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Updated Travel Policy Needs to include provisions covering prohibited travel conduct while on personal trips

From: domainremoved <Lynne>
Date: Sat, 8 Sep 2018 15:26:48 -0700

Hello Council,

While we don’t expect our elected officials to be perfect, the public
expects you to remember who you work for and that you were elected by the
people. We expect you to follow the law, to be ethical and to make
decisions for the good of the people in Menlo Park. You have an opportunity
to bolster public trust during your discussion on travel at your upcoming
meeting. What you say and do will speak volumes regarding your personal
courage and your commitment to an ethical culture in Menlo Park.

The FPPC is currently investigating Councilmembers Keith and Carlton
regarding their trips to China. I’ll wait for the FPPC’s decision to
comment further. However, I point out that the FPPC’s decision to
investigate these two council members shows that this agenda topic is
important -- because the FPPC does not usually have the time to investigate
local government matters.

The latest draft travel policy falls short. It’s a cosmetic-mostly update
that omits the most needed new section: one covering prohibited travel
conduct while on personal trips (and the consequences for not following the

I was also disappointed that the staff report didn’t focus on the primary
issues. The problems leading to this agenda topic should have been the
heart of the staff report. Instead, the problems were only obliquely
referred to towards the end of the report. The City Attorney’s office could
have added draft provisions that made it easy for Council to modify and
approve (or not) the provisions, so they could be quickly enacted. Instead,
the current approach will either delay (at best) or bury needed change. We
need more leadership, especially on any matter pertaining to ethics, from
the City Attorney’s office. I realize that Council is supposed to set
policy. However, many other staff reports have explicitly been written with
actionable recommendations, so I have to wonder why this important staff
report skirts around the real issues.

If staff shortages make it difficult to research and write needed
documents, I volunteer my research and writing services to help.

*Central issue #1: Misuse of Position *

The policy needs to include specifics regarding use of title, official name
tag, and general presence at meetings that give the appearance of official
endorsement by Menlo Park. The pictures of Councilmember Keith in the
Chinese papers showed her wearing a City of MP name tag and a MP tree pin.
Whether it said “mayor” or “councilmember” is beside the point. Keith’s
wearing the pin, in the context of the overall quasi-official-looking
gathering, conveyed that she represented Menlo Park. A video link also
showed her looking on while a document was signed. We need more explicit
guidelines regarding participation in these types of events -- such as the
below examples from other municipalities and the federal government.

*Agencies *

*Example Policies pertaining to Misuse of Position *

City of Mountain View Council Code of Conduct

Representing an Official City Position

“City Councilmembers may use their title only when conducting official City
business, for information purposes, or as an indication of background and
expertise, carefully considering whether they are exceeding or appearing to
exceed their authority.”

City of Santa Clara: Code of Ethics and Values

As a Representative of the City of Santa Clara, I will be ethical.

In practice, this value looks like:

…”I use my title(s) only when conducting official city business, for
information purposes, or as an indication of background and expertise,
carefully considering whether I am exceeding or appearing to exceed my

City of Placentia Code of Core Values and Ethics

As a Representative of the City of Placentia, I will be ethical.

In practice, I will:

…Use my title(s) only when conducting official city business, for
information purposes, or as an indication of background and expertise,
carefully considering whether I am exceeding or appearing to exceed my

U.S. Department of Justice

 “An employee may not use his public office for his own private gain or for
that of persons or organizations with which he is associated personally. An
employee’s position or title should not be used to coerce; to endorse any
product, service or enterprise; or to give the appearance of governmental

U.S. Department of Agriculture

“You may not use your official position title or authority to benefit
yourself or anyone else. Specifically, you may not Give the appearance of
government sanction of private activity.”

*Central Issue #2: Appearing to Represent MP at Quasi-Governmental Meetings
Abroad *

We especially need guidelines for personal travel to foreign countries that
includes an appearance at any event that even remotely appears to be a
quasi-official function. We especially need these guidelines for travel to
countries that have problematic relationships with the U.S. for trade
embargo reasons, sanctions, or for more serious ones such as an active war
going on or threat of a war. Unless something has changed lately, I believe
that would include China. Certainly any country that the U.S. puts on its
Watch or Red Flag list should be ruled out.

Let’s also leave the diplomacy to the professionals in the State
Department. Elected officials from MP, who don’t have an adequate
background regarding all the issues involved in trade arrangements, could
be doing harm to broader U.S. foreign policy efforts.

*Central Issue #3: Missing Council Meetings for Personal Travel*

Councilmember Keith was in China on the day of a study session on
Facebook’s “Willow Village.” Her personal trip was not for a family
emergency or other urgent matter. Who benefited the most from her trip? It
certainly was not the residents of Menlo Park. We need guidelines for
Council member’s attendance at Council meetings and guidelines for what
reasons count as acceptable reasons for missing a meeting.

*Central Issue #4: Prohibit accepting gifts or honoraria for foreign
travel, regardless of the purpose. *

While Council members are in office, I would like a blanket prohibition
from accepting money for foreign travel. There is too much potential for a
foreign government, under the guise of a non-profit or some other shell
front, to try to influence U.S. policy via local elected officials.
Facebook is a big name around the world and its headquarters location in MP
puts our city on the radar screen of entities that might want to unduly
influence the U.S. We’ve already learned about attempts to influence
elections via ads and posts on Facebooks. Let’s avoid problems, by adding a
blanket prohibition for accepting gifts or Honoria for foreign travel.

*Staff Report *

The section under the heading, Travel paid for by Third Parties or by City
Council Members” confused me. First, the heading needed to pertain to
personal travel as that’s why the content was there. Then most of the
details read as though accepting money beyond the $470 limit could be okay
under certain conditions. However, these weren’t detailed so the reader
would need to dig for the information. Given the cumulative total of
recent ethics lapses, our elected officials need explicit guidelines
instead of potential wiggle room. For example, the reference to the
“non-reportable source” needed to give some examples as to what those might
be and/or a pointer to more information.

As we are in an election season, it’s especially important to be very
explicit and detailed. An informed public is less likely to believe
deliberate attempts to spread misinformation, such as some anonymous
posters have tried to do on the Almanac’s Town Square forum.

*Need for Code of Ethics and Values & Conduct *

I think it’s time for MP to develop a Code of Ethics and Conduct for
Elected and Appointed Officials. Examples of these abound and many of our
neighboring cities have them. Clearly, they are needed. Again, I volunteer
to write the draft based on best practices from elsewhere. Others would
also be willing to help. Let's take some real steps towards needed reforms
in Menlo Park.

Lynne Bramlett
Received on Sat Sep 08 2018 - 15:25:58 PDT

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