City policies forbid city buildings from being used to make money, but some are arguing that at a recent event held at City Hall, outgoing state Assembly member Sally Lieber did just that.
The Dec. 18 event was billed as a celebration for her supporters, and was free to everyone. Lieber told the Voice that in her invitations, she asked for voluntary contributions toward her campaign for state Senate in 2012. No appeals for money were made at the event, but several people did give her checks that day, she said.
City attorney Michael Martello said the event may have revealed some gray areas in city policy. For example, the city does not allow use of city phones to raise political campaign money, Martello pointed out. The City Council might want to clarify building rental policies with regard to fundraising, he said.
"We don't allow people to have money changing hands at City Hall," Martello said. "But whether this violated the city policy -- I don't think our policy speaks to that."
The fundraising became a concern when anonymous critics contacted another local newspaper to complain about the event.
Lieber, a former council member and mayor of Mountain View, said she was aware of the city's policy against money changing hands in city buildings. But she said she thought the rules were aimed at keeping people from running businesses -- for example, if someone turned the Adobe Building into a restaurant one night a week.
Chapter 38 of the Mountain View city code restricts "commercial activities for private profit" in city facilities, "except when approved by the city manager in conjunction with a city-sponsored event."
"We've used city facilities a number of times for political events," Lieber said, adding that she always cleared plans with the city attorney first. Martello said the city clerk approved the event. He didn't personally do so, though Lieber called to invite him.
"City Hall and Civic Center Plaza are set aside for political free speech events," Martello said. But this case shows that sometimes "it's hard to differentiate between speech activity and fundraising activity."
Technically, Lieber was no longer a state Assembly member during the event because her replacement, Paul Fong, was sworn in earlier this month. She has longstanding plans to run for state Senate after Elaine Alquist's term expires in three years.
City manager Kevin Duggan said he had received no complaint about the issue, and no council member has requested it be on a meeting agenda. Mayor Tom Means said he was leaving it up to Martello to decide whether the council needed to clarify the policy.
"The problem always is that as long as there is no cashier it's pretty tough to monitor that and say it's a violation," Means said.