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Publication Date: Friday, May 18, 2001

Recent actions by mayor, council members may contradict new conduct guidelines Recent actions by mayor, council members may contradict new conduct guidelines (May 18, 2001)

By Justin Scheck

A number of recent public spats and private actions among city officials raise the question of how the proposed new conduct guidelines could be applied, and who will apply them.

Public criticism of Council member Rosemary Stasek by Procedures Committee members Ralph Faravelli and Mayor Mario Ambra, and public criticism of a council plan by Parks Commissioner Greg Perry, have preceded the release of the proposed rules and guidelines, and could be examples of public disputes the Procedures Committee means to address.

Recent actions taken by Ambra against Environmental Planning Commissioner Carol Moholt out of the public eye may indicate the way in which the Procedures Committee foresees handling future issues.

Ambra recently had Tom Frankum, the chair of the Environmental Planning Commission, tell Moholt that comments she made in 1996 about a project by the developers Peery-Arrillaga regarding impacts on the threatened burrowing owl were inappropriate.

The behaviorial expectations, which have been proposed by the Procedures Committee but not yet approved by the council, say that "City boards, commissions and committees should... Not criticize staff, other bodies or the City Council in public."

Faravelli said the public criticism of Stasek was acceptable because of "the seriousness" of the allegations made by Robyn Holst, a member of the city's Centennial Committee who complained that Stasek made intimidating requests for donations to the county's housing trust fund from Microsoft, where Holst is a government affairs representative.

Holst criticized an unnamed council member, whom she later identified as Stasek, in public-an action that would be a violation under the proposed rules.

Holst was supported by Faravelli and Ambra, who publicized her complaints-and criticized Stasek-in quotations in the San Jose Mercury News and the Mountain View Voice.

On the other hand, Faravelli said Perry's March 27 public criticism of the council's plan to build a new community center in Rengstorff Park was "out of line."

Faravelli said that Holst's actions were acceptable, and Perry's unacceptable, even though both would apparently violate the proposed conduct guidelines as they are written.

He said this was the case because individuals need to "use their intelligence" in enforcing the rules, and that the Centennial Committee is an ad hoc committee, rather than a standing committee.

Speaking as a member of the Procedures Committee, Faravelli also criticized the council in an interview last week for not passing conduct rules at an earlier date, and thereby informing commissioners of their behavior expectations.

Behind closed doors at City Hall, Ambra's handling of Moholt's comments could indicate how he, as mayor, hopes to deal with future intragovernmental controversy.

Moholt, speaking reluctantly about the incident, said Ambra apparently found inappropriate her statements about a North Bayshore development potentially damaging burrowing owl habitat. But, she said, Ambra has never contacted her about it directly, communicating instead through Frankum.

Ambra refused to comment on the matter.

Frankum and Moholt said they did not remember the exact wording of the 1996 comment, and Frankum said Ambra did not clarify what the comment was, or why it was troublesome.

"I gather the intent of this 'talk' was to convey the mayor's displeasure to me via the EPC chairperson, and to guide my future behavior. Yet, in 1996, when the comment was made, Mayor Ambra wasn't even on the City Council," said Moholt.

Dick Peery, co-owner of Peery-Arrillaga, has developed and owns many of the multimillion-dollar office properties in North Bayshore. He has donated money to the Mountain View Library in recent years.

Earlier this year Peery made a $50,000 donation to the Mountain View Historical Society at Faravelli's request.

Frankum and Moholt expressed concern with the fact that matters like the one involving Moholt, which could affect policy, are being dealt with outside the public eye.

But Faravelli supported Ambra's actions. "That's the norm that we used to use in the old days," he said.

Frankum was also concerned that these practices could open the doors for private citizens to exercise undue influence on elected officials.

Perry referred to the conduct guidelines as a "gag order" intended to stifle dissenting voices among city government.

"The nature of the enforcement of gag rules is that they're arbitrary, and if you enforce them to the letter, you cut off all civic debate," said Perry.

"I understand the role of the mayor to be mainly ceremonial with no special legislative rights," said Moholt. "Given this, is it appropriate for the mayor to be disciplining board and commission members just by virtue of being mayor?"


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