Treating People Like Mushrooms

This is a public comment I made at the February 28, 2022 City Council meeting. It relates to nearly $2,000,000 of expenditures by Silicon Valley Clean Water, our local sewage treatment agency, which was hidden from public view until uncovered by the Palo Alto Daily Post. You can read their coverage here, here, and here.

Good evening Mayor McDowell, Vice Mayor Rak and the rest of the Council.

I hope you read Friday’s articles in the Daily Post about how nearly two million dollars of public money was spent by Silicon Valley Clean Water, our sewage treatment agency, as a result of alleged sexual harassment in the workplace. If you haven’t I strongly urge you to do so.

That money was hidden from public view until the Post uncovered it. Silicon Valley Clean Water took advantage of an obscure provision in our laws which allows an agency to not disclose legal settlements reached in closed session under certain circumstances. Unless and until some member of the public asks about them. The result is to hide what would otherwise have to be disclosed in open session.

You may not be aware that some years ago the City of San Carlos got its wrist slapped for doing something similar. Which is why this Council, however much discussion about a lawsuit takes place in closed session, always approves the expenditure in open session.

I urge you to demand Silicon Valley Clean Water adopt a similar policy. Besides upholding the principle of transparency it would have kept them from looking like they’d done something nefarious. Which, unfortunately, today they do.

I also urge you to require all the authorities on which you serve to brief newly-appointed representatives on outstanding lawsuits. I was not given such background when I replaced Bob Grassilli on Silicon Valley Clean Water’s commission. That kept me from making a fully-informed decision when a subsequent settlement related to the original matter came before me. I still resent being treated like the proverbial mushroom, and I’m sure you would, too, if you were in a similar situation.

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