in the Oct 13 meeting. He calls actions taken by other council members as "house of cards ,amateur hour". lol.


Posted by La Entrada Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 15, 2021 at 12:09 am

La Entrada Parent is a registered user.

Can someone explain the mechanics of the Menlo Park Housing Commission? How do people become members of the commission? Are they appointed (if so by whom)? Are they elected? How long are their terms as members?
Given that the commission is advocating to take our parks for housing, that their members are tightly connected with Karen Grove's Menlo Together, which also seems now to be dominating our city council, it is important to know. What ability do citizens of Menlo Park have to change the composition of the Housing Commission? Do we elect its members directly? Do we change our city council members (at election time) so as not to appoint Menlo Together to the housing commission? Thank you to commenters who can explain.


Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 15, 2021 at 12:29 pm

Observer is a registered user.

Council chooses the commission members from among applicants. Commissioners get no pay or benefits beyond the glory oi serving the community and (except for the planning commission) have no authority other than as an advisory board to the council. I myself served on a commission and encountered some pretty unpleasant behind-the-scenes politicking.


Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 15, 2021 at 1:38 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Meeting Gate Redux

I’ve been reflecting back on last week’s disturbing council-meeting-gate where our three out of five members scheduled a council at a time when Council Members Combs and Mueller were working their primary jobs and couldn’t attend.

“The meeting was scheduled without the prior knowledge or consent of Menlo Park Mayor Drew Combs, a highly unusual step that, while apparently legal, breached established protocols that dictate that the mayor and city manager are expected to set City Council meeting agendas.

Council members Jen Wolosin, Cecilia Taylor and Vice Mayor Betsy Nash scheduled the meeting for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday without his knowledge. He said he didn't even know what the meeting would be about, beyond what's on the public meeting agenda, which states that the closed session will be regarding the "public employee performance evaluation of the City Manager."

It brought back my support for Chelsea Nguyen who wanted to run for council in District 3 against Wolosin. As I explained at the time, Chelsea had remarkable qualities as a US Airforce officer and veteran, a single mom in District 3, and an immigrant.
See, Chelsea Nguyen
Web Link At the time Chelsea was was discouraged from running by unseen powers, as as apparently Max Fennell.



I suspect that had Chelsea had been on our City Council, she would have known about rules of open meetings and more.

We lost a great opportunity with Chelsea Nguyen. Hope she runs again in the upcoming District 3 Council Election.


Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 15, 2021 at 1:40 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Meeting Gate Redux

I’ve been reflecting back on last week’s disturbing council-meeting-gate where our council meeting was scheduled at a time when Council Members Combs and Mueller were working their primary jobs and couldn’t attend.

“The meeting was scheduled without the prior knowledge or consent of Menlo Park Mayor Drew Combs, a highly unusual step that, while apparently legal, breached established protocols that dictate that the mayor and city manager are expected to set City Council meeting agendas.
Council members Jen Wolosin, Cecilia Taylor and Vice Mayor Betsy Nash scheduled the meeting for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday without his knowledge. He said he didn't even know what the meeting would be about, beyond what's on the public meeting agenda, which states that the closed session will be regarding the "public employee performance evaluation of the City Manager."
It brought back my support for Chelsea Nguyen who wanted to run for council in District 3 against Wolosin. As I explained at the time, Chelsea had remarkable qualities as a US Airforce officre and veteran, a single mom in District 3, and an immigrant. See, Chelsea Nguyen
Web Link And was discouraged from running by unseen powers.

I suspect that had Chelsea had been on our City Council, she would have known about rules of open meetings and more.



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Posted by Director Rob Silano
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Oct 15, 2021 at 4:54 pm

Director Rob Silano is a registered user.

As Mickie stated about Chelsea Nguyen.
She would have served well as a Menlo Park Councilmember. I walked with and endorsed her in the last election. I felt her perceptive was important to our community. I hope she runs again.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 15, 2021 at 9:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It is sad when five member local elected bodies cannot work collaboratively to serve the citizens who elected them.

The mark of a good elected body is to craft resolutions which all five members can support. That is not an easy task but it can be done. For many years all of the Fire Board's decisions were 5-0. Sadly that tradition no longer exists.

It is disappointing to see the Menlo Park City Council going down the same road of divided leadership.

Council - Please take a time out and find a way for all of you to get on the same page - in the service of the citizens whom you represent.


Posted by Enough
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 16, 2021 at 9:47 pm

Enough is a registered user.

Stu,

It may not have actually been a legal meeting. If they made any decisions before the meeting, like a decision to exclude the two council members or anything else related to the meeting, that would be a violation of the Brown Act. One thing is for sure, if they are approving the new law firm to charge 40% more than last year, and 50% more than budget (this is the same law firm that declared the meeting as legal, right?) then those three council members are not looking at the best interest of the residents they claim to represent. The fact that they seem to have gone to lengths to hide this makes it all the more wrong.


Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 17, 2021 at 8:35 am

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Enough: we need to get some up-to-date financial reports somehow.

As far as Jen, it's an example of too much ideology without instinct for the job. Karen Grove bears some responsibility for her pushing Jen.


Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 17, 2021 at 9:23 am

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

Lost while everyone was sequestered for Covid is: when, why and how was city administration and City Attorney outsourced?

Names, please.

The Almanac and Daily Post should really investigate.


Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 17, 2021 at 9:56 am

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

When I was recently reappointed to the Menlo Park Finance Committee, I received an appointment letter to sign that:

A) Appointed some else who doesn't live in Menlo Park, not me. It took two days to fix this.

B) Required me to stand and defend the constitution of the United States.

I'll need to buy a new musket and powder horn. Roy Sardinia, do you have an extra powder horn you're not using?

It was bizarre. If Jen was trying to correct the mistakes made in outsourced city management, this really needs to be fixed.


Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 17, 2021 at 9:57 am

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

I mean Rob Silano.


Posted by Menlo Park Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2021 at 7:21 pm

Menlo Park Citizen is a registered user.

I’m taken aback by the public vilification of Councilman Wolosin. The quotes and accusations of the mayor as presented here equate to anything but civil discourse or a professional attempt to work through conflict. Instead, this article feels like a tool of political bullying, one that’s designed to malign another councilmember’s reputation and publicly shame her. It reeks of a larger agenda that goes beyond the incident in question.

Furthermore, this article is not balanced reporting (note that eight direct quotes and unquoted accusations from the mayor with only one quote from Wolosin, despite her offering of explanatory quotes in previous articles). Not to mention the imbalanced photo selections, touched upon already by others.

Big, aggressive terms like “corruption” and “house of cards” and “should be embarrassed” are being thrown around, despite previous articles' indications that there were, in fact, no Brown Act violations. Other sources have detailed that that there was a time-sensitive, urgent nature to the meeting. Initially, three different times were offered up (7am, 8am, and 3:30pm); none of these times were accepted by the other two councilmembers, who were very much invited. In the end, the meeting *was* rescheduled for 5pm, a time requested by one of the other two councilmembers. Nobody was left out, nobody was excluded, and everybody was present at the meeting. Other councilmembers have stated that there were no efforts to exclude anyone, and in fact, nobody was excluded from this meeting. Was there confusion and miscommunication amongst council as it relates to this meeting and its timing? It sounds like it. Corruption? That’s a very dark stretch of the truth, designed to deflect reality and vilify instead.

I have watched Councilman Wolosin speak and act with integrity every single time, without exception. She’s not in this role for personal political ascension; she’s in this because she genuinely cares about the city.


Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 21, 2021 at 7:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

There was no violation of the Brown Act unless three members of the council agreed in private to take a particular action beyond setting an agenda for a meeting (for which there is a Brown Act exception to a three or more person conversation).

However, the issue here is not the Brown Act or even this abortive meeting but rather that five mature and intelligent elected officials cannot work together in their service to our community.


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