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By Steve Levy

Public Service when you Work for a Large Organization

Uploaded: Dec 6, 2015

This topic has come up currently with regard to public service by employees of Palantir. But such public service has a long history in Palo Alto and is the topic is broader than the current discussion. While many have served as appointees, some council members have been employees of these organizations.

I welcome the past public service by employees of H-P, Stanford and other large local organizations. I believe Palo Alto has benefited from the willingness of these residents to give back to the community.

I think employees, particularly if they sit on the council and have decision making authority, should recuse themselves whenever their organization has a proposal before the city. And I think that is done regularly by appointed and elected employees. Moreover, when there is the potential for a conflict of interest, the city attorneys can and do contact the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) to get an opinion.

Moreover, unless the employee is in higher management, it is unlikely that they have any influence over organizational decisions. After all, for example, Stanford has many employees, far more than anyone else in town I believe, and it is hard to believe that a professor or doctor at Stanford, doing public service in the city, would make decisions or allow their management to tell them how to vote. In any event all such employees have to recuse themselves from Stanford related decisions so the issue would not come up.

As for the people from Palantir named in the Weekly blogs, I know all of the city appointees. One (Mila) with her degree from the Rhode Island School of Design applied to the Art Commission, her personal passion. How this constitutes an attempt by Palantir to take over the city escapes me. Another (Mehdi) sits on the Human Relations Commission, his personal passion. A third (Bob) sits on the Traffic Management Association and is working hard to get Caltrain go passes for low wage employees who work downtown.

I did not make time when I was young and raising a family to do what they are doing. Their service brightens my hope for our future and none of these positions deal with land use, zoning or large expenditures of money. Why is this not a good thing and where is any evidence that such service poses a conflict.

Kate Downing (her husband works for Palantir) and Eric Rosenblum sit on the Planning and Transportation although I believe Eric was appointed before he joined Palantir. The PTC, while not having decision making authority, does deal with land use and zoning issues in an advisory capacity.

Kate and Eric do not participate in decisions related to Palantir just as Tom DuBois and Eric (both with wives working at Stanford) do not participate in decisions relating to Stanford.

My own take on this is that posters who do not like the advice that the PTC is giving are, without any evidence of wrongdoing, maligning Kate and Eric.

Disagreement over policy is one thing. Unsubstantiated personal attacks on council or appointed volunteers serving our community should stop.

If working for Palantir is a barrier to public service, then certainly working for Stanford or H-P or other larger organizations should be and that would deprive Palo Alto of a great and longstanding source of volunteer expertise.