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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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Does Palo Alto City Hall have a new cover-up culture?

Uploaded: Sep 25, 2019
What is happening to Palo Alto’s officials, most notably City Manager Ed Shikada, who ordered all city employees not to talk to the press about a June 3 911 call involving a 54-year-old resident who said she was having a stroke. She was alone, ran outside to ask a neighborhood teen to call for help, and then her problems really stated. The paramedics arrived, but were told by the dispatcher to wait for police because she may have mental problems. The police finally arrived, eight minutes later, and one policewoman kept on asking her whether she had been drinking or was on drugs. The woman kept on begging paramedics and police to take her immediately to the hospital for help. It took 14 minutes before she was put into the ambulance.

The woman was then diagnosed as having had a seizure because of a brain tumor.

The Weekly reported this in its Friday, Sept. 20 edition, and I urge you to read it if you haven’t already (https://www.paloaltoonline.com/square/2019/09/20/on-the-ground-and-suffering-a-seizure-a-palo-alto-woman-pleaded-to-be-taken-to-the-hospital-but-police-kept-paramedics-from-helping-her-for-14-long-minutes).

Her case was totally mishandled by the dispatcher, the police and perhaps the paramedics for seemingly not insisting to the police that the woman needed help. And to have kept the paramedics away from the patient for 10 minutes because she may be mentally imbalanced is ludicrous, considering the woman was in her pajamas and slippers, without a purse, sitting on the ground in pain. How could the paramedics and police be afraid of a petite 54-year-old woman?

I am relieved that she lived.

But I want to discuss not only the policy and procedural rules that we not followed by the police, but also Shikada’s clampdown at city hall. He has insisted that no one at city hall talk to the press on this topic, including the police chief and the fire chief. This is a great concern to me, and I worry what it means for the future -- if the handling of situations like this is not fully corrected. And I wonder what stonewalling of the press means for the future transparency of our city government? Keeping things away from the press means the city is keeping things away from the people.

I’ve been a journalist for a long time, and for two decades I’ve been covering the Peninsula, particularly Palo Alto, as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. I worked for the Palo Alto Weekly, The Daily Post and the Palo Alto Daily News.

I can’t remember ever seeing such a total ban against press contact by the city managers or police chiefs. This is something new in Palo Alto.

Obviously, this was a situation where the city really screwed up a couple of times. The dispatcher called for the paramedics, but then within the next minute called the teenager q asking if the woman was mentally upset or had psychotic problems.

The teen said, maybe, but he wasn’t sure. The dispatcher called the police to tell them this might be a 5150 case (psychiatric issue rather than a medical problem), and that’s where all the troubles – and the delays – started. Why did the dispatcher call the teen back? Why did s/he keep the paramedics away? The city’s policy is for paramedics to stay away if there’s a violent situation is a threat or danger to them being hurt. That doesn’t seem to be relevant here. And none of the bystanders were asked to move away.

Why were the cameras on the police car not working and the voice recordings having problems?

Why did Shikada tell the press at first that only written questions would be answered? I was always reluctant to submit written questions because then there was no opportunity for a follow-up question, or a request for clarification. I’d submit a question at 9 a.m. and get a reply at 5 p.m. When I called back, the department chief had “gone home.”

This is not the way a smart city like ours should be operating. I thought we still believed in transparency and an open government.

Shikada and City Attorney Molly Stump, who worked on what to tell the newspapers, kept on changing their minds about what press questions they would answer. Doing so only suggests that they may have something to hide. I hope not, but that’s what one suspects when there is not free communication between the press and city officials.

I’ve been told that the city could be worried about a lawsuit from the woman, and therefore might be reluctant to answer press questions. Yet the city always has suits facing it, and while it’s not particularly fun to encounter and protect the city in these suits, most are about land issues or zoning issues, not how a police/paramedic call was handled. And does this suggest the city is going to remain silent on all lawsuits filed? What does that mean for Palo Alto.

The city was wrong in the way this case was handled. What would be wrong in admitting that, saying it is sorry to the 54-year-old whose life was may have been in jeopardy because she did not receive immediate treatment. We all make mistakes and it’s best if we admit them upfront.

And where is the city council on this? Mayor Eric Filseth, who received a call from the woman’s husband, said he had several conversations with Shikada, mostly about staging issues (the long delay of having the paramedics tending the woman because the police were asking her questions about her use of drugs and alcohol [she didn’t drink for 30 years). The other six council members were called by the Weekly for comment. Council members Liz Kniss, Aaron Fine and Greg Tanaka did not return the Weekly’s call. Alison Cormack declined to say how she had learned about the incident or what steps she thought the city should now take. Lydia Kou was concerned that she found out from the public, but not from city officials. Tom Dubois said he heard from those concerned about what happened, but still needs to find out more facts from city officials. This is the council’s responsibility to find out what happened, and why, and to make sure that procedures have been changed and in what ways they are being monitored.

The woman called the dispatchers on June 3. It is now the end of September and we know little more about what happened. Maybe it’s time to get the police-auditing firm to look into this.

What has prompted the lack of communication with the public? Perhaps it’s the culture at city hall; is it becoming a cover-up culture?

Anyone of us could be that person sitting on the street in pain, begging the paramedics to be taken to the hospital.

P.S. Sue Dremann was the Weekly reporter who wrote this story. She did an excellent job, in my opinion, and covered so many aspects quite thoroughly. Thank you,Sue!

Diana
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Comments

 +   14 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 25, 2019 at 5:36 pm

All the various points on this are valid and worth asking.

However, my comment here is why should a teen who had been asked to make a phone call be asked about whether it was a mental health issue.

1. Even if it was, should that have made a difference?

2. Should a teen be expected to diagnose or even give an opinion on whether it was a mental health issue? A teen, possibly as young as 13, has no life experience to discern whether it is a mental health issue. I doubt if I would be able to give a valid opinion on whether something is a mental health issue.


 +   12 people like this
Posted by DIana Diamond, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 25, 2019 at 7:02 pm

DIana Diamond is a registered user.

Resident --
You are asking good questions. I still am concerned about why the dispatcher called this teen and then asked him the question whether she was mentally unstable -- with all courtesy to the teenage, most of us could not discern if a person was having a stroke or a seizure. And why is the decision up to this one dispatcher? And why did the paramedics have to stay a block away?

Diana


 +   18 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 12:10 am

In another topic on this mess, it was stated "Ofc. Clausen conducted an illegal search of the home and personal belongings of he woman and did so when there was no evidence that the woman had violated any ordinance or law."

This warrants a complete investigation and appropriate disciplinary action if it's an isolated incident. If this is standard practice, it must be changed.

Could you get try to get some answers to this,

And we must keep up the pressure on city manager and city council for substantive answers. The stonewalling is absolutely outrageous,


 +   5 people like this
Posted by Classaction, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 9:26 am

At Diana, the CYA culture is not new but it is escalating as the errors and violations become larger and more harmful to our citizens. Someone really needs to take a focus and expose the extreme corruption and financial irresponsibility in education particularly focusing on special education and the historically underrepresented minorities lower income students . There is tremendous in equity and how program support services are made accessible to these marginalized students . The data I'm being a top school is manipulated in many ways they fighting a ways to exclude poor performing students but either forcing them away from the district or tagging them in special ed or some other category so they do not get averaged in with the main performance numbers. The graduation rates or 40% lower.

There is no transparency in the number of OCR cases. There is no integrity among the school board as they run on the platform and acting 180° of what they tell the citizens. The teachers and the admin staff do this as well. There is no transparency in the number of OCR cases. There is no integrity among the school board as they run on a platform and and one elected make decisions 180° of what they told the citizens they would do. Just one example are the “me too raises". Another is the dishonesty in managing student records and making unauthorized changes as well as making delays and losing paperwork and not providing it to parents or public disclosure's until after the legal place is closed preventing proof of wrongdoing and perjury are to be presented. There are dozens of violations for our special education students that caused real permanent harm and Is that a for filling the 504 and their IDEA responsibilities they create lifelong dependent citizens with mental health issues due to the trauma from the school. The list goes on, it's like trump the more you look the more you find the scandal of the week. If a reporter or a group of reporters did some investigating and met with some of the anonymous tipsters from “School and Children in Town Square," you would get a lot of valid data about the corruption and in moral behavior and legal attacks performed by people our tax dollars are funding that needs to be exposed. This is like in the two children in cages.

Unfortunately no one cares and the damage, violations and civil rights lawlessness continues against our neediest students and families. Take for example the brave parrot that spoke at one of the June school board meetings that had an automatic renewal to the schools lawyers the tech special ed and are paid the most out of all the deck of lawyers the school board keeps on retainer reaching up to$1 million a year, a number of the families attacked and to be made an example of have no resources. And these lawyers advise the school not to even make a reasonable offer to families forcing them into due process where they automatically get a minimum of $150,000 not including the rest of the expenses for witness prep. It's hard to get exact figures and a complete picture of how much the school spends against each case because they automatically close public request for information without any follow up, so information is circulated word-of-mouth by families attacked and leaks.

I am only one of them , and what they tell me is 100% different than what they document and what they do. Official meetings and discussions, even if recorded, still make it so you were unable to trust any agreement. When your back is up against the wall they often agree then later cancel style change strip the wording so that you end up back where you started, and that makes it unsafe for my children in school. Unsafe against the administration teachers and health staff hired as my child's request for help are treated in the stand and not following through on, somehow they always forget and make some excuse. Once other students observe school staff treatment leads a student this way, the bullying, ridicule, lack of inclusion and locker room pranks again that are not isolated to the school campus, but anywhere that child is seen in the community. Making the child fearful and a stressful so even if an exchange is not going to be negative, the student assumes it will be and is defensive. This is so extensive that leads to slandering and the family and ostracizing, making our voices ignored and labeling us as a family with issues among teachers staff and others, in order to prevent State and Federal violations to be made public . They even tried to bribe me to drop an investigation. When I refused my child was retaliated against. They tried multiple times to have my child change his statement by calling him into scary meetings, with up to five administrators, in the store room without my permission at age 11.

PS on another note Diana, did you work at the Fair Housing organization and Escondido in 1983, I was a Stanford work-study student then? I asked because in a previous article you described investigations that I participated in when I first arrived in the Bay Area as a freshman.


 +   8 people like this
Posted by TorreyaMan, a resident of Palo Verde,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 10:18 am

TorreyaMan is a registered user.

Thank you Diana, I totally agree with you.


 +   14 people like this
Posted by Cover up culture, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 11:12 am

Is there a cover up culture? The answer is yes.


 +   7 people like this
Posted by Los Altan, a resident of Los Altos,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 12:30 pm

You think Palo Alto has a cover up culture?
Perhaps, through contagion, they acquired it from neighboring Los Altos!
Check out the shenanigans there, the lawsuits against the City and the "public servants" that work at City Hall there, the former Mayor (Jean Mordo) support for the City Manager and his enabling of those shenanigans and corrupt culture, irate residents that are speaking up and out, the investigation into the City Manager by the State AG's Office in Oregon and the FBI...

Time for us taxpayers to demand and get nothing less than the transparency we have a right to!


 +   8 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Sure, there's a cover-up culture that's been going on way too long and it's getting more blatant. But what to do about it? How do you get a SUBSTANTIVE responses from the City Council members that really addresses the issues?


 +   7 people like this
Posted by No trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 4:54 pm

There is also a “sense of entitlement" culture from the PA weekly. Their ego has grown so,large they think that everyone owes them interviews and and explanations. I think that city hall does not trust the weekly to,provide unbiased coverage, given their track record in recent years to favor certain of the city “elite" in their coverage and editorials (I.e. maybell project, trailer park, persky affair etc).
Let us be clear, city hall does not owe bill johnson and the weekly a thing. I am sure that city hall has discussed this with the city attorney and despite Johnson's demands, they have been advised not to talk with the PA Enquirer.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Mike H, a resident of Professorville,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 5:31 pm

Mike H is a registered user.

Wow, No Trust, you sound just like a certain President who doesn't like the press who look into the administration's affairs.

I rely on the local press (read PA Weekly) to keep me informed about what's going on locally, especially with local government (city, schools, etc.), which is why I voluntarily contribute to the Weekly to aid in this mission. One of the real tests of a democracy is the degree of freedom of the press, outweighing in the vast majority of the cases the privacy demanded by governments, especially when they are screwing up.

When you say that city hall doesn't owe the Weekly anything, you're really saying it doesn't owe me -- or any other reader/citizen -- anything in terms of disclosure. On that, you'll get a vehement disagreement.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by No trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Mike h- actually you and bill johnson sound just like a certain president who thinks he is entitled to everything .
Nice that you donate to the weekly. At least someone does- considering the constant stream of emails that I get and the pop ups asking for money, I would have thought that the weekly was on the verge of going under.
Have you considered the idea that the city attorney has advised city hall not to talk to,the press. I do not hear the daily post and the mercury news whining about not getting information. Perhaps this is just a big production number by the weekly to drum up sympathy for the weekly ?
Of and the weekly has been involved in its share of attempted cover ups ( when it suited their interests )" I.e. children's theater, Karen Holman finders fees etc.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Midtown Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 5:53 pm

There is no doubt in my mind that the City screwed up big time, that they telegraphed their confusion in several ways, and that the response team was effectively dysfunctional for several important minutes, and that they finally went into rescue mode with great fear. However, having called 911 for a medical emergency recently in Palo Alto, I can say that the response people have to go through an amazingly complicated series of checks and cross communications on the spot under considerable uncertainty at various stages to know a) what is really happening (no one knows, at first including the victim), b) what is the appropriate response (what hospital?, who can deal with the problem?, is time a problem?), and c) can they in fact carry out the selected plan under the extant real world circumstances (is traffic a problem, does the hospital have a problem, such as being hopelessly crowded at the moment, like Stanford was for me). Keep in mind that the operating system is compartmentalized to a large extent) nobody KNOWS the answers, the City Attorney is not on the scene to protect everyone from liability, and they don't have all the time in the world to make a decision. This is a case that obviously stumped everyone.. It is more important to get a solution to the underlying generic response problem than to give off progressive comments as to everyone's estimate of how to work out what to do the next time. The press may be a little too eager to find a villain, when in fact there may be no bad guys in this case.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by No trust, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 6:12 pm

Let me clarify. I think this whole incident was a fiasco. The police acts wrongly in this matter and the matter needs to be fully investigated and conclusions drawn.
My issue is with johnson and weekly marching in and trying to take ,the spotlight away from the main issue and putting it on the weekly and their “look how we are being abused by city hall, send donations for local,journalism" mentality.
And es, midtown resident, the weekly is looking for a villain. If you follow their editorials and stories there is always a “villain" they are exposing ( yay local,journalism)


 +   9 people like this
Posted by Fred Balin, a resident of College Terrace,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 6:41 pm

Fred Balin is a registered user.

"Perhaps it's the culture at city hall; is it becoming a cover-up culture?"

Data point:

Three weeks ago I released my competed investigation with regard to Planning and Transportation Commissioner Michael Alcheck 's “carport caper," an intrigue that spanned three years during which the city remained almost completely mum. Web Link

In the introduction, I write that "the city too often responded with acquiescence, passivity, secrecy, and even shielding." The latter two failings assumed their private, center stage, after Alcheck installed roll-up garage doors at his two residential properties without submitting applications or plans or receiving a permit. Neighbors complained to the city and the doors were removed, ... temporarily.

It was also clear at that point what the end game plan had been all along, and it had to be an embarrassment for the city. More so if it were revealed that sections of the municipal code that impacted his economic interests in those two properties were quickly coming to public hearings before the commission, where Alcheck would have an obvious conflict of interest. But former City Manager James Keene, former Planning Director Hillary Gitelman, and current City Attorney Molly Stump made the decision to keep that and other relevant matters under wraps.

By the time I learned about parts of story and released those detail details, and then the Weekly added more a week later, it would be too late for the city council to stop the conversions. The city protected Alcheck's interests rather than the public's.

Yes, it was a coverup.


 +   11 people like this
Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 6:50 pm

I'm grateful to the Weekly for their reporting of this fiasco and for allowing the discussions to continue without their often heavy-handed moderation -- going so far as to delete posts that simply named officials and candidates -- and caused many of us to cancel our paid registrations.

I'm so impressed that I'm going to RE-Register. We need a strong local media to shine light on what's happening here. We might have voted better in the last election if the Weekly had allowed more substantive discussions, candidate questions, etc.

The stonewalling by City Hall and some council members and commissioners is ludicrous and counter-productive.


 +   9 people like this
Posted by jim, a resident of Community Center,
on Sep 26, 2019 at 10:11 pm

A city manager that doesn't communicate to the community and not even to the City Council. Outrageous that Lydia Kou learned about this from the public and the city manager would only take written questions. Is he a dictator? Doesn't he represent the community first?

Perhaps he should be fired and replaced. He is our last line of defense against bad city policies and poorly executed departments. This is why he makes a VERY good salary. Not to hide stuff and confuscate.


 +   5 people like this
Posted by JerryD, a resident of Barron Park,
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Looks like Palo Alto City Officials have a lot in common with the Trump Administration, especailly now that Trump ordered the "lock down" of an incriminating phone call. Shikada, Stump and chief Jonsen lock down Moore's videos.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Los Altan, a resident of Los Altos,
on Sep 27, 2019 at 12:03 pm

In reference to the cover up culture and contagion from Los Altos:

Read the opinion piece by Dave Price in the other Palo Alto publication, the PA Daily post, concerning the cover up culture and non-accountability of public servants in Los Altos. Web Link

When can we see City Councils in Palo Alto and Los Altos acting to protect the public's interests and rights and hold accountable those individuals who ask for special treatment (at cost of others' rights) or see themselves as above the law?


 +  Like this comment
Posted by SB, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Sep 29, 2019 at 4:45 pm

You state in your article, "Why were the cameras on the police car not working and the voice recordings having problems?"

Have you been informed by someone in authority at the city that the camera did not actually work or are you assuming that it did not work for based upon all of the other articles including the one on September 24, Web Link
no one has been informed as to why there are no body cam and patrol car cam videos and for that matter no GPS data either.
Could you clarify.




 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 1, 2019 at 10:45 am

Obviously, there was a lot more to this than was originally apparent. And, if it is true that the CC first learned about it from the newspapers, if I were on the CC, Shikada would be looking for a new job. This fiasco played out over a long period of time and Shikada could have addressed it responsibly. Instead, we have this. It sounds like the old Soviet Union: "We never make mistakes." The opposite of the way things should work in a -liberal- society. Why does the CC allow this to continue?

Here's hoping the -next- City Council appoints a City Manager who fosters transparency instead of CYA.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Oct 4, 2019 at 8:43 am

I have attempted yesterday and today to comment on your latest blog, Caltrain crossings, but there is something wrong and the comments cannot be posted.



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