City’s chief information officer under fire over trips

Jonathan Reichental, the city of Palo Alto's former Chief Information Officer

Correction: An earlier version of this story should have said that Palo Alto Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental received $9,000 in free airfare and hotel stays — not speaking fees — in 2017 in exchange for giving speeches in Frankfurt, Germany; Qatar, and Auckland, New Zealand. He said the amounts for airfare and hotel stays were estimates on his part, which explains why they were rounded to the nearest thousand.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto’s jet-setting chief information officer is being criticized for his frequent travel paid for by foreign governments and commercial interests, which a resident claims constitutes a conflict of interest.

Jonathan Reichental took 28 of these trips — 25 of which were international — between 2013 and 2017, according to a 15-page complaint filed with the state Fair Political Practices Commission on Nov. 9.

Jeanne Fleming, a Palo Alto resident who unsuccessfully advocated against the 11 Verizon cell towers being installed in the city with the group United Neighbors, claims that Reichental’s travel is funded by the telecommunications industry and is illegal under the state’s gift tax law for government officials.

“Dr. Reichental has been using his senior position at City Hall to influence the city’s dealings with the telecommunications industry,” Fleming said. “This includes shaping the city’s response to the applications telecom companies have made to install cell towers in Palo Alto’s residential neighborhoods.”

Fleming claims that in 2016, TMForum, a telecommunications industry trade association, paid for Reichental to travel to China and the French Riviera.

Reichental identified TMForum as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit on his financial disclosure forms, when the organization’s most recent tax return indicated that it is a 501(c)(6), in violation of the $470 gift limit.

A 501(c)(6) organization — typically a business league, chamber of commerce or board of trade — is allowed to engage in lobbying related to its purpose. A 501(c)(3) organization is a charitable organization that is not permitted to operate for the benefit of private interests and is more restricted in its political and lobbying capabilities.

Fleming has also accused Reichental of failing to disclose some of his trips, which he denied.

Reichental told the Post via email that he is at a cyber-security event in Stockholm until tomorrow. He said the government of Finland is paying for his trip.

“I use a lot of my free time for teaching, learning and education,” Reichental said. “The trips I took were generally in consultation with the FPPC advice phone line and met the reimbursement criteria of government, educational or non-for-profit.”

AT&T connection

TMForum is partially funded by AT&T, which is seeking to install equipment in Palo Alto, Fleming pointed out.

Reichental said he had never participated in or influenced any Verizon Wireless or any other wireless vendor relative to antennae and cell deployments at the city.

“Work on this is conducted by other departments without any involvement from me or the IT department,” Reichental said. “I don’t believe any of my trips were paid for by commercial interests in technology and communications.”

Many of the trips deliberately overlapped with the city’s 9/80 policy — in which city employees get every other Friday off — and the weekend to limit his time away from the office, Reichental said.

Errors in disclosure form

Reichental said he had made errors on his annual financial disclosure report, called Form 700, in incorrectly categorizing the funders of his trips as 501(c)(3) nonprofits.

“When international not-for-profits were paying, the only relevant field available on the Form 700 was the 501(c)(3) box,” Reichental said. “It is my practice to call the FPPC in advance of any proposed trips. I regret making errors on the forms and they will soon be corrected and in compliance.”

City Manager Jim Keene was out sick yesterday and unavailable for comment over email or the phone, city spokeswoman Claudia Keith said.

Deputy City Manager Ed Shikada, who is set to take over for Keene as city manager upon Keene’s Dec. 20 retirement, did not return a request for comment.

“The ability for Jonathan in his role as CIO (Chief Information Officer) to pursue these opportunities was something that he and Jim Keene talked about when he was hired,” spokeswoman Keith told the Post in an email. “Ed has not been involved in the details on these travel items and did not feel appropriate to respond on his behalf.”

Reichental, 48, was hired in December 2011. Before that, he spent a year as the chief information officer of O’Reilly Media and almost nine years at PricewaterhouseCoopers, most recently as director of IT innovations.

Reichental stated on his most recent financial disclosure form that in 2017, he had been paid between $10,001 and $100,000 to write for LinkedIn and had had a total of 25 days of travel in March 2017, September 2017 and October 2017 covered by the governments of Selangor, Malaysia and Eindhoven, the Netherlands; the Rio de Janeiro Chamber of Commerce and the Blockchain Association of Australia.

Reichental also earned $11,500 as an adjunct professor for the University of San Francisco and Duke Corporate Education.

He also had his airfare and hotel bills reimbursed by entities who invited him to make speeches. He reported $2,000 from the Star Alliance in connection with a speech in Frankfurt, Germany in January 2017, $5,000 from the government of Qatar in March 2017 and $2,000 from NZTech in Auckland, New Zealand at another time in 2017. He emphasized that he did not receive speaker’s fees — which are prohibited under California law for most local government officials — but simply the reimbursement of his hotel and airfare.

Reichental was paid $243,360 last year. Including benefits, his total compensation came to $321,660, according to Transparent California.


    • Am sure there is more to this story. Does he take time off from his duties at the city when he goes on these trips? The LinkedIn connection is interesting. A quick internet search shows that he has some videos on Lynda ( owned by LinkedIn). Does the city pay for using Lynda? If yes, does that need investigating?

  1. What does the city get out of these international trips? Do these trips put him in a conflict when the city is approached by telecoms who want to put up antennas or dig into our streets? Why does a city need a Chief Information Officer?

  2. The story says, “Many of the trips deliberately overlapped with the city’s 9/80 policy — in which city employees get every other Friday off — and the weekend to limit his time away from the office, Reichental said.”

    Really? How do you do a trip to Sweden on a three-day weekend? Or Malaysia or Australia???

    25 of the 28 trips were to foreign countries, according to the story.

  3. “The trips I took were generally in consultation with the FPPC” makes no sense to me that to align with FPPC requires 5-6 trips a year. For someone in IT there are numerous ways to”align” without physically flying to a location to take a meeting.

    “never participated in or influenced any Verizon Wireless or any other wireless vendor relative to antennae and cell deployments” is also not credible, as he is the CIO and ultimately responsible for all IT projects in Palo Alto. It’s not unusal for any organization to make decisions based on actions of its leadership and not explicit instructions.

    Finally, his statement “I don’t believe any of my trips were paid for by commercial interests in technology and communications.” is suspect as it’s his responsibility to have an absolute clarity of potential conflict of interest. The fact that he doesn’t “believe” demonstrates at best a lack of judement and at worst an outright lie.

    These statements is not characteristic of a technology leader Palo Alto deserves.

  4. Who’s in charge of the IT department when he is away? Are we paying others overtime while he’s out globetrotting? What other questionable working arrangements has Jim Keene agreed to with his other reports? Why is the incoming city manager not aware of special working arrangements?

    Mr. Reichental should step aside for someone who will dedicate themselves to the city so he can have all the time in the world to travel it.

  5. Most of the systems he’s in charge of don’t work. Did you read the articles on the Auditor’s Report? So tired of Keene praising/excusing the incompetents. We should claw back their pensions on their way out the door.

  6. Thank you for this investigation! please continue to expose city employees that are overpaid and seek global quests and world recognition – all we want is employees that care to attend to Palo Alto residents needs.

  7. Yes, thank you for your in-depth reporting. Please continue to look into this scandal. And shame on the city for letting him get away with delivering non-working systems that waste taxpayers’ time and money.

    By the way, what’s happening with the Kniss investigation.

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