Letter: Conflict at the MCC

Letter

Posted by on Fri, January 23, 2009

Neil Merrilees is a member of the Midcoast Community Council

Should a member of a Sewer board be able to serve on the Midcoast council?  That is the issue the Supervisors will be discussing Tuesday. 

Sewer board members can’t also serve on a Fire Board.  They can’t serve on the Board of Supervisors.  They couldn’t serve in the State Assembly, or Senate.  Hillary Clinton can’t be secretary of State, and still be a Senator.  Barak Obama gave up his Senate seat, not because he is too busy (he is) but because he had to.  Our democratic tradition recognizes that serving two "masters" is an inherent conflict of interest, and is not allowed.

The Midcoast Council has an exception from these rules.  Members don’t have to follow the rules of every other elected official because the Board of Supervisors can completely disregard their advice.  I call it the "because we don’t have to listen" exception.  MCC members often state that they don’t have to worry about conflict of interest, and then complain that the Supervisors don’t take them seriously.  The two issues are directly related.

It isn’t about "pro-maximum development".  This issue isn’t about limiting choice.  Anyone will be able to run for the MCC.  Its about holding the MCC to the same conflict of interest standard as the Fire board, School Board, City Council, Assembly, right up to the office of the President.  It’s about fair transparent government.

Lessening the appearance of "conflict of interest’ at the MCC could help increase the influence of midcoast residents, which would benefit all of us.  Having a council that is easily overlooked benefits no one.  On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors is considering changing this conflict of interest exception. I strongly support this change.


Comment 1
Fri, January 23, 2009 1:53pm
Scott Boyd
All my comments

With all due respect, the purpose of an advisory board is to advise.  Our community has spoken time and again, and made clear that many individuals who serve on public boards are who they choose to represent them to advise the Board of Supervisors on matters relating to the Coastside.

To suggest that there is a conflict of interest in such a role is to impute powers to the MCC that simply don’t exist.  It also suggests a core misunderstanding of what the phrase means.  The Fair Political Practices Commission has some [fine online training materials][1] which do a nice job of covering what conflict of interest is really all about.

  [1]: http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.html?id=477

Neil Merrilees wrote:

“Sewer board members can’t also serve on a Fire Board.”

There is a difference between a legislative body and a advisory body.  Legislative bodies can pass regulations, collect taxes, assess fees, hire employees, fire employees or enter into contracts.  MW&SD;, GSD and CFPD Boards are all legislative bodies of special districts within the County of San Mateo. You are right one person can’t serve on two of these Boards, because it is an incompatible office.

“The Midcoast Council has an exception from these rules.  Members don’t have to follow the rules of every other elected official because the Board of Supervisors can completely disregard their advice.  I call it the “because we don’t have to listen” exception.  MCC members often state that they don’t have to worry about conflict of interest, and then complain that the Supervisors don’t take them seriously.  The two issues are directly related.”

The MCC is an advisory body to the Board of Supervisors of San Mateo County.  Advisory bodies don’t pass regulations, collect taxes, assess fees, hire employees, fire employees or enter into contracts. The Board of Supervisors can disregard any of their advisory bodies.  I hope you understand that, after serving a year on the MCC.  So, there is no real “exception” specific to the MCC as and advisory body to the Board of Supervisors.

The issue here is pure politics.  The Board of Supervisors are displeased with the advice they are getting and the behavior of certain elected MCC members.  It would be politically and legally difficult to remove those members the Supervisors are displeased with.  It would appear politically motivated, if they were to disband the MCC.  So, the Supervisors are proposing reshaping the composition of the MCC over time by adopting tailored qualification criteria regulations.  The ARBITRARY qualification criteria they selected was to use the criteria of a legislative body for their advisory body.  That is overly restrictive and not typical of what other legislative bodies promulgate for regulations for their advisory bodies.

The simplest way to state what The Board of Supervisors have been doing to the MCC is death by a thousand cuts.

But aren’t we talking past each other?

The problem seems to be the term “conflict-of-interest.” Some people want to use it like a lawyer would use it—a narrow, technical term used in a fashion different than the lay use of the term.

For example, a person might say that there is no “conflict-of-interest” (technical term) on the MCC because that California law doesn’t apply to the MCC.

Another person might point out that “conflict-of-interest” (technical term) is the wrong term since no one is accusing members of the MCC of *personal* gain. The correct (technical) term is “incompatibility of office.” And, of course, the MCC can’t be guilty of that since that California law doesn’t apply to the MCC.

The funny thing is about these defenses of the MCC is that no one ever accused the MCC of breaking the law. No one ever accused the MCC members of (technical term) conflict of interest or (technical term) incompatibility of office. No one. We all know that the law isn’t being broken. We all know that the MCC is an advisory body and the laws in question do not apply.

So let’s put aside this narrow, technical discussion of interest only to lawyers.

When I use the term “conflict-of-interest”—and I think Neil shares this view—I am using it in the well-founded lay sense that has been part of our political tradition since the country’s founding. It is much older than Califonia law and far more deeply embedded in our culture.

It is not a technical term.

You can see it in operation all this past week as elected officials resigned one public post to take up another. To say that one “serves all the people” (as two MCC Board members said last meeting) and therefore cannot be conflicted no matter how many offices one holds is mischievous.
Cannot then Hillary Clinton keep her Senate seat since she still serves “all the people”? Can’t Obama keep his seat? To say that serving in both offices does not present a conflict because they serve “all the people” is define away to nothingness the very concept of conflict-of-interest.

Again, “conflict-of-interest” is not a technical term.  I know many people here come from technical backgrounds so these fuzzier concepts are sometimes uncomfortable. :)

I want to also make the point that one must be careful not to conflate what is the law and what is right. The law is only a dim reflection of our values.

—Darin

Darin,

I divided my post into my lay understanding of the law and my opinion of the politics of the situation.  I interpret what you are asking as an ethics question.  Legally the burden of making a determination of a conflict of interest lies with the individual elected official.  They go through AB1234 ethics training.  They are free to consult with an attorney about any issues.  Any citizen can go to the DA or sue on their own, if they see a legal conflict of interest.  I did that in the case of one of the CFPD Directors that approved a CFPD payment to his own business.  The DA investigated and didn’t see the allegation I brought as sufficient to prosecute.  In the case of the MCC the council members render advice to the Board of Supervisors.  I don’t really see where legally anyone can challenge that advice.  It’s not like a regulation, payment, warrant or a contract that may benefit some other government agency.  I’d presume the Board of Supervisors are sophisticated enough to decern whether the advice they are getting represents a conflict of interest.

How let’s talk about what some call the smell test, hint of conflict of interest or appearance of a conflict of interest.  Legally that is up to the elected official to make that determination.  It’s really up to them to make a determination of how they want to represent the voters and how they want to present themselves to the community for re election, getting a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop or anything else.  It’s really a First Amendment issue.  Some want to smell good and have lots of other political friends and some don’t care how they smell.  Again, that’s the First Amendment, don’t like it, move to another country.

I personally believe our politicians should not appear to have a conflict of interest.  That means: I’ll turn them in if I think they broke the law, I won’t hang out with them, if I think they smell funny and I won’t vote for them.  Now, if all the other voters love them, well they get elected.  Just as I can’t trample on others First Amendment rights, I can’t invalidate an election, because the person that got themselves elected smells bad to me.

One thing both you and Neil brought up, Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.  It’s a legal issue, period.  In fact, it’s in the Constitution.  Three branches of government, separation of powers, remember that form civics?  It’s got absolutely nothing to do with ethics, smell or what wonderful human beings Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama are .  They both swore and oath to uphold the constitution and don’t get the opportunity to smell good on that one.  Besides their both lawyers, aren’t they?

I hope I have deconflated with out offending anyone’s sense of smell.

Comment 5
Fri, January 23, 2009 7:42pm
Carl May
All my comments

If it is all perception, fuzz, and smell, why do the Supervisors feel they need a formal resolution drafted by County Counsel to legally dictate a change to qualifications for service on the MCC?

Darin’s message falls apart when one considers the multiple boards, many with budgetary and other decision-making powers, that county supervisors and city council members serve on in San Mateo County and regionally. To wear such multiple hats while trying to forbid a situation with much less actual and potential conflict of duties and interest is blatant hypocrisy on the part of the supervisors, starting with Gordon.

Now that all of Rich Gordon’s cheerleaders have weighed in on the topic of restricting MCC membership, perhaps we could get some selected MCC members to share their thoughts on the Midcoast LCP update and the MCC’s plan for providing input at the Coastal Commission hearing that will take place in the near future.

>>To wear such multiple hats while trying to forbid a situation with much less actual and potential conflict of duties and interest is blatant hypocrisy on the part of the supervisors, starting with Gordon.<<

One of the speakers at the last MCC meeting attempted to ambush and publicly embarrass Supervisor Gordon on just this issue, pointing out that *Gordon* served on two boards—what is good for the goose isn’t good enough for the gander?

However, Gordon, when his turn came, threw it back in the speaker’s face pointing out that whenever there was even an appearance of a conflict Gordon would recuse himself.

So, are you then suggesting that MCC members who sit on other boards have likewise avoided conflict by recusing themselves when matters directly related to their other office have arisen? (A factual error—the meetings are archived online and you can easily determine that no member of the MWSD or GSD has recused themselves in the past year.)

Or are you suggesting that MCC members with other offices *should* recuse themselves in the future to avoid the appearance of conflict?

Or perhaps you mean to imply that the MCC members should be held to an even looser standard than what Rich Gordon follows—someone you suggest has low ethical standards? Surely this can’t be the case…

—Darin

PS Kevin, always good to hear from you. Some people might think that you are holding the pom-poms. Perhaps your style of debate is not as effective as you think it to be?

Carl May asks:

“If it is all perception, fuzz, and smell, why do the Supervisors feel they need a formal resolution drafted by County Counsel to legally dictate a change to qualifications for service on the MCC?”

1. Show of power: the Supes have legal counsel, the MCC doesn’t.

2. Next election a member of one of the special district boards might actually run and get elected to the MCC, in defiance.  The Supes might actually find themselves in court trying to justify their invalidation of someone that won an election.  Or, if County elections refuses to let the individual run, then Elections might get sued.

3. Curious Supervisor Gordon said they weren’t going to require the existing elected MCC members on special district boards to resign, now.  I doubt that was a sign of good will or compromise.  There must be legal issues that prevented them from making it effective, now.

Comment 9
Fri, January 23, 2009 8:52pm
Scott Boyd
All my comments

Again, with respect, I urge those who would use the phrase “conflict of interest” to avail themselves of the AB 1234 training materials.  Yes, it covers “the smell test”.  It also covers what elements are necessary to present a potential conflict.

Advising an elected body on matters of importance to a community does not come close.  Saying otherwise does not make it so, even when stated repeatedly.

To the issue of multiple boards, Supervisor Gordon noted that that particular board requires that matters concerning a board member’s jurisdiction not be heard by that member.  The recitation above might leave the impression that it’s a matter of ethical choice, when in fact it’s required.

However, such is certainly not true when it comes to other bodies.  For example, the Local Agency Formation Commission, ostensibly an independent commission, has two seats for county supervisors.  Commissioner Gordon and Supervisor Gordon are one and the same, and on both make decisions affecting the special districts in the county.  Despite the similarities to the situations decried as “conflict of interest”, this arrangement is spelled out in law.  Does that make this arrangement fail the smell test, or does it suggest that the smell test is being misapplied?

For another example, the Board of Supervisors appointed the chair of the Regional Water Quality Control Board to a seat on the Coastside County Water District.  To deal with the doctrine of incompatible office, the regional board availed themselves of the regulations to carve out an exception for such an appointment.  The supervisors at the time noted the value of the experience of regional board service, and justified the decision to appoint largely on that basis.

If someone doesn’t like the MCC, the way it’s structured, the way it operates, or who got elected, does it serve the community to promote the canard that the community has elected the wrong people because the public doesn’t understand ethics well enough?

It’s odd, don’t you think, that the people of our community should be told by the body with power that the community has elected the wrong people to represent their interests in the advisory role set up cooperatively by the community and the Board of Supervisors?

I always like examples—brings a discussion down to earth…but are these examples that support your point or oppose it?

The first example, that of Gordon on another board, is how things *should* work—a member should recuse themselves, whether required by law or not. If that had been happening all along I’m sure we wouldn’t be having this debate.

The next two examples, that of LAFCo and Regional Water Quality Control Board are odd ones in that I was under the impression that you thought having people serve on two boards in those instances was wrong (from a good government standpoint, not illegal). Is that correct or do you think that the LAFCo and RWQC situations follow the correct model?

I certainly wouldn’t want the MCC to base its operating ethics on organizations that also have a conflict-of-interest problem.

In any event, that fact that these other organizations exist with dual seats doesn’t seem to me a sufficient basis to judge the matter—the old saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right” seems applicable.

So maybe examples don’t get us very far after all!  :)

—Darin

My deepest sympathy to those living in the Midcoast Colony and in particular, those who serve with someone on the MCC who refuses to understand the concept of “Conflict of Interest”.


To the electorate, consider: if an elected individual will not understand the concept of “Conflict of Interest”, can that elected individual well appreciate whether or not a law is violated - or more importantly, whether they are violating a law?


Are the BoS attempting to eliminate the wrong person?


It is clear Neil Merrilees refuses to understand the concept of “Conflict of Interest”.


Conflict of Interest [intro]:


“No public official at any level of state or local government shall make, participate in making or in any way attempt to use his official position to influence a governmental decision in which he knows or has reason to know he has a financial interest.”
California Government Code Section 87100

Ken Johnson

Note that I posed questions, to which I don’t see any answers.  I hope, too, that the excellent ethics/conflict of interest training tools are of some use in this discussion.

I wonder, adding another question to the list, how folks view “conflict of interest” after reviewing the training tools and this list of boards and committees:  http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/smc/department/bos/home/0,,1864_4318239_725296351,00.html

http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/smc/department/bos/home/0,,18644318239725296351,00.html

Hey Scott,

I can’t seem to get that link to work—can you post again?

Also, would you mind identifying which of these agencies is made up a quorum (and for all practical purposes, a working majority) of other agencies?

That, of course is the situation we are looking at with MCC where we will have four out of seven members from water and sewer boards, three of them from GSD (which is a majority of GSD members and a voting quorum of GSD members).

Sort of a Russian doll structure where we have GSD meeting in El Granada and then meeting again *within* MCC meetings. Weird!

Thanks,

—Darin

Why should the average citizen of the Midcoast care who is RIGHT here?  Let’s strip it down to the bare politics.  The conflict of interest, incompatible office and alleged Brown Act violations of a purely advisory body are all spitting in the gutter violations.  The real political issue here is the Board of Supervisors rejected the LCP update and admonished the MCC members that they could only advise the Supervisors.  The majority of the MCC have reacted by turning the MCC into political theater, which annoys the Supervisors, Neil and Darin.

The political outcomes I foresee:

Most likely outcome:  The Board of Supervisors pass their resolution.  The majority of the MCC members continue to use the MCC as a political theater, until their terms are up.  The Supervisors continue to ignore the MCC.  The MCC does very little for the Midcoast.  The majority of the MCC members blame the Supervisors.  The Supervisors blame the MCC majority.  The citizens of the Midcoast remain disengaged from the MCC. Neil and Darin continue to be frustrated.  When the majority of the MCC members term out, they will be replaced by members of the political opposition by appointment and probably election.  The Supervisors will throw a few table scraps to their new lap dogs on the MCC and Midcoast.  The MCC focus will shift to the new political agenda of a witch hunt on MW&SD; and GSD. More political theater from the other side. Citizens realize the new MCC is only sympathetic on non growth related issues(are there any?), which makes the new MCC effectively irrelevant.  The citizens of the Midcoast disengaged from the new MCC.  Citizens deal directly with the County.

Martyrdom of the MCC majority:  The MCC majority resigns in protest.  Which results in a big political soap opera for a month or so.  The vacant MCC seats are replaced by members sympathetic to the Supervisors position on the issue of growth .  Neil and Darin are happy for a short while. The Supervisors will throw a few table scraps to their lap dogs on the new MCC and Midcoast.  The new MCC focus will shift to the new political agenda of a witch hunt on MW&SD; and GSD.  More political theater from the other side. Citizens realize the new MCC is only sympathetic on non growth related issues(are there any?), which makes the new MCC effectively irrelevant, long term.  The citizens of the Midcoast disengaged from the new MCC.  Citizens deal directly with the County.


Supervisors relent :  The Board of Supervisors give up their resolution or County Counsel says it’s not legal.  The majority of the MCC members continue to use the MCC as a political theater.  The Supervisors continue to ignore the MCC.  The MCC does very little for the Midcoast.  The majority of the MCC members blame the Supervisors.  The Supervisors blame the MCC majority. The citizens of the Midcoast remain disengaged. Neil and Darin continue to be frustrated.  Current political theater continues indefinitely.  Citizens realize the MCC is irrelevant, long term.  Citizens deal directly with the County.

>>The vacant MCC
seats are replaced by members sympathetic to the Supervisors position on
the issue of growth . Neil and Darin are happy for a short while.<<

Interesting, except that I’m generally opposed the the kind of growth that you and others clam the Supes want.

It seems that on the coastside there are only two possible political points of view—for growth or against growth.

My view is that most people on the Midcoast are a little bit in the middle but tend more toward the “no-growth” side. That is certainly where I’m at.

—Darin

Darin,

I was trying to be brief.  I though you and Neil would be happy with the lack of divisiveness between the Supervisors and the MCC.  With the Supervisors approving of the MCC members behavior, there would be the opportunity to collaborate on the few other issue that were untouched by the issue of growth.  I wasn’t trying to paint you pro growth.

I appreciate how hard it is to try and maintain the appearance being in the middle of the road on the growth issue.  We have all been warned that the only thing in the middle of the road are stripes and roadkill.

I agree with your impression of where most people on the Midcoast are at on the issue of growth.  I’m probably close to where you claim to be at.  But, I never met a politician or wanabee on the Midcoast that didn’t claim to be in the middle on the issue of growth.  So, you get the label the political polls of the growth issue lay on you.  You can only be judged to be in the middle, when all the pro growth pole people think you are low growth and all the low growth pole people think you are pro growth.  In other words, when you are politically dead.

Keep the faith.  We only disagree on a few minor details.

>>ou can only be judged to be in the
middle, when all the pro growth pole people think you are low growth and
all the low growth pole people think you are pro growth.<<

Ahhh, but I’m already there! Jim Larimer thinks I’m a walking automaton for the LCP and Kevin Lansing thinks I’m a cheerleader for the building lobby.

Is this Nirvana?

—Darin

You need a few more negative endorsements.  Nirvana may not come to you in this lifetime.  It’s the journey of accumulating as many political enemies as you can, that counts.  But, it may come to your children.  People will feel guilty about what they did to you and will attempt to make it up to them.  They may very well be the first mayors of the incorporated City of Midcoastia.

All kidding aside,  It’s really a quite effective political tactic to dissuade anyone in the middle of an issue form participating in the political discussion.  This can be accomplished by attacking their knowledge of the minutia of the issue.  Or painting them as being a rather ineloquent defender of the opposite political pole.  That way, either political pole can claim to be speaking for the “silent majority”.

There is also the gang aspect to it.  If one is in a recognized member of a gang dedicated to one of the political poles, then one is protected by the other gang members and has a sense of belonging.

The best thing to do is to what you are doing.  Put facts and information in peoples hands as quickly as possible.  Informing the middle takes political territory away form the poles.

Thanks.

Comment 19
Sun, January 25, 2009 10:34am
Hal Bogner
All my comments

I am curious what ever happened to letting voters decide who should represent them - even when the representative role is advisory?

The scenario of the Supervisors being slapped down by a judge seems inevitable if this proposed restriction is approved.

The sad thing here is really that this seems to be about shooting messengers.  Half Moon Bay, where I reside, has no such issue:  the City Council and the Sanitary District boards are one and the same.  Maybe the choices by mid-coast voters indicates that MWSD and GSD should be consolidating and growing into something akin the a genuine, empowered, “city council” for what is now the unincorporated mid-coast.

Comment 20
Sun, January 25, 2009 12:29pm
Ken Johnson
All my comments

Bravo: Vince and Darin! “A Dialog On the MCC Future”!

For those trying to follow the ‘debate’ from the sidelines, try reading Comments 14 thru 18.

For those classically read: “Socratic vs Sophist Debate on the MCC Future” <grin>.

Barry, if you want to accomplish your originally stated goal of your series on the MCC, write a one paragraph intro, and copy it to the front page of Coastsider.

Ken Johnson

Comment 21
Sun, January 25, 2009 12:33pm
Scott Boyd
All my comments

Retrying the link to [Boards and Commissions][1]

Responding to the shifting-sands next-argument-in-line, a quorum of one board at the MCC is not, in and of itself, an issue with respect to the law and ethics (as taught by the Attorney General and the Fair Political Practices Commission).

If an issue concerning the board is to be dealt with at the meeting, they could follow the practice used by other boards—notice the MCC meeting as a public meeting of the respective board.

The accusation made by someone at the last MCC meeting that this would involve secrecy is malarky.  MCC meetings are noticed, open to the public, and taped for broadcast and webcast.

I’ve addressed your question.  I posed a few others.  How about it?

I mentioned shifting sands because the reasons seem to keep changing, but the desired outcome appears to remain the same—telling the public who they can’t vote for.

  [1]: http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/smc/department/bos/home/0,,1864_4318239_725296351,00.html

Hey Scott,

I think we are still talking past each other.

First of all, I don’t see the issue of GSD having a quorum at (within?) an MCC meeting a “shifting-sands next-argument-in-line.” The fact that you say that tells me I’m doing a poor job of communicating my views since that issue is at the core of my point-of-view on this matter.

As you know, I’m using the phrase “conflict-of-interest” by which I mean something like “one elected body having undue influence over another elected body.” That is what I think the Supes are talking about, too, and that is what their proposal will seek to address by eliminating the possibility that people on other boards could also serve on the MCC.

Thus, the issue of having most of the GSD board members sitting on the MCC is not a shifting sands argument—it is a prime example of the weird and, to my mind, improper results that we will see if the Supes proposal does not go forward. It is the kind of thing that tells me that something is wrong with the way the law is currently written.

Barry, in an earlier post, mentioned that he was uncomfortable with this outcome, too. But it hasn’t been mentioned since then—and since we are facing this outcome in practice, not just in theory, I think it a good thing that the voters hear a discussion of this possibility.

It does *seem* odd, does it not, having a voting quorum of one body existing within another body? It seems, well, unnatural. I don’t think I can recall having experienced this sort of thing before.

And again I want to repeat that I am not talking about violations of an existing law—I’m talking about the need for a new law to correct what seems an obvious problem (to me). Thus, while I appreciate the effort that went into the multi-day training materials that you cite, they are useful only as background information for they are based on existing law and do not anticipate the change to the law that we are debating.

Likewise with the suggestion that having the GSD exist within the MCC, the idea that it would be legally permissible since all we would have to do is put a notice in public saying that the MCC is also a GSD meeting. That conforms to the technical details of the law but does nothing to address the larger issue of *should* the GSD exist within the MCC.

One final thought. I’ve seen mentioned here the implied claim that a change to the eligibility rules for the MCC is wrong since it denies the voters a chance to vote for whomever they wish to vote for.

I’m sure you recognize that, like Free Speech and our other rights, rights are not absolute. There are eligibility requirements for every public office that I’ve ever encountered, at the federal, state and local level. A number of these requirements touch on the issue we are struggling with here—what I am calling conflict of interest. Though this issue comes from Common Law many examples of it are established in written law—so much so that I think that “not serving two masters” easily qualifies as a core value of our society.

—Darin

Darin,

What issues on the past MCC agendas would present an incompatible office for members of GSD on MCC?  Would it satisfy you to have a GSD member recuse him/herself if such an issue came up?  Why or why not?

Kathryn

Comment 24
Sun, January 25, 2009 10:20pm
Ken Johnson
All my comments

Kathryn,  Kathryn,  Kathryn:

Darin Boville doesn’t answer direct questions!

Although he ‘visited’ Coastsider a number of times after your post: January 25, 2009 08:04 PM; January 25, 2009 10:17 PM; etc!

He does obfuscate thou.

Can you find his answer in his dissertation to Scott?

Let me try to summarize Darin’s response to Scott:

Darin doesn’t like the true and real definition of “Conflict of Interest” - so he will just make up his own!

Darin wrote: “what I am calling conflict of interest.” and never mind the true and real meaning.

Never mind that there is a term: “Incompatible Office”.

His problem with that is two fold: 1) that it doesn’t apply either; 2) it is not as ‘sexy’ sounding as “Conflict of Interest”.

Your questions to Darin embody the Socratic Method. The problem with Sophists and why they died out in logical argument a couple of thousand years ago to the Socratic Method is that they are not seeking truth!

Sophists now only ‘survive’ in political argument. We should do something about that.

Ken Johnson

P.S.  Neil Merrilees is MIA after his five time drive by shooting with erroneous “Conflict of Interest” use in his “letter”. Should he be quizzed if he NOW understands “Conflict of Interest” at the next MCC meeting? BoS? Or here?

This has become the non issue no one wants to talk directly about, because it is all just political theater.  The absurdity I fail to comprehend is why is this political trifle being guarded so fiercely by the debaters building walls of obfuscation?

Now, we have philosophers trying to obfuscate the issues by wrapping them around the poles of Socratic vs. Sophist dialectic. Now, I live in fear of being labeled not just a closet pro growther, but a Sophist.  Those trying to paint me a Sophist using pseudo Socratic methods are behaving as Sophists. Makes you head spin, doesn’t it.  Well, that is the intent.

For those following along in bafflement, the price of admission to participate in the debate, includes detailed knowledge of the minutia of the MCC meetings over the past year,  a detailed knowledge of AB1234 training materials, a doctorate in law and now a doctorate in philosophy.  What resident of the Midcoast is willing to scale the walls of obfuscation to comprehend, let alone participate in, this fierce debate among the actors rehearsing(for what?), upon the stage of our own local political theater company?

Ken, you are starting to creep me out. Please stop tracking me online.

Kathryn, I’ve already offered two detailed and I hope clear examples. One was the LAFCo letter (in my op-ed in the Review). The other, much less serious but I think illustrative, was the vote at the last meeting to send a letter opposing the rule change—voted on by the very people who would be directly affected. That one is in this or one of the other recent Coastsider threads.

As for recusal, I suspect that if people had been recusing themselves all along then this proposal would never have happened. But I think it is too late for that.

I suspect that key issue for many is not so much the conflict issue or serving on two boards, per se, but the worry that the Supes will put on the MCC “represenatives” who do not reflect the views of the people on the Midcoast. I judge the midcoast political spectrum to be generally slow growth in nature.

I see where this worry is coming from but if this rule change takes place in the next few months there should be no reason to appoint anybody—whomever wins the election wins and there is plenty of time to find candidates and campaign, etc. If not enough candidates run and there are empty seats then fine, leave them empty.

I would strongly oppose any appointment to the MCC which did not look to be representative of the mainstream Midcoast political spectrum. If a strongly pro-growth candidate wants to sit on the MCC then fine, but they will have to do it the hard way and win an election.

—Darin

Darin wrote:  ” If not enough candidates run and there are empty seats then fine, leave them empty.”

The Board of Supervisors can then appoint the members if it chooses.  In fact it is the Board of Supervisors who does make the appointment {see tomorrows BoS agenda <http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/bos.dir/BosAgendas/agendas2009/CurrentAgenda/text_currentagenda.htm>}  The MCC can only make recommendations: <http://www.co.sanmateo.ca.us/bos.dir/BosAgendas/agendas2009/CurrentAgenda/20090127_m_12.pdf>

Darin wrote:  “I would strongly oppose any appointment to the MCC which did not look to be representative of the mainstream Midcoast political spectrum. If a strongly pro-growth candidate wants to sit on the MCC then fine, but they will have to do it the hard way and win an election.”

Ric Lohman won election to the MCC twice after the Board of Supervisors refused to appoint him the first time. Is this rule change a way to thwart this from happening again?  I dunno, but I do know Ric, on camerea, said he will not run for Council in Nov. He is not gaining an incumbents advantage.

Darin,

There’s no need to create a new definition of conflict of interest.  The AG and the FPPC have done a nice job of putting materials together that provide good training in a matter of 2-4 hours (not a multi-day effort unless you just want to spread it out; I did).

All public officials are required to complete this or similar training.  The materials are free, easy to use, and written in plain language.

As to talking past each other, I’m working within the well-thought-through principles outlined in law, regulation, attorney general opinions, FPPC opinions/determinations, not “what I am calling conflict of interest”.  I invite you to search our the common ground that public officials all over the State of California are required by law to study.

You might be surprised to find that many of the gut-level feelings you express are indeed carefully addressed, not ignored or unanticipated.

Pretty much boils down to a couple of things:

<ol>
<li>Supervisor Gordon doesn’t like the advice he gets from some, and would be, MCC members.</li>
<li>He can fix that by making all the appointments to MCC with midcoasters who won’t tell him the truth, or be representative.</li>
<li>Ric Lohman tells the truth and is representative, so should be appointed.</li>
</ol>

I was under the impression that the “conflict of interest” issue was handled by County legal in a letter to Terry Gossett; as in there isn’t a conflict.

Vince Williams writes (Comment #14):

“Most likely outcome: The Board of Supervisors pass their resolution…The vacant MCC seats are replaced by members sympathetic to the Supervisors position on the issue of growth. Neil and Darin are happy for a short while.”

I can agree with that analysis. Nevertheless, below is the email I sent to the Board of Supervisors. I actually received a reply from Supervisor Carole Groom (but not Rich Gordon, however, I wonder why) thanking me for my input. 

To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Dear Supervisors:

I urge you to vote against the proposed resolution to restrict the membership of the MidCoast Community Council (MCC) under the guise of some arbitrary “conflict of interest” definition.

It would appear that the real goal of the resolution is to suppress the local MCC voice. One year ago, Supervisor Gordon proposed to abolish the MCC, claiming that the elected body did not represent the views of Midcoast citizens even though the Fall 2007 election had placed three new members on the council.

In his January 2008 letter to the Half Moon Bay Review, Supervisor Gordon asserted that the MCC might have “outlived its usefulness.” He wrote: “Just this past November [2007], rather than appoint the Council’s nominees, I pushed for an election so that the public would be actively engaged in selecting new members to invigorate the Council. What has become clear, however, is that there remains a significant portion of Midcoast residents who feel they are not being adequately represented by the MCC, and that troubles me very seriously.”

How exactly did that opinion “become clear” to Supervisor Gordon? Which influential special interest groups have Supervisor Gordon’s ear? Didn’t residents have a chance to vote in the MCC election? Were the polls closed in some neighborhoods?

It would appear that Supervisor Gordon (or some special interest groups) did not like the outcome of the Fall 2007 election so an effort was made to disband the MCC altogether. Now one year later, a new effort is underway to use an arbitrary definition of “conflict of interest” to overule the local voters’ preferences on who may serve on the MCC.

Basically, the proposed resolution seeks to impose standards on the MCC membership that are more restrictive than those that exist in state law. I urge you to reject the resolution because it represents an infringement on the legal voting rights of Midcoast residents.

Sincerely,

Kevin J. Lansing

Half Moon Bay

Kevin J. Lansing,

I do not appreciate being quoted out of context.  For you to pick a couple of my sentences out of several paragraphs to twist my meaning and disparage someone else is wrong.

I’d invite others to read the original(14) and Darin and my discussion(15-18) of one of the sentences quoted out of context by Mr. Lansing.

MCC… where have you been????