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All-oral probe dodges public-records law, vice mayor alleges

Original post made on Oct 19, 2007

An outside investigator hired this summer to analyze three harassment complaints against a high-ranking City of Palo Alto manager was instructed in his contract to deliver an oral rather than a written report -- a requirement some insiders have called an attempt to circumvent state public-records laws.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, October 19, 2007, 5:42 PM

Comments (30)

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 19, 2007 at 9:49 am

Looks like Benest, who leads the city council around by the nose, is attempting to keep another act of malfeasance by city employees out of the press.
Will the City Council have the guts to stand up to him and demand accountability. Considering all the recent scandlas that have plagued the city, isn;t it time we were told the truth??
Isn;t also time for the city to cut all ties with Benest?
Kudos to Larry Klein for bringing this matter to our attention.

Posted by Alyssa, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:02 am

This is truly outrageous.

Posted by Bebe, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:12 am

Kudos to Becky Trout for another terrific piece of investigative journalism. She's the best the Weekly has.

Is it not time for Frank Benest to be fired? It's very difficult not to put the label "cover-up" on this. The explanation that they are "balancing" other factors seems very strained to me.

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:31 am

It is abundantly clear to me that there should be a written record of these incidents and investigations. It is clear that Benest and the City Council are trying to keep these new incidents out of the public eye.
As the article states, the Weekly had to go to court to force the city to release the records of the utilities scandal--one can imagine in the future, the city telling the newspapers that there are no records.
looks to me like this is another ploy by the city to avoid having to release information about embarrassing and costly incidents involving city employees.
Drekmeier's position is disappointing, while Yoriko's position, while not surprising (I am sure she will want to appoint a commission to study the matter) is also disappointing from the "leader" of our city

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:37 am

Good move by Frank, to keep the sharks from their gossipy feeding frenzy. Watch them circle and whine because there's no food today.

Working inside City Hall is already pantopticaon-like. Let 'em breathe.

I'm also wary of a City Council member or two feeding one or another city empoyee to the sharks, just to keep them happy. We'll wait and see on this one

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 19, 2007 at 10:45 am

Malfeasance at city hall, involving any employee that is paid with our tax dollars should be made public once an investigation is concluded.
WE have seen recently two examples of the "good old boy" network at city hall trying to cover up this kind of behavior (Untilitied scandal, Emily Harrison suspension).
This type of "business as usual" shenanigans has no place in our city.
It is time for our elected city council to deal with these issues in a forceful and timely manner and stop wasting time with peripheral issues, like climate change.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2007 at 11:11 am

No finished work product, no money.
It is indeed time for Benest to go and for anyone who supports this crap to go with him.

Posted by Frances, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2007 at 11:59 am

It's difficult to understand how our city, which used to be fairly well-run and was always scrupulously open and honest, has come to seem so a secretive and corrupt.

Is this Frank Benest's fault? The Council's? The citizenry for failing to be vigilant?

I don't know the answer, but I am grieving for the city that I moved to forty years ago because it was such a wonderful place to live.

How sad for us all.

Posted by Waiting for news, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 19, 2007 at 12:09 pm

Drekmeier might be waiting for his orders from the Chamber of Commerce.
This article is just a teaser. Lets have the real news.

Posted by Amy, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 19, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Since when does the Chamber give orders to any Councilmember????

Posted by Graduate Student, a resident of Ventura
on Oct 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm

The City Council will remove Benest as City Manager when the corporate community represented by the Chamber of Commerce and the local growth coalition that benefits economically from intensified land use conclude that the voters will defeat bond measures for a police station and library as long as Benest is City Manager.

Once those who benefit from the decisions Benest and the Council have made over the past eight years realize that Benest must go, it will be easy for them to decide that it makes more sense for him to leave this year instead of waiting for the Council Members elected in November to take office and terminate Benest's employment.

It is much easier to pretend that the newly elected Council Members represent different economic interests than Benest and the current Council represent, if those taking office next year have no history of voting for Benest's proposals.

If Benest is removed by a Council that includes retiring members Beecham, Cordell, Mossar, and Kleinberg, the voters can go back to sleep and not notice that both candidate Sid Espinosa and Sunny Dykwel, the wife of candidate Dan Dykwel, are on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce.

If the corporations and real estate investors who have benefited from Benest's tenure as City Manager are concerend that one of their favored candidates will be defeated in the November election if Benest is still City Manager on election day, then the Council will get rid of Benest before the election.

Posted by Sally L., a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 19, 2007 at 2:23 pm

I'm not sure I agree with all of Grad Student's reasoning, but his conclusions are right on.

The only way we citizens can protest the hijacking of our city by special interests and petty corrupt officials is to vote down their requests for more money, and to stop electing candidates from the "business as usual" sector of our establishment.

Don't vote for more bond money for these guys, and don't elect the selected successors to the current council. That's the only way we'll change this mess we're in.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2007 at 2:52 pm

It is still our city, not theirs. Don't burn down the house to get rid of the rats.

Posted by John, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2007 at 3:14 pm

"Don't burn down the house to get rid of the rats."


And don't built two houses, when only one is necessary. Defeat these two bonds, then support one that eliminates the Dowtown library branch and builds a police station in its place.

Posted by David D., a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 19, 2007 at 4:35 pm

It's interesting that most of the posters have already condemned the employee who was investigated. We still have a country where a person is innocent until proved guilty.

Also most are not addressing the fear an employee has if he/she is named in public when complaining about harassment. If the charges are baseless, he/she is likely to be freer from harassment. If the charges are found to be true, then disclosure of the complainant is appropriate.

I like the journalistic position Jay has taken and the reasons for it.

Posted by Hulkamania, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 19, 2007 at 5:27 pm

If our beloved Vice President can do it (energy taskforce attendees) why can't the city manager?

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 19, 2007 at 5:31 pm

"It's difficult to understand how our city, which used to be fairly well-run and was always scrupulously open and honest, has come to seem so a secretive and corrupt."

Easy answer: close, then open your eyes. It's a mirage, caused by those who live to feed on gossip and innuendo. The only scrupulous thing around her is the scrupulous nature of certain residents who won't be satisfied until they know how every minute of every city employee's time is spent, with a daily reporting out on the city website (which nobody will be able to find). There, I've offended everyone :)))

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 19, 2007 at 8:50 pm

I believe I was condemning a flawed process and the father of flaws.

Posted by fireman, a resident of another community
on Oct 20, 2007 at 12:34 pm

I think every place has rats, Most of these rats must hide from the light of day. Fearing they will be found out by the public or someone or some group who will not stand for there type of actions/leadership.
When these rats find a leader bold enough to try and steal the cheese from out of your had. These other rats rally behind him/her and feel it is there time to take over.
I think the few rats that have been living and working in The City of Palo Alto have found there leader. Mr Frank Benest
The City of Palo Alto has given me so very much. I paid them back with good service and a promise that I made to myself to do the best job I could. The City of Palo Alto once was a very good place to work. I always felt that I was lucky to work there. I would brag to my friends in the Fire Service about this.
[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

The City that had given me so much had now started to take everything away. The City did not start to do this and I think the City would not do this,however,there are people who lead/run this City and they will and have done this to me,other employees and the citizens of Palo Alto and it does not stop there.
Rats like this are a reason why Palo Alto,America and the world for that matter are not the places they should and could be. Left unchecked these rats will take over.

How much money can be saved by not writting a report? How expensive is paper? Since when does and why would an Attorney advise anyone not to write something down. In an investigation??? is that fish I smell??

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 21, 2007 at 8:27 pm

"Since when does and why would an Attorney advise anyone not to write something down."

Sad. There is a difference between full disclosure, and the compulsive reporting out of every gaffe - intended or not - that happens inside City Hall walls.

The press has a right to ask any question; it alsoo has a responsibility to weigh how much benefit will be gained from finding the answer to any one question.

Posted by a citizen, a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 22, 2007 at 10:34 am

I agree with the many commenters who say that Benest and the current council members must go. It is outrageous to devise a method to ensure that the results of an investigation, paid for with our money, into the actions of one of our employees, will be kept from us.
I believe we, the citizens of Palo Alto, do have a right to know of "every gaffe" committed by our employees. BTW, I was once a City employee myself.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2007 at 12:22 pm

Do stockholders know every inside detail within a corporation? No.

Granted, public agencies are supported by taxpayer dollars, but on available evidence it appears that most corporations run more efficiently than government. Might that be because corporate management - although properly burdened with some governmental and stockholder oversight - is not burdened by the same levels of meddling diligence desired by citizens who constantly whine about "how we know better".

Posted by Open-Access-Is-Good, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2007 at 2:09 pm

Someone wrote –
Do stockholders know every inside detail within a corporation? No.

Corporations do not have the power of a city government. There can be no comparison between the two. The purpose of a corporation is to manage assets and make a profit for the stockholders. If the stockholders cared to know every detail of the corporation's activities, they could impose that requirement on themselves vis--vis their corporate charter. There are no/few public laws that restrict corporations from revealing whatever level of detail to the stockholders that the stockholders care to know.

Transparent access to government information is a necessary lynch-pin in maintaining a level of honesty and integrity that will facilitate trust in the voters and residents. Given the city of Palo Alto's previous record of withholding "work product" from the city council and the public, generating even less paper by authorizing "oral reports" can only be seen as attempting to end-run any auditing of such matters after the fact. Such actions also make it difficult to understand how litigation against the city could be defended when the city officials could not produce documentation that contradicted the claims of someone suing the city (as in the case of a disgruntled employee).

The ball is in the council's court now. It will be interesting to see if any of the current crop of council candidates will be having anything to say about this—such as the one who is promoting "open government" on his campaign flyer.

Posted by Davey, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 22, 2007 at 2:13 pm

Mike's argument for less public access to what the city is doing is another way of letting Frank Benest say "Trust Me". With respect, given the utility scandal and other incidents mentioned in this thread, I don't hink Benest merits that level of blind trust.

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2007 at 2:55 pm

I'm not arguing for less access; I'm arguing for "reasonable access". This town is way overboard in the way that its citizens think they should be involved in municipal operations. The level of diligence desired by some is absurd.

There is a difference between transparent government, and government weighed down with the unreasonable desire to know *everything* that goes on at management level, including the press.

Why don't we have teh Weekly, Daily and the same meedling core of citizens here review all applications for employment, and stand on hiring committees? The latter, especially, would be enthralled by this prospect. Wanna bet?

Posted by Mike, a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 22, 2007 at 2:56 pm

btw, we often hear from those who cry "universal transparency" that "government is inefficient". Gee, I wonder why?

Posted by Davey, a resident of Southgate
on Oct 22, 2007 at 3:04 pm

Given the performance of some employees hired through the existing processes - including particularly the top management of the City - I would think review by any "meedling" core of random citizens would produce better results.

People are asking for more transparency because our city government is self-evidently inefficient,sometimes corrupt, and is and not correcting itself on either measure.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and the city needs a major dose of it. This is why we're seeing the posts in this thread that we are.

Posted by Open-Access-Is-Good, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2007 at 7:30 pm

Someone wrote –
we often hear from those who cry "universal transparency"
that "government is inefficient"
These two points are not mutually exclusive. If all of the meaningful records were on-line and accessible via a reasonable search engine, then there would be no issue of lack of transparency and lack of efficiency.

A commitment to e-Government would go a long way to solving the basic complaints about lack of transparency. Recently, the San Jose City Council approved the recommendations of a "sunshine task force" which was convened after several incidents resulted in the removal of the San Jose Mayor. While this task for is still working, it came up with a number of initial recommendations which Palo Alto could do well to implement also. The most important point was that of an on-line calendar for many of the topic officials and managers. Having this sort of openness would go a long way to dealing with transparency. Once implemented, the cost of maintaining such a calendar would be minimal.

Posted by Fireman, a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Mike; This is not Berlin 1940, You once asked for substance and the truth. Then you choked on it. Could not handle it. For many the truth is very inconvient.
You want to compare Private companys to Public Government. That is like compareing apples to elephants.
If this City was a Private Company it would have been out of money and history a long time ago. I think several people might be looking out from behind bars. Enron?
You also like to stretch issues to make them look like something differant. You will try to compare living in Palo Alto to living on Mars if you think I will get you some where.
You like Frank so much,He is your buddy. Well then let him run your life. Trust him? Good luck.
You sure beleive in or like to hide things.
I think it is time for you to turn to channel 101. Lost in space is on.

Posted by Charles Foster Kane, a resident of another community
on Nov 29, 2007 at 1:28 pm

The absence of an oral report means that the employees making the harassment complaints are prevented from verifying whether their comments to the investigator have been accurately reported, and learning whether any other person interviewed by the investigator has made comments that the complainants believe to be false.

Journalists learn to report the Who, What, When, Where, and How (and sometimes the Why) of a story.

The Weekly article says that the investigator was hired on June 13, 2007, and that there were complaints from three employees.

Missing from the story are the dates of the alleged harassments and what the high-ranking person was alleged to have done.

It would be helpful for the public to know those additional details to be able to place in context the decision to have an oral report.

I realize the Weekly may believe that reporting those details could identify the Weekly's source(s) to the City Manager, the City Attorney, and the accused manager if only one of the three employees who complained of harassment is willing to provide the date and substance of the alleged harassment, or if there were more employees harassed than the three employees whose complaints initiated the investigation.

But the details would better inform the public.

I might even put it on page one of my newspaper.

By the way, you might be interested in my opinion of the recent Council election:


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