Opinion: This story gets weirder and weirder

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

The controversy over why Los Altos residents can’t watch their City Council meetings on TV just gets weirder by the day. I’d say this was a funny story, but it’s not if you pay taxes in Los Altos and have to fund these shenanigans. Money spent on this fiasco is money that won’t be spent providing services to the community.

In previous episodes, we learned that Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins had complained that her asthma flared up whenever she entered the council chambers.

That caused City Manager Chris Jordan to move the meetings to the Los Altos Youth Center, where there was no TV equipment to broadcast the meetings on the local cable channel live.

Allegation No. 1

At first, the culprit was a citizen — Roberta Phillips. The allegation was that since Phillips smoked cigarettes, the odor from her — even when she wasn’t smoking — was enough to trigger Bruins on the other side of the room. City Attorney Chris Diaz approached Phillips and asked her to leave the meeting, to which she refused.

Coincidentally, Phillips is a critic of Bruins. Bruins is pro-development and always a cheerleader for the city administration. When the Post asks too many questions in her view, she accuses the paper of sensationalism. It’s sensationalism to her even if the story is buried on page 8, as if we attract readers by hiding stories inside the paper, and the readers walking by a newsrack can see those stories with X-ray vision. (Gee, I thought sensationalism was about front-page sex, violence or lurid photos. I didn’t know that ADA rights and council procedures could be sensationalized.)

But to avoid accountability, Bruins will say anything to change the subject.

Allegation No. 2

After people finished laughing about the cigarette smoke allegation, the public was fed a new story — that the carpet glue in the council chambers was triggering Bruins.

Yes, carpet glue!

Then Jordan hired a high-priced ADA consultant, Rachel Shaw, who in turn hired a firm to test the air in the council chambers and youth center.

Oh, it’s not the air

The tests showed there was nothing wrong with the air in either room.

After the results came in, Shaw denied the air tests had anything to do with any disability issues she’s investigating. The air tests cost the taxpayers $16,490 even though they were not supposed to exceed $10,000.

But that’s not a surprise. Jordan hired Shaw on a contract not to exceed $40,000. Now he’s authorizing that she get $70,000 for her work.

What seemed like a joke has now cost taxpayers $86,490.

Now there are two

One more oddity about this story — a second council member has demanded ADA accommodations, according to Shaw. Shaw is keeping this council member’s identity a secret.

Tomorrow night, council is expected to get a report from Shaw. After that, Mayor Lynette Lee Eng said she plans to call for a vote on whether council should return to its chambers so meetings can be televised again.

Participate via phone

The simple solution here is to return to the council chambers, and if Bruins and the second council member don’t like it, they can participate by phone, which is allowed by California law (Government Code Section 54953).

Council already voted 4-1 to return to its chambers back on June 25, but that was during a study session when no official actions can be taken. So Jordan decided to keep the meetings at the youth center while he had Shaw conduct her investigation.

If council votes tomorrow to return to the council chambers, and Jordan refuses to move the meeting, that would be insubordination. It would provide council cause for firing Jordan.

Jordan is a headstrong guy who has his own ideas. Last year, he decided to give city workers every other Friday off without council’s approval. He told the council after he made the decision.

Who’s the boss?

Watching the Los Altos council meetings, one comes away with the impression that it is Jordan who runs the show, and the five female council members all report to him. In the council-manager form of government, it’s the elected council members who are the boss. They hire and fire the city manager. They give the city manager direction. This relationship between the supervisors and the supervised seems to have been flipped upside down in Los Altos. Mayor Lee Eng needs to be more assertive when dealing with Jordan. Tomorrow night would be a good time for her to start.

Conflict of interest

I wonder if all five council members can vote on returning to the council chambers. Two council members — Bruins and the anonymous one — have made claims against the city that council must resolve. How can they vote on resolving their own claims?

You can’t sit on both sides of the negotiating table.

If I was on council, I’d be leery of taking legal advice from Shaw. Her website says that she has a bachelor’s from Brown University and an MBA from Colorado State University.

But she’s not an attorney, even though she bills like one.

She’s giving council advice based on her background with the federal ADA, HIPAA laws and similar state statutes. However, I haven’t seen any evidence that she’s an expert in the laws involving city governance, such as the Government Code, the California Public Records Act (CPRA) or the Brown Act, which regulates public meetings.

Her advice has been to keep quiet about the claims of these two council members, but would she even know if her advice violated other state laws?

The best advice is for council to vote to return to the council chambers immediately and put an end to this silliness. (Of course, if this was all about sensationalism, I’d never want this story to end, right?)

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

(Please note that after this column appeared on Nov. 11, the city put the council meetings back on cable TV and council cancelled the contract of Shaw.)

17 Comments

  1. Bravo, Dave Price and the team at the PA Daily Post! Bravo!
    This is the type of reporting and editorials that make the case for the importance of the media in society. What you do, and you do it, highlights how deeply “the other newspaper” (in the city of Los Altos) is beholden to the very parties that are engaged in acts contrary to the interests of the public. Shame on them, and you keep up the good work.

    >City Attorney Chris Diaz approached Phillips and asked her to leave
    >the meeting
    Diaz’s actions were a brazen attempt to violate Phillips’ fundamental constitutional rights. In fact it was only after Phillips reminded Diaz of that did he back out…and since Bruins (and Diaz and Jordan) didn’t get their way, the sage continued. What are we to make of a City Attorney who lacks the common sense or decency to respect a tax paying homeowner’s constitutional rights? Fire him and strip him of his license to practice law, I say!

    >You can’t sit on both sides of the negotiating table.
    The notion of “conflict of interest” is absent among certain agents and agencies of the City of Los Altos. In fact, Diaz has overruled requests by residents that conflicted council members recuse themselves from voting on matters in which they stand to personally benefit, allowing such members to indeed vote and push through their own agenda. Notices sent to the public concerning such council meetings are deceptively vague and misleading and FAIL to inform the public of what the conflicted members actually vote and approve. And so on.

    In short L’Affaire Council Chambers is only the tip of the iceberg. What we have here is a racket, with co-conspirators acting without consequence or regard for the law and in violation of every norm of governance and civil society.

    Cui bono? Time will tell…

  2. I second those thoughts about the Daily Post. A free press is the only safeguard against complete corruption at city hall. The key thing is that the Post is independent and nobody’s puppet. The Town Crier, on the other hand, is part of the corrupt pro-developer clique that wants to overrun this town. Next year’s election will be crucial.

  3. In 2018 Los Altos residents and tax payers, in writing to Council and at Council meetings, demanded a public discussion of allegations of a conspiracy and improprieties by City agents (including the City Attorney and some council members). They also demanded an independent investigation into those allegations.

    Guess what, to no surprise, the Council (led by former Mayor Mordo) simply did not respond to the demands. They simply chose not respond at all to the residents’ demands, comfortable in the protection given them by City Attorney. This has only compelled residents to involve independent authorities (the courts, the DA’s Office, the State AG’s office) to compel the City to respond.

    Would the current Council with newcomers Ms Fligor and Enander step up to what is called of them and do the right thing? We shall see.

    It is a mere matter of time before it is made clear to Los Altos taxpayers and homeowners who at City Hall/Council (and elsewhere) called the shots, what payments or benefits were exchanged, and how they would be held accountable and brought to justice for their part in a conspiracy to defraud the public.

  4. It’s strange how Bruins’ problems have emerged after 6 years on council. And how those problems changed from a smoker who wasn’t smoking in the room, to carpet glue, to now a mystery that will keep the council chambers off limits. Instead of an ADA consultant, the city might benefit more if they hired a psychiatrist who could examine Bruins for hypochondria.

    • Well, the city hall 1960’s building had a new HVAC system installed, which appears to have reduced the fresh air intake delivered to the council chambers during meetings. So it’s not true that things were the same for 6 years. Also, meetings seem to go on and on now. I guess Jean Mordo kept things moving somehow or something like that. They used to go faster anyway.

      Maybe also the slowness is due to all the hecklers making public comments. Certainly it’s not a controlled situation as to what contaminants are tracked in on the clothing and coats of the people in the audience. It’s really hard to say that things the same and then one councilmember started to suffer breathing problems with no cause. I can see loads of potential causes. Yes, also there was new carpet, and more than one council member complained from breathing irritation, not just the one you named.

  5. Now there are THREE or FOUR council members with ADA complaints. This was made clear by the consultant presentation. Check the video for confirmation. Also, this info was out for quite a while, that there were MULTIPLE council members making complaints. That’s why the consultant was retained in the first place. They could never say who, or exactly how many people. HIPPA rules.

    So it’s not any weirder. It’s the same story as it was all along.

    • David’s posting is nonsense.
      The “three” (not “four”) council members that filed complaints did not complain about the same facility. One, i.e., Ms Bruins, complained about current City Chambers as reported extensively in the PA Daily Post. The other two complained about the LAYC, not Council Chambers, troubling them. The LAYC as well understood is nowhere near as well maintained as City Hall of which Council Chambers is an extension. Moreover nobody works in LAYC whereas City staff work in City Hall; if Council Chambers is inadquate, how come City staff have not complained in all these years? That by itself goes to show how manufactured this is by Bruins ably assisted by her cronies and co-conspirators Jordan, Diaz, and their enablers.

  6. >Since when did residents expressing their opinions become “hecklers”??
    Precisely.
    And more in that same vein to expose the duplicity of the apologists of the fraudsters at Los Altos City Hall and Council.
    If Council chambers have bad air quality (a finding not supported by the consultant) why is that not a problem at City Hall and for and those working there? After all they are all part of the same structure, serviced by the same HVAC?

    >They could never say who, or exactly how many people. HIPPA rules.
    But the consultant has said exactly how many people. So much for HIPPA rules. If she can do that why can’t she say “who”?
    And since those other individuals do NOT have or cannot provide medical records (to the consultant) to confirm their claims, why should they be taken seriously? Why should the public not be skeptical of their claims as manufactured just in time to serve their agenda (and those of Bruins and Jordan, their allies)?
    Why did Diaz permit Bruins to vote on a matter she complained about that the rest of Council is voting on?
    Why have Bruins and Fligor and Pepper stonewalled a public discussion and independent investigation of malpractices at Los Altos City Hall and Council which residents have demanded the past year+?

  7. Rachel Shaw, the ADA expert hired to deal with Jeannie Bruins’ complaint, turned out to be a waste of time and money. Her work was so bad that council terminated her contract after getting her ridiculous report last week.

    The report claimed City Hall was a hazard to an unnamed council member but was OK for the public and city employees?

    What was the hazard? Shaw said it’s a secret.

    Shaw presented little evidence and avoided specific answers about what she was hired to do.

    So who hired her? City Manager Chris Jordan.

    Who allowed her laughable report go to council? Jordan.

    Former mayors Jane Reed, Penny Lave, David Reeder, King Lear and Curtis Cole are all backing Jordan 100 percent. They said so publicly at a council meeting in September.

    Well, former mayors, what do you think of Jordan’s hiring of Shaw? Are you happy with Jordan’s method of managing a problem like this?

    Oh, speak up, please. You were so quick to defend him back in September. In your opinion, how’s he doing now?

    • It should be pointed out that all of these former mayors were pro-development to the hilt. They couldn’t wait to rubber stamp “approved” on every development proposal that came across their desk. Now they’ve got a city manager who will do their dirty work. Of course they’re supporting him!

  8. >Former mayors Jane Reed, Penny Lave, David Reeder, King Lear and Curtis
    >Cole…backing Jordan 100 percent
    >Oh, speak up, please. In your opinion, how’s he doing now?

    They won’t speak up. How often do you see someone admitting they were wrong?
    In fact the question should be posed them, again and again, especially as the PD Daily Post continues its expose of the shenanigans at Los Altos City Hall and Council. There’s more to come, the Post has for itself a rich vein of ore, and it is a matter of time before the horse manure hits the proverbial fan. Keep up the good work, PA Daily Post!

  9. A lot of things will change when Jordan leaves. He’s only got three of the five council members on his side and it sounded last week as if Jan Pepper had had enough of him. If she flips, I think they’ve got three votes to fire him.

    If he’s not gone by next year’s election, he and his behavior will become the focal point of the election. He’s pro-development and I think most people here are tired of it, and want to slow things down.

  10. >his behavior will become the focal point of the election.
    Indeed what WILL be a focal point of the election is Jordan’s conduct and performance AND the complicity of those around him in enabling and facilitating it for long. Let’s not forget Mordo champoined Jordan and Diaz over objections and concerns over their poor references, troubled histories, and conflicts of interests. And Mordo was assisted ably the 2016-2018 by the likes of Prochnow, Pepper, Bruins. And the past year Fligor, to her discredit and dismay of her supporters, allied with Pepper and Bruins to provide cover for Jordan. A matter of time before the City of Los Altos (City Hall and Council) are held accountable in different forums: by the residents, by courts of law, and by independent agencies with regulatory powers. The bells began tolling a while ago.

  11. Would the person who keeps on claiming there will be outside investigations (identified this time as “Paul,” above) quit it!

    You were going on and on about how the District Attorney was investigating the First Street Green project. No they weren’t.

    DA Jeff Rosen doesn’t investigate government corruption. The state Attorney General doesn’t care. It’s too small for the FBI.

    There hasn’t been an outside investigations in the past and there won’t be in the future.

    And to make claims that there will be some investigation by an outside agency is just crying wolf.

    Stop it! The way to deal with these bad people is at the ballot box next year! Let’s fight this battle with facts, not fake claims!

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