News

Cordell reflects on four years of council service

Next up is book, pro bono work and her Stanford University day job

LaDoris Cordell didn't think she'd make it through her first two years on the Palo Alto City Council.

Recovering from unanticipated back surgery when she was elected in November 2003, Cordell had to campaign to change state law to allow her -- a Stanford University employee -- to serve on the council.

After her soul line-dancing inauguration, Cordell then found herself the only new member on a council that was deeply divided -- even "dysfunctional," she said.

"The tensions were palpable," said Cordell, 58, who recently reflected on her four years on the council -- and shared drawings she created while behind the dais.

The 2004 council was in the midst of the Downtown North traffic-barrier morass, which highlighted the personality clashes between council members. Members orated copiously but failed to work together toward solutions, Cordell said.

And, if that wasn't enough, the democratic process wasn't Cordell's gig. An adviser to Stanford President John Hennessy, Cordell had recently stepped down after 18 years as a Santa Clara County Municipal and Superior Court judge.

"I could tell you to be quiet when I wanted," Cordell said.

But on the council she had to sit quietly and listen -- listen to residents opposing new development projects, residents angry with the police and most anyone talk about most anything. Not to mention listening to her colleagues opine.

So, Cordell said, she exercised her mediating prowess, honed on the Family Court, to try to broker peace on the council.

She can't pinpoint how she did it, but coming in without the political baggage of her colleagues, and as a respected community leader, helped, she said.

She didn't lecture or adopt a holier-than-thou demeanor.

"I think it was just an attitude and approach I took," Cordell said. "We're going to take the high road."

Cordell said her first motion was to take down the Downtown North barricades, the source of sharp community conflict.

"I knew that was the right thing," Cordell said.

City government alone didn't cause the town's tensions, though. A provocative local newspaper, The Daily News under the ownership of Dave Price, was also to blame, she said.

The paper provided "a primer on how to sow seeds of discord," Cordell said.

She refused to speak to Daily News reporters, a practice she has recently amended following the sale of the Daily News to Knight Ridder and eventually to MediaNews Corp.

By 2006, the mood and efficacy of the council had improved significantly, Cordell said. The passage of time and a new mix of members changed the council's dynamics.

"The second two years felt very good," Cordell said. "City government (was) functioning the way it ought to function."

Cordell began pushing to enact measures to improve government transparency, a cause in which she firmly believes.

Cordell said she strongly supports Police Chief Lynne Johnson, whom she believes was attacked unfairly because she is a woman, and City Attorney Gary Baum, whom she said epitomizes integrity.

She also enjoyed working with City Manager Frank Benest, who has a national professional reputation, Cordell said.

During her tenure, the city enacted a no-gifts policy for council members and prevented lobbying on the upcoming refuse contract. But it didn't pass a campaign-finance measure spearheaded by Cordell and Councilman Peter Drekmeier.

She said she regrets that her donation-free campaigning didn't catch on in Palo Alto.

"I thought I could set an example that would trickle down," Cordell said.

In the last election, all of the successful candidates raised money. Cordell said she's often told a low-budget campaign only worked for her because she had widespread name and reputation recognition as a longtime judge and community attorney.

She also would have liked to open Foothills Park to non-residents, a task she hopes the next council will take up.

Cordell said she has no regrets about her service, but she wishes a woman would have followed in her place. The 2008 council will have eight men and one woman, current Mayor Yoriko Kishimoto.

She offered concise advice for the incoming council members: Don't abstain.

"It's tough being a decider," Cordell said, yet that is exactly what the council members are elected to do. Frequent abstentions haven't been a problem, she said; it's just something about which she feels strongly.

Cordell said she also hopes the city will continue to reach out to East Palo Alto and support the financing of a new public-safety building.

Cordell, a mother of two grown daughters, never anticipated serving more than one term and did not run for re-election.

"(I said) 'I'll do this for four years,'" Cordell said. "That's it. I've given it my all."

She now plans to focus on life with her partner, Florence Keller, and pay more attention to her job at Stanford.

Of course, that isn't all.

Cordell's writing a book about her career as a judge, serving as a legal expert for the media and attempting to free a woman sent to prison on a non-violent third-strike conviction. She's also an accomplished classical pianist and artist who loves soul line-dancing.

While she sat on the bench, Cordell made all sorts of drawings that were exhibited publicly. Cordell continued the practice on the council and has released some of her drawings to the Weekly.

She drew nearly everything in sight in the Council Chambers -- her hand, Bluetooth, microphone and even neighbor Drekmeier's leg.

The drawings convey a sense of the length of the meetings; her hand, for example, is shaded with hundreds of precisely placed dots.

And as her term wound down, Cordell's sense of humor took over. She drafted a set of rules for future council meetings: no more PowerPoint presentations, no repetition of comments and curtailing the remarks of constant council watchers Herb Borock and Bob Moss.

She also crafted report cards for each of the departing council members, based on her own criteria -- including posture.

Councilman Bern Beecham earned good grades, but in the comment section she urged him to shave off his beard. Councilwoman Dena Mossar was dinged for her occasional absences for attending regional and national meetings, earning a C for attendance and a D- for talking too much. And Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg scored a D in the "verbiage" category for her frequent comments.

And Cordell herself?

Straight A's, of course. And, in the comment section: "Don't do this again!"

Comments

Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2007 at 12:40 pm

Some interesting points in this story:

1)"Members orated copiously but failed to work together toward solutions, Cordell said."
Boy if that doesn't sum up our city councils past and present. They love to hear themselves talk especially when it involves praising each other

2) "And, if that wasn't enough, the democratic process wasn't Cordell's gig. "
I find that statemnet quite shocking and disturbing--If Cordell cannot be part of the democratic process then she should not have run for office. Also as a judge you are bound by democratic principles--this is not some third world countries where judges do whatever they please. Shame on her.

3) "City government alone didn't cause the town's tensions, though. A provocative local newspaper, The Daily News under the ownership of Dave Price, was also to blame, she said."

Naturally it was not our city government to blame for the inability to address city issues, said a member of said government. Don;t look for scapegoats for your incompetence LaDoris


4)"Councilman Bern Beecham earned good grades, but in the comment section she urged him to shave off his beard. Councilwoman Dena Mossar was dinged for her occasional absences for attending regional and national meetings, earning a C for attendance and a D- for talking too much. And Councilwoman Judy Kleinberg scored a D in the "verbiage" category for her frequent comments."

Here we have the kettle calling the pot black.

Good bye LaDoris and good riddance.




Posted by Citizen, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Not so fast - Excellent quotes and comments. Top quality work.


Posted by Iva Ketch, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2007 at 1:34 pm




Follow-up to: Some interesting points in this story:

1)"Members orated copiously but failed to work together toward solutions, Cordell said." Umm, that is called Bolshevism

2) Palo Alto ain't supposed to be some West Africa Slaughter House Dictatorship were your Ms. Cordell way is the only way.

3) Sweetie, it is called a free press not www.english.pravda.ru

4) There are good teachers and there are bad teachers - Simply Corddell should not teach.

Here we have the kettle calling the pot black. - Stands on its own merits. No Comment necessary

Good bye LaDoris and good riddance. - Yup, I think Fidel Castro needs a guest host in a few weeks, are you up for the gig?

Iva Ketch


Posted by Anna, a resident of Southgate
on Dec 4, 2007 at 1:39 pm

I also agree with Not so fast. We're well rid of Cordell and her haughty high-handedness that may have served her well in the courtroom, but are completely out of place on an elected body.

I was especially offended by Cordell placing blame on a newspaper (the "old" Daily News) for discord on the council and in the community. I for one, miss the Daily New's coverage - which did not so much sow discord in the community as highlight it in a way that got it into the open - where it might be dealt with through the democratic processes in town. (We miss that kind of coverage now.)

Cordell's refusal to talk to one of the two papers in town (even while providing paid commentary to cable stations during the Scott Peterson circus) only reinforces her image as an out of touch elitist who can't stand up to criticism, let alone be an effective representative in a democratic system.

Good Riddance indeed.


Posted by Not so fast, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2007 at 1:58 pm

BTW--this seems to be a continuing series in the PA Weekly--retiring council members are given a forum to sing their own praises. A fewmonths ago we had Mossar's farewell article (remember her "finest" accomplishment, according to her, was the Homer Avenue tunnel boondogle)

I cannot wait to read Bern's piece


Posted by Palo Alto Place, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 2:28 pm

In any case, Cordell would not have won re-election. She was smart to quit on top.



Posted by The Real Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2007 at 4:15 pm

NSF,

I have disagreed with Council member Cordell many times, and dispute many of her concluding remarks in the Weekly; they're too self-serving at the expense of others.

I've also not cared for the Councilwoman's grandstanding on social issues, and her generalizing of small failures - committed by one or two persons organizations that often numbered in the several thousand of thousands - to overreaching condemnation of those organizations as racist, etc. I think she crossed that line one two many times.

This is being written by someone (me) who thinks racism in any form is abhorrent, and most despicable.

That said, she put in the time and did her best in a job that is exceedingly difficult. It is not easy to be pummeled in the press - and in person - for the political decisions one makes, or the views one holds.

I did find many of Councilwoman Cordell's positions to be heartfelt, and courageous. I remember her sensitivity to the landscapers during the time when the leaf-blower options were debated.

I also appreciated her dressing down of persons who DID cross the line into racism. She held no truck with that.

THere are many other examples that reflect positively on Councilwoman Cordell's performance. In all, she wasn't a failure. I'd make her grade a "C". with a special note that "she tried hard".

And, I wish her well.


Posted by Dennis, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2007 at 8:41 pm

When she was a Superior Court judge, Cordell was known among those with knowledge of "the system" as arrogant, self-righteous, and given to tirades towards those she considered her inferiors in status. The same arrogance, etc is reflected in the bloviations contained in the article. She may (or may not) be a "respected community leader", but that (if true)only reflects a "community" that does not know her.


Posted by Politics-Is-No-Place-For-This-Judge, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2007 at 10:25 pm

Cordell seems to change her stories as frequently as she changes her moods:
---
Web Link

Let me finally say this: that whenever I was asked by the media — be it newspaper, television or radio — to have something televised or publicized, I never declined a request unless the law prohibited the proceeding being a public meeting, because I am a firm believer in the First Amendment. I am a firm advocate of government that is transparent. The reason for that is, if you have a system that is not transparent, that means you are not accountable to the public, and a system that is not accountable is ripe for corruption. I bring that same attitude with me to city government. I believe in transparency. I believe that anything I do, I have to be able explain it to you and you will know about it. That's fair government . . . .
---
Then to the Weekly in this most recent piece she says:

She refused to speak to Daily News reporters, a practice she has recently amended following the sale of the Daily News to Knight Ridder and eventually to MediaNews Corp.
---

The Daily News did criticize Cordell, and for good reason. She responded more like a wounded creature--than the First Amendment supporter that she painted herself to be to the Standford Daily back in 2003.

So much for Cordell's belief in "Fair Government".


Posted by Institutional Memory, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2007 at 12:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by astounded, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Dec 6, 2007 at 10:35 pm

I wonder if she would have noted her lack of patience for the democratic process if she had decided to seek re-election?

was it lack of understanding about what the job required or simply a queen or hearts ego?

one would hope that future refections from her peers who are moving on will rise above a temptation of public grading of their peers

brilliance and verbal skills alone do not make a leader


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2007 at 12:20 am

Regardless of one's agreement or disagreement with our council member's performance (or perhaps more accurately, her personality), the article by the Weekly was a proper and polite piece giving respect and thanks to someone who spent a phenomenal amount of time doing a thankless job for this city of highly opinionated people. The same goes for the previous article on Mossar.

It is very easy to criticize from the sidelines, but it takes enormous courage to run for office, form opinions on a wide range of issues that come before the council, and stand behind those opinions with some form of rationale.... whether you agree or not with those opinions.

Based on the personal criticism that's been posted above, who in their right mind would ever want to run for office in this town? How is it possible that any city council could be productive and effective with such an audience waiting to cut them at their knees for the slightest misstep?

ok, now it's your turn to pile on me for deigning to suggest that courtesy and manners are still important.



Posted by Institutional Memory, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 7, 2007 at 3:42 am

Hmmm -- two of my posts here have been deleted ... all I attempted to do is give the reason why LaDoris won't talk to the other paper in town ... all of it is documented by the public record ... and i criticized the Weekly ...

My guess is that the Weekly won't allow criticism of itself on its web site. It refuses to print critical letters in its print edition unless the author makes a fool of himself.

I'd like an explanation as to why my posts, which are completely supported by public records (found online, noless) were deleted.


Posted by joan, a resident of Stanford
on Dec 7, 2007 at 9:32 am



Cordell had no chance of being reelected as she had alienated so many many voters and colleagues.

However, she will remain a legend in her own mind.



Posted by Tyler Hanley, online editor of Palo Alto Online
on Dec 7, 2007 at 2:36 pm

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The deletions of comments on this thread were made because they were defamatory and made accusations we cannot verify, or in some cases were simply rude, personal attacks. As an examination of many Town Square topics will show, comments critical of the Weekly are not removed, tempting as it is! The same applies to letters to the editor.


Posted by The Real Anna, a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2007 at 2:47 pm

Tyler, that's quite fair, and well-stated.

It should be noted that we are all good people, at base. The problems we have with each other have to do with each one (or more) of our individual behaviors, and thus, our differences.

We should be able to explore differences and opinions about *behavior*, without castigating the essence of the *person*.

For instance, I may (and have) say that so-and-so is engaging in selfish behavior (relative to a point that is being made), but it's inappropriate to say that someone is a selfish *person*. The latter is very rare indeed, especially when considered from the vantage point of the person herself (or himself).

Thus, we can agree on behavior, as we should be agreeing on all of us being good, well-intended people that can - and do - have personal differences.

Some may disagree with what Councilwoman Cordell did (as I have) during her tenure on the Council; those things were representative of personal behaviors, but the person behind those behaviors has, within innumerable private and public moments, done much good.

It's not always easy to separate one's behavior from the person who commits that behavior, but it is a fact that all of us are far more than the sum total of the behaviors that we commit.


Posted by Politics-Is-No-Place-For-This-Judge, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 7, 2007 at 4:16 pm

Another of the "good works" of LaDoris Cordell is that of promoting the idea of "litmus tests" for Boards and Commission members, as this snippet from the Mercury News reminds us:

--
Web Link

Official urged to step down
Web Link

By Sharon Noguchi, Mercury News

Palo Alto City Councilwoman LaDoris Cordell wants the chairwoman of the city's human relations commission to resign for refusing to vote last week on a resolution supporting gay marriage.

Lakiba Pittman said she abstained from the vote -- which opposed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman -- because of her beliefs as a Christian. And she said she will not step down.
---

Sorry, but Cordell can not be seen as anything but an embarrassment to the people of Palo Alto.


Posted by Swami Alto, a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 7, 2007 at 4:51 pm

"Sorry, but Cordell can not be seen as anything but an embarrassment to the people of Palo Alto."

This is a perfect place to make an example in living:

What causes one to become embarrassed? There is no one answer to this, because we are all embarrassed by different things.

For instance, you may be embarrassed if I say something about the way you fumble with your fork as you try to lift some pasta off a plate in a restaurant, clumsily soiling your your new tweed.. Another person may find that same comment useful commentary, and helpful.

Thus, to claim that "we should all be embarrassed" is to wish that we were all the same as you, relative to embarrassment. This will not happen.

For it is written:
Embarrassment is not necessary; we need only to look inside ourselves, and know that we cannot be devalued by the actions of others"


Posted by Cordell admirer, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 8, 2007 at 12:54 pm

Cordell is always worth listening to. She is clear and succinct and intelligent. Although her occupation is more prestigious than all the other council members, she doesn't brag about her accomplishments. Some council people take every speaking opportunity to pat themselves on the back or brag about something.
I think she is an admirable person and a person of major accomplishments.


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