Google-employed commissioner resigns

Real estate project executive said she wants to avoid perception of bias

Citing concerns about the perception of a conflict of interest, Google employee Rachel Grossman has resigned from the the commission that advises the City Council on land use issues.

In a city where many land use decisions are impacted by her employer, Grossman had come under some scrutiny about the influence of her new job as a Google real estate project executive. She responded by resigning effective March 1, according to a letter to the city clerk.

"I believe I can effectively disassociate my employment with Google from my volunteer service with the Environmental Planning Commission; however, I decided to resign in order to avoid the potential for a perception of bias," Grossman said in an email to the Voice.

Nevertheless, Grossman's influence while being employed by Google caused concern for resident Konrad Sosnow, who wrote in a letter to the editor, "Will Rachel Grossman, a Google executive, recommend plans that are in the best interest of Google, her employer, or Mountain View? How much of Rachel Grossman's compensation at Google will be a function of how she directs the Environmental Planning Commission to support Google's wishes?"

Grossman had been on the commission since December of 2009, and had been selected by the commission to serve as its chair in January, despite having been hired by Google in November.

Fellow commissioner Lisa Matichak said Grossman notified the commission of her new job in September.

"While Rachel was a solid contributor on the EPC, there was growing public perception of a conflict of interest given her employment with Google," Matichak said in an email.

City attorney Jannie Quinn had given the OK to Grossman being on the EPC, saying conflicts of interest would have had to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis for each decision before the commission. Grossman had recused herself from EPC meetings whenever land use decisions for Google's North Bayshore area were on the agenda, said Quinn.

"I will miss Rachel's insight and leadership on the EPC," said fellow planning commissioner Margaret Capriles, who is a City Council candidate for the November election.


Posted by curious, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 6, 2014 at 10:25 am

This is curious. Aren't there a lot of HP and Stanford employees working as commissioners and even city councilmembers in Menlo Park and Palo Alto? Why single out Google?

Posted by Curious2, a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2014 at 12:06 pm

@Curious - I would surmise that the decision was not solely based on the commissioner's employer but also on the nature of her job.

Posted by MVResident67, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Here is the link to Mr. Sosnow's letter to the editor:

Web Link

I believe Ms. Grossman's resignation was the right thing to do in this situation. That said, I think the environmental planning commission was remiss for going ahead with the appointment in the first place. Once the city had been notified of Ms. Grossman's change of employer (in September) and what her job duties with this new employer - Google - would be, the commission should have selected someone else to fill the role as commissioner.

Let's hope the Environmental Planning Commission makes a more thoughtful appointment to Chair the EPC this time around. Perception matters.

Also, anything the city attorney drafted regarding Ms. Grossman's appointment - as well as whomever is appointed as her replacement - as chair of the EPC should be available to anyone who files a request with the city under the FOIA.

Posted by Garrett83, a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2014 at 12:59 pm

Garrett83 is a registered user.

Don't see anything wrong with a real estate professional, if she works for Google, follows the conflict of.interest rules.

Posted by Konrad M. Sosnow, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 6, 2014 at 3:28 pm

How can one spend all day working as a Google executive, being paid to do what is best for Google, and then at 5:00 turn around and do what is best for Mountain View?

Google wants to add 15,000 to 20,000 additional employees. That is great for Google. However, that may not be great for Mountain View.

Posted by Maher, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Mar 6, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Maher is a registered user.

Conflict of interest definition? "1.clash between requirements or implications: a conflict between the public and private interests of somebody in an official position" aaaand sooo... Grossman's resignation is correct.

Any person who has ties to the private venue which require oversight in the public venue has per se a conflict of interest and their arm's length view is compromised no matter how respected their integrity.

Too many citizens today refuse to see this innate difficulty vav some public officials. It's a real threat to democracy.

I congratulate Miss Grossman for her wise choice.

Posted by OnceAgain, a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Mar 6, 2014 at 4:24 pm

How many members of the Environmental Planning Commission are members of the Audubon Society, or other such special-interest group, that actively lobbies the City Council, particularly in regards to North Bayshore?

We have City Council members who are Facebook "friends" with lobbyists.

Posted by Bravo, a resident of St. Francis Acres
on Mar 6, 2014 at 5:01 pm

Its hard to resign when you think there's no conflict of interest and the city attorney says there isn't but the public perceives that there is. She did what was right for the public and it's trust in the government. I think we should applaud her for that.

Posted by Yeah, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 7, 2014 at 3:26 am

Wow. She resigned for reasons of PERCEPTION of conflict of interest. Sorry honey. As was discussed earlier, it WAS a conflict of interest. Of course, the ERC is almost completely useless here in MV. The staff and the council ignores them. But exec at google should be smart enough to know that it was a serious conflict.

Posted by Harmon, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 9, 2014 at 10:15 pm

Almost anyone that has been in a leadership role in a large corporation has taken mandatory training in ethics and avoiding corrupt business practices. There is ZERO question this was a conflict-of-interest situation. Shame on Ms. Grossman for not immediately resigning when she accepted the employment that put her in conflict; surely she knew. Shame on the EPC, City Council and staff for not knowing common ethical standards or worse yet, turning a blind eye because it was political or "not illegal." And very very much, shame on Google for once again putting itself in conflict with public interests and doing nothing of their own accord to remedy the situation; the public had to stand up, take the initiative and say "no" before this resignation came about.

Posted by MVResident67, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 10, 2014 at 8:31 am


"Shame on Ms. Grossman for not immediately resigning when she accepted the employment that put her in conflict; surely she knew."


According to Mr. Debolt's above article, Ms. Grossmann had been serving as a member of the Environmental Planning Commission since 2009. Ms. Grossman notified the EPC in September that she would begin working as a Real Estate Project Executive for a new employer, Google, Inc. Her employment with Google began in November. The city, duly put on notice regarding Ms. Grossman's change in employment AND what her job duties were with her new employer - Google, Inc. - evidently still thought naming her Chair of the Environmental Planning Commission was a sound decision and went ahead and named her as Chair of the EPC in January.

I don't question Ms. Grossman's judgement as much as I question those who thought it wise to name her as Chair of the Environmental Planing Commission. C'mon EPC members, how could you POSSIBLY have thought placing a Real Estate Project Executive employed by Google as CHAIR of the Environmental Planning Commission was a sound bit of decision making?!?

From the city of Mountain View website:

Web Link

Environmental Planning Commission

The Environmental Planning Commission consists of seven members, each appointed by the City Council for a four-year term.

The Commission has the authority and responsibility to:

Formulate and recommend plans for Mountain View, including the General Plan for the physical development of the City;

Participate in subregional and regional planning;

Establish, maintain and monitor an environmental planning process for the City;

Monitor and communicate with the City Council, public agencies and citizens concerning the City's environment;

Evaluate and communicate with the City Council, public agencies and citizens concerning the progress of plan implementation; and

Coordinate plans of other public agencies affecting the environment.

...more if you hit the link...

Posted by BadDecision, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Mar 10, 2014 at 5:59 pm

"I don't question Ms. Grossman's judgement as much as I question those who thought it wise to name her as Chair of the Environmental Planing Commission."

Really?? Wow. As was said before, in any corporate conflict-of-interest training, these types of situations are covered. Specifically, taking a government posting or appointment that deals with issues that the company deals with. I'm very surprised that Google's governance folks were not all over this, because it can cut both ways. She may use Google information in the ERC to Google's detriment.

Most-of-all, it is the 'appearance' of a conflict that is the litmus test. Let's assume that Grossman wasn't deliberately manipulating the ERC to google's benefit. How would we know this for certain? What if she could cover her tracks well? Also, if it ever goes to a jury, 'appearance' is everything. That's what the jury sees, right?

What's really goofy is that the MV Council members recuse themselves from voting if their house or business is near the subject of a vote. Even if the council person is completely objective and honest. Even if the vote *really* doesn't impact the councilperson AT ALL. So, how could Grossman not be immediately terminated from the ERC? And, why did she not resign? Why did she have wait to be forced out?

Posted by MVResident67, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 10, 2014 at 6:23 pm


If you are going to go down the path of possible nefarious scenarios...

Since Ms. Grossman had served on the EPC since 2009 - while not employed by Google - perhaps Google made her the employment offer based not only on her professional skills but also on the fact of her active service on the know sort of hoping that having a Google employee serving on the board might be helpful to them in some way?

Who knows? One would certainly like to believe that there were no ulterior motives in play when Google made it's hiring decision, but sometimes coincidences are not all that coincidental, no?

Posted by MVResident67, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Mar 10, 2014 at 6:32 pm

BTW, I believe the EPC offered Ms. Grossman the position of Chair AFTER having been duly notified of her change in employers as well as what her job duties would be with her new employer, Google. Armed with that knowledge, the EPC should NEVER have named her chair in the first place. And, I agree that the appearance of impropriety is something that one would think (hope, expect?) that both the city of Mountain View and Google would be striving to avoid. One hopes that the EPC makes a more prudent decision selecting a chair of the EPC this time around.

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

The dress code
By Jessica T | 24 comments | 2,036 views

September food and drink goings on
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,421 views

College Freshmen: Avoiding the Pitfalls
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,221 views

Camp Glamp
By Laura Stec | 6 comments | 1,103 views

Property rights and the will of the people
By Steve Levy | 4 comments | 241 views