Gag order proposed for city board and commission members

BY SARA TABIN
Daily Post Staff Writer

Palo Alto officials are considering whether to issue a new handbook to members of city boards and commissions that includes instructions telling them not to talk to the press.

The proposed handbook, which council will review Oct. 19, says statements from board and commission members might be misinterpreted as the opinion of the entire board or the city.

“Statements to the media should generally be avoided,” reads the proposed handbook. “If asked, route questions through the chair in collaboration with the city’s chief communications officer.”

City Manager Ed Shikada released a draft of the handbook in the council packet for the Oct. 19 meeting. Councilman Tom DuBois and Councilwoman Alison Cormack helped write the handbook as part of the council’s committee reviewing city boards and commissions.

DuBois and Cormack did not respond to requests for comment on the handbook.

The council is also considering other changes including reducing the Parks and Recreation Commission from seven to five members and creating a process for the council to remove members of boards and commissions.

Council has been talking about changing guidelines for commissions since December. Shikada said in December that there have been conflicts when city commissions work on issues that City Council doesn’t care about, and then commissioners get upset when those issues are not put on the council’s agenda.

The council members decided that their committee that deals with board and commissions, DuBois and Cormack, should come up with rules and possible changes for the city’s commissions.

10 Comments

  1. So let me get this straight. You’re a volunteer wanting to help the city. These positions don’t pay a salary, and that’s OK since most of us want to give back to our community. But in joining a board or commission, we have to give up our First Amendment rights to speak freely? Our opinions will be filtered through Meghan Horrigan Taylor? This seems like something out of the Soviet Union or modern-day China. I don’t mind the idea that a board member has to preface their statement by saying it’s their own opinion and not that of their board. That’s perfectly fair and avoids confusion. But who in the world would give up their freedom of expression to serve on these boards?

  2. What’s the city manager trying to hide now? He’s got such a horrible record of stonewalling inquiries from the press.

    If there’s a backstory here we the voters and taxpayers should need to know about it.

  3. This is a crackdown on political dissent. Instead of censoring, let people say what they want and debate it later. The answer to speech you don’t like isn’t less speech, it’s more speech.

  4. This is not a problem, it’s a power grab and a stifling by City Manager Shikada. Stop it.
    All a Commissioner need do is state they are speaking for themselves not as a Commissioner or on behalf of the Commission as they often do now. No big deal – everyone understands.

    We look forward to the bit about the Council removing Commissioners for misconduct or poor attendance. And for the Council to then act on it. That’s very much needed.

    I hope there’s something added that will constrain Council members to remain within their bounds – not to take over a community process as Cormack did with Cubberley at the last minute, blowing up months of good work for nothing. And to constrain Council liaisons to Commissions who feel entitled to sit on the dais with Commissioners at meetings, who state positions on its issues, and order staff around, etc. All entirely inappropriate.

    This draft proposal must be rejected.

  5. These rules for commissioners are OK if the council applies the same rules to themselves. But nobody on council is a “follow the golden rule” kind of person, unless we’re talking about real gold.

  6. This is one of those times that the City makes me gag.

    Why add an order when all that’s needed is common sense? If someone repeatedly purports to be speaking for an entire group that person should be required to issue a clarification, or possibly asked to resign. CC can also not reappoint such a person.

  7. Thanks for writing this story. I’ve always sensed the council was a bunch of authoritarians, now they’ve proven it. Don’t vote for any incumbents. Dump the city manager. This is a policy that is more appropriate for the USSR than the USA.

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