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Menlo Park mayor blasts councilwoman for setting up mystery meeting

Original post made on Oct 21, 2021

While some of what happened at the Menlo Park City Council's closed session last week may remain a mystery, one thing is clear: Mayor Drew Combs is not pleased with Councilwoman Jen Wolosin for setting up that meeting behind his back.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, October 21, 2021, 11:18 AM

Comments (36)

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2021 at 11:28 am

Brian is a registered user.

I agree, this was shady back room dealing that Menlo Park should not tolerate. I obviously do not know what the meeting was about but the way it was handled was not the kind of governance we should accept. As for Wolosin's comment "Nothing I did was in any way unethical or illegal." I believe that should be investigated and decided by a neutral third party.

Posted by Heather Hopkins
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Oct 21, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Heather Hopkins is a registered user.

I have watched nearly every City Council meeting for the last year. Not once has Councilmember Wolosin conducted herself with anything but integrity and grace, even in during very contentious policy discussions. Like other members of the public, I don’t know the details of what happened in (or leading up to) closed session, but I remain confident that Councilmember Wolosin has honorable intentions and will continue to lead with integrity. I so appreciate the investment of time and effort that all councilmembers put into their public service and hope they can move on in a productive way that allows them to focus on the very real issues facing the city.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 21, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The important issue here is that our five elected Council members are not working together to serve the community.

Council - Please take a time out and resolve your personal differences so that you can work together to address the many important issues facing our community.

Posted by Heather Hopkins
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Oct 21, 2021 at 12:25 pm

Heather Hopkins is a registered user.

I'm also wondering why the The Almanac chose this particular photo of Councilmember Wolosin when they have so many more flattering pictures on file

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Frozen
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 12:40 pm

Frozen is a registered user.

Apart from the other machinations, why is the council discussing the performance of an employee who is retiring in about ten minutes? Trying to shift blame onto her for mistakes they made?

P.S. The photo of Jen was apparently taken by an Almanac photographer. It's not a candid. If she chose not to smile, that's on her.

Posted by Ali Mad
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2021 at 12:41 pm

Ali Mad is a registered user.

All y'all - you can try to phrase this as "the 5 not working it out" or "the 5 not getting along", but there is personal responsibility for this stunt, and it is layers deep - calling the meeting, the timing, not using the right law firm, etc. etc. This is amateur hour and the 3 lady cabal better rethink how they look. I'm an indie left prog female who totally boosts for more female electeds, but this is a reeeeaaaallllly bad look, ladies. I wrote this on Town Hall the other day and I called in and spoke telling the Council not to hire this law firm, Burke. They are the worst of the worst. This is what happens....

Posted by Carol Fisch
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 21, 2021 at 12:42 pm

Carol Fisch is a registered user.

The Brown Act requires posted notice of any and all meetings. For Closed Sessions this is also required with date, time, place of meeting and general topic posted (i.e. title of litigation or general topic) in all required posting places.

Posted by Karen O.
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:00 pm

Karen O. is a registered user.

Like Heather, I have every confidence in Councilmember Wolosin’s integrity and judgement and believe she is acting with the city’s best interests at heart.

Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:02 pm

MP Resident is a registered user.

While Council Member Wolosin has conducted herself with professionalism when I have observed or interacted with her, I must agree with Mayor Combs and others that her behavior here undermines that reputation, and her "nothing unethical or illegal" statement doesn't help matters.

Aggressive environmental and development policies may advance on three votes from Menlo Together alumni, but it is to our "beloved city's" detriment that our council can't come together through compromise on controversial issues.

Also, for those curious about @Heather Hopkin's concern for Council Member Wolosin's reputation and image, Heather is also a member of Menlo Together. Web Link Menlo Together does stick together.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The three person majority has a special responsibility to reach out to the two person minority in order to craft positions that all five council members can support.

Posted by Tecsi
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:16 pm

Tecsi is a registered user.

Wow! This is embarrassing for MP.

On the surface, this meeting seemed to violate all the laws and norms a council is supposed to follow.

Posted by Sara Leslie
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:17 pm

Sara Leslie is a registered user.

I have known Jen Wolosin for over ten years, in both professional and social context. She has always acted with integrity and puts the community needs above her own.

Posted by Clifford Koval
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:18 pm

Clifford Koval is a registered user.

re: The Brown Act comment. Looks like the meeting was posted with notice for all to attend. The only violation of the Brown Act I see is the Mayor's conversation with the press about what happened in the closed session.

I saw in a recent meeting where the mayor was very worried that new district lines would box him out in the next elections. The council majority voted to prevent political interference in the redistricting over his objections. He was clearly really angry about that in the public meeting. Since then the mayor seems to be out to attack the city lawyer and all the other council people (and particularly Wolosin who maybe he blames for this?). The unhinged claims of corruption over a meeting he was invited, his attacks on the lawyer, and his rallying of "friends" on comment boards to attack Wolosin look like a blatant attempt at revenge to me. Drew let's be more civil and get back to work.

Posted by John Dillon
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:22 pm

John Dillon is a registered user.

Really Heather? The one thing you took out of this entire article is the photograph that the Almanac used regarding this fraudulent and scam of an artist councilwoman? Nothing but insider back deals going on and mayor combs is courageous enough to confront these 3 councilwoman.

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:22 pm

Brian is a registered user.

"Apart from the other machinations, why is the council discussing the performance of an employee who is retiring in about ten minutes?"

The Council was not discussing it, Wolosin, Taylor and Nash were. It seems they went to lengths to avoid discussing it with the full council And let's be honest we really don't know what they discussed. The topic may have been a performance review but that does not mean that was what they discussed. I agree it seems very off to have an urgent meeting which excluded 2 members of the council to discuss the performance review of a person who is leaving. If there was a liability issue, not saying there is, then that could explain it but it certainly does not explain why they would go to lengths to exclude the rest of the council and why nothing seems to have come out of the meeting.

I certainly hope all council members act with integrity and honesty but this stunt puts that in serious doubt in my mind.

Posted by mickie winkler
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:25 pm

mickie winkler is a registered user.

I wonder: What the cost of calling lawyers to a cancelled meeting was, and then, to rescheduling them.

Posted by Caryn Wasserstein
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:25 pm

Caryn Wasserstein is a registered user.

Mr Carpenter thank you for calling out what clearly is truly going on here, City Council members who see things differently & should be settling their differences together not airing them for their constituents.
Ms Mad calling Ms Nash, Ms Wolosin & Ms Taylor "ladies", "lady" & a "lady cabal" offensive & demeaning toward women. This is not progressive, it is in fact the opposite of progressive. Saying they "better rethink" is an unnecessary threat.
Like MP Resident, I have watched many council meetings & have found Ms Wolosin to be well educated on not only the matters of Menlo Park, but also nationally & globally.She takes her job seriously, puts in the hours & is available to her constituents & the town itself.
Also, shame on you Almanac for repeatedly asserting that Mr Combs and Mr Meuller have "full time jobs". Are you implying that because they hold two jobs, City Council is a paid position, they are better than or more important than Ms Nash, Wolosin & Taylor who "only" hold one job?Are they lesser because of that...should we take it further & assume they are less than Mr Combs & Mr Meuller who are men?
Regarding the photo, it IS interesting that Mr Combs' photo is a stock smiley photo while Ms Wolosin's is candid. Was there intentionality in that choice, perhaps, it sure makes Ms Wolosin look "worse", but I will leave that to the conscious of the author of this piece.
As a D3 constituent I have been beyond impressed with Ms Wolosin & would vote for her again without issue.My sense is that whatever this issue was that was described that happened in a closed meeting was, from the get go, one that Mr Combs & Mr Meuller did not like which is why they didn't make themselves available for the meeting.This is clear from the tone of these articles, their quotes, & the slant of the discussion. As with anything in life it is easy to just ignore things you don't like, it takes a strong person to show up for challenging times.Throwing shade/blame at others is a cop out.

Posted by Clifford Koval
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:27 pm

Clifford Koval is a registered user.

[email protected] it was a meeting with all council members. You're just parroting the mayor's talking points which are blatantly untrue (the mayor even said in this article he attended when it did occur). The meeting was posted and all council members were invited. As I said above the only Brown Act violation was the mayor's discussing it to the press.

Posted by Heather Hopkins
a resident of Las Lomitas School
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:32 pm

Heather Hopkins is a registered user.

Yes, Menlo Resident, I am a proud member of Menlo Together. Through this group, I have met some of the most thoughtful, principled, and kind people with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working. As an example of the integrity and transparency characteristic of the group, Menlo Together members use our full names when posting online comments (ahem, “Menlo Resident”). Our values are stated below. We welcome anyone who shares our values to join our quarterly (open-to-the-public) meetings where we encourage residents to engage their civic muscles. Of course, it is a plus when one of our members goes on to elected or appointed office.

Our values: Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and area residents who envision a city that is integrated and diverse, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable. We advocate for an accessible and inviting downtown Menlo Park with housing at all affordability levels, and with pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces, developed to be carbon free.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:36 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I would urge Menlo Together, if they really believe in acting together, to revise their value statement to include collaborative.

"Menlo Together is a group of Menlo Park and area residents who envision a city that is integrated, diverse, collaborative, multi-generational, and environmentally sustainable."

Posted by Willows Dad
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:48 pm

Willows Dad is a registered user.

It is unfortunate that an issue with scheduling an urgent city council meeting has led to this embarrassing outburst by our mayor. Exercising the legal right of the majority of the council to schedule a meeting (which was rescheduled at the request of the mayor and Mr. Meuller) is in no way a corrupt act and not even a breach of protocol. Despite the spouting of our local conspiracy theorists, it is clear that all official procedures were followed in the scheduling of this meeting.

Mr. Combs claims this isn’t about being disrespected, which is funny, because in the Daily Post, that’s exactly the word he was quoted as using—in two separate stories! If there is any disrespect going on, one wonders what is happening behind the closed doors of the multiple “mysterious” closed sessions Mr. Combs has called, and whether those sessions have led to the deterioration of relations on the city council. Can poor relations be traced to the fact that Mr. Combs lost on the issue of hiring a new city attorney and he lost on the issue of an independent redistricting commission? He wanted business as usual, and he wanted to be sure that his seat was protected. If the mayor is scheduling closed meetings as some sort of machination to work against policies that the majority has already decided, then I can see why the majority would see no point in hoping he schedules a meeting at their request. Whether Mr. Combs is feigning outrage for political purposes or is truly distraught by the majority’s actions, if he really is concerned about the business of running the city, perhaps that’s what he should focus on instead of wasting time trying to foment controversy.

Posted by Ben Russell
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 21, 2021 at 1:49 pm

Ben Russell is a registered user.

This comment thread has been calling women a cabal, making an environmental organization a bugaboo, and claiming without any proof a meeting was "shady". It's sad that Wolosin has to endure this just because she wants to make real change in the city. Unfortunately I think that's what happens when entrenched interests feel threatened :-(

Posted by new guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2021 at 2:07 pm

new guy is a registered user.

Far past time "all" and I mean all meetings with elected bodies are made public. Sorry, but if you choose to work "for the public" you should be willing to accept the public has a right to view all matters that reach the level of city council. IMO these do not need to be broadcast live, but should be either live or viewable later (edited to protect non-city/government bodies).

Also, very worried about the 3 to 2 nature of the council now. I Hope those here that are defending these people are correct, and that the council members in question truly represent the citizens of our town, and not other interests.

Posted by Lin Paterson
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 21, 2021 at 2:55 pm

Lin Paterson is a registered user.

new guy: While your intention seems reasonable; per your name, you might just not be aware that issues of personnel, legal issues, or other specific sensitive topics typically have to happen in closed sessions (where the public cannot attend). There have been plenty of closed sessions in 2020 and 2021 if you look at the Menlo Park Council agenda and this is pretty much the case for all city councils in CA.

You might want to read up a bit on how the Brown Act works Web Link

Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2021 at 3:12 pm

Brian is a registered user.

Sorry, but the activities of Wolosin, Taylor and Nash were shady and likely violated the Brown Act. Since Clifford seems to think the Mayor violated the Brown act I suggest we both file a formal complaint and ask both issues to be investigated.

Clifford, are you familiar with what happened? Yes the three council members scheduled a closed meeting without talking to all council members, including the mayor first. Second they did not notify the city manager and scheduled a different law firm to attend. How is that not shady?

As for the comment "City Council is a paid position" I am curious how it is paid. I think they get a small stipend and health coverage if they want it. Hardly what I would call a paid position. As it really is a voluntary position council members need to schedule meeting and activities around their full time employment. That would be the reason regular council meetings start in the evening and go very late into the night.

It is nice to so Menlo Together members standing up for Wolosin and attacking the mayor and council member Mueller while deriding others who are unhappy with what is happening.

Posted by Clifford Koval
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 3:39 pm

Clifford Koval is a registered user.

Brian what part of the Brown Act was violated? I know you want to defend your buddy Drew, but you clearly don't understand the Brown Act. I think you're saying that mayor should get to decide if there is a topic to discuss..that is not how the Brown Act works. There is no "get approval from a mayor" clause or "the mayor always get his/her say" in the Brown Act (do you think the mayor would have ok'ed a meeting that he clearly is trying to stifle?).

Look I know you think just spouting words "Brown Act", "shady", "investigation" will make it seem like there is something there but really I have seen no evidence. The only thing I've seen evidence for is that the mayor is trying to politically influence his redistricting.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Oct 21, 2021 at 4:15 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.

Posted by local teacher
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 4:27 pm

local teacher is a registered user.

Looking at the comments, the attacks on the mayor seem off base and deflect from the initial issue that was raised by The Almanac. A culture of transparency and process is important, and that is why a news organization covered the issue in the first place. I assume that Mayor Combs was asked for his opinion in the subsequent stories, which he gave.

I thought this was just a misunderstanding or not understanding how scheduling the meeting might be perceived but the reaction is actually causing me to be more concerned. Why not just acknowledge what went wrong and move forward?

Posted by Clifford Koval
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 21, 2021 at 4:52 pm

Clifford Koval is a registered user.

Agreed with local teacher that this should have been chalked up to a minor scheduling dispute and resolved. If the mayor had presented it that way, it would have made me less suspicious.

I find the idea that the mayor was just asked by the press for his opinion to be somewhat naive. The fact is that he is the one that went to the press with claims of corruption, "house of cards"; that makes me think he had some sort of political grudge.

I also agree with Peter that civility should be restored. But I think that's a multiway street. The mayor shouldn't be able to accuse people of corruption with a smile.

Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 21, 2021 at 6:54 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

There was probably no Brown Act violations, but the optics of the entire thing are bad. Starting with the bush league meeting scheduling to the Mayor's public statements. Peter is right, this council needs to figure out a way to work together and represent the people they were elected to represent. Us.

Posted by Menlo Park Citizen
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 21, 2021 at 7:50 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 the fact that previous articles indicate that there were, in fact, no Brown Act violations. Other news 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 council members. Nobody was excluded. 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 Councilmember Wolosin speak and act with integrity every single time, without exception. She’s not in this role for personal political ascension; she does this work because she genuinely cares about our city.

Posted by magster
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 21, 2021 at 7:54 pm

magster is a registered user.

Was the photograph computer enhanced or degraded? It looked legitimate to me.

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Oct 21, 2021 at 10:05 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Menlo Voter is right, the optics on this aren’t good. Check out how East Palo Alto Councilman Antonio fell on his face recently when he pulled a similar maneuver. He never gave a much needed apology to the community just as Wolosin hasn’t offered one.

Posted by Dawn1234
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Oct 22, 2021 at 5:52 pm

Dawn1234 is a registered user.

I don't fully understand what exactly happened or why, but I have a couple of thoughts about the aftermath.

First, aren't all the council member amateur? Which ones are being paid?

Second, I have been in many many meetings with Councilmember Wolosin and I have only ever been impressed with the integrity and work ethic she brings to every project she undertakes (for free) for our city. Whatever happened, it was not worth the petty scorn it received. People who aren't professional politicians are going to make mistakes. I am glad they are amateurs.

Posted by PH
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Oct 26, 2021 at 9:33 am

PH is a registered user.

"... there are legal limitations on what can be disclosed from a closed session, ..."

True but probably irrelevant. It confuses the clear thrust of the Brown act which is an open meeting law that requires full disclosure. Closed sessions are sometimes legal, but "closed session" per se does not prevent disclosure of deliberations from council members who enjoy free speech rights. I'm aware of no legal restrictions on council made disclosure when the topic is a performance review.

Without risking damaging the reputation of the City Mgr, Drew Combs should disclose more about the nature of the action so that the press and public can evaluate whether Wolosin et al abused the closed session power of the Brown Act by claiming a "performance review." Some things are tough to discuss publicly, ask Ray Mueller about Alex McIntyre, he did it publicly and with grace.

The issue here is the claim of an "emergency" and use of "performance review". Since "the maneuver" failed, and was never in effect, Wolosin's claim for an "emergency" meeting, one that bypassed participation by full council is simply not true. She sought to take a *DISCRETIONARY* action that failed.

If the attempted action was to prevent or limit the city manager in using her delegated powers to act on behalf of the city, then the meeting was not a "performance review" and council should have agendized the item to "give direction to the City Manager regarding issue X or to reconsider delegated limits in general" meaning that Wolosin was late to the game for item X or didn't have the courage to publicly limit the interim manager's delegated authority.

Finally, this article says the meeting was agendized without knowledge of the City Mgr. Was there an administrative coup de staff? Some staff member generated the meeting notice on instruction from Wolosin. Who? And why didn't that person notify the City mgr?

Posted by Iris
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 26, 2021 at 12:31 pm

Iris is a registered user.

Having met each of the council members at some point or another, I believe each of these volunteers (the pay is nominal) should be afforded benefit of the doubt. None of us (other than the 5 councilmembers) knows what precipitated the meeting in such an urgent manner. It is unfortunate that the timing originally precluded a meeting of all five, but that was resolved with rescheduling it.

What disturbs me the most is the use of terms like "illegal" and "cabal" when it appears that these are simply pejorative terms without evidence that they are appropriate. I do think this situation could have been handled better, but am not at all prepared to jump to conclusions as others appear to have done.

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