City Council censures treasurer for apparent conflict of interest

City Treasurer Inge Tiegel speaks to the San Carlos City Council on May 23. Photo from council video.

Daily Post Staff Writer 

The San Carlos City Council tonight (May 23) unanimously voted to censure City Treasurer Inge Tiegel after she broke city rules by campaigning against a moratorium that would temporarily stop development of land in which she has an ownership interest.

Councilman Ron Collins took things a step further and said he thinks Tiegel ought to resign. 

Collins said that elected officials need to consider the “greatest good” for the community. 

“And it seems the treasurer’s goal was to protect her own interest,” he said. 

Tiegel for her part, apologized to the council, city manager and other city employees for her actions, saying it was never her intention to violate the code of conduct. 

No one else on council called for Tiegel’s resignation, but all noted how precarious the public’s trust in elected officials can be. 

“Public service depends on public trust, and when there are questions about an official mixing their duties with interests, that can put that trust in jeopardy,” Mayor Sara McDowell said. 

Tiegel was investigated by McDowell and City Attorney Greg Rubens, who concluded that it was “likely” that Tiegel broke the city’s code of conduct for elected officials. 

Tiegel, who was on the city council from 2001 to 2007, was one of the original authors of the city’s code of conduct in 2005, she told the council. 

The council tonight had to decide whether Tiegel broke the city’s code of conduct based on two interactions. The first occurred when she emailed City Manager Jeff Maltbie asking him to help her figure out ways to get the council to not vote on a building moratorium for a portion of the eastern part of the city. 

Council approved the moratorium April 25.

Tiegel described herself in an email she sent to various property owners in the area as a “third-generation property owner and current San Carlos City Treasurer.” 

Tiegel’s family owns 205 Old County Road, in the area of the moratorium. 

Tiegel spoke at tonight’s meeting, apologizing for her “errors in judgment.” 

“I regret having sent an email to three members of the Harbor Industrial Association, and the city manager. I realize it was an emotional response and not well thought out. I apologize for sending it.” 

Tiegel said she realizes it is not her place to try to influence policy, as that’s the role of the city council and mayor. 

Tiegel said she wishes she could rewind time. 

Rubens and McDowell wrote in a report to council that said Tiegel included the 205 Old County Road property on financial disclosure forms, as required of elected officials.

The property is owned by a limited liability corporation, or LLC. The LLC is made up of two irrevocable trusts, one of which her father is a member. Upon her father’s death, she could inherit 8.33% of the property, according to Rubens, who reviewed the property’s deed.

Rubens said it doesn’t appear Tiegel broke any conflict of interest laws, she likely broke the city’s code which frowns upon any officials appearing as if they have a conflict of interest.

Rubens clarified that because the rules Tiegel broke are only city-based rules, the council cannot refer her to the county’s grand jury, which can remove officials from office if it’s found that they broke state law. This is what is happening in the current court case against Santa Clara County Sheriff Laurie Smith.

The strongest action the council could have taken was a censure, which Rubens described as a public reprimand.  

The other incident that which the council found Tiegel violated city code involves former Mayor Mark Olbert. 

Early last month, Olbert was advertising a panel discussion he was hosting at the San Carlos Adult Community Center to get more people to run for public office. Tiegel responded to one of Olbert’s posts on social media asking why Olbert had not included any women or minorities on his panel. Olbert responded by saying that due to scheduling conflicts and other reasons, the panel is made up of mostly older, white men.

Tiegel thanked Olbert for his response and then implied that Olbert had not rented the room where the discussion was to take place, and that any time city employees spent on the event should be reimbursed.

Tiegel apologized to Olbert, and said if he felt her comments were “demeaning, or an attack on his character, it was not my intent when interacting with him.” 

Tiegel was elected to the position of City Treasurer in 2020 after longtime City Treasurer Michael Galvin retired. No one ran against her. The city treasurer is in charge of overseeing the city’s investments, deposits and overall money management, and makes $560 a month.