Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 9, 2008

New City Council has fewer Stanford conflicts

Larry Klein takes third turn as mayor in 25 years, choice of Palo Alto vice mayor debated

by Becky Trout

A new Palo Alto City Council assembled for the first time Monday night, swearing in its four recently elected members and selecting a mayor, Larry Klein, and a vice mayor, Peter Drekmeier.

Seven minutes after 7 p.m., in one of her last acts as mayor, Yoriko Kishimoto rapped the dais with her little-used gavel, and several hundred people, some standing along the rear walls, grew quiet.

City Clerk Donna Rogers stepped forward, swearing in new council members Pat Burt, Sid Espinosa, Greg Schmid and Yiaway Yeh.

The four men replaced outgoing members Judy Kleinberg, Dena Mossar, LaDoris Cordell (who nabbed her name tag on the way out as a souvenir) and Bern Beecham, leaving Kishimoto in the midst of eight men.

"I believe as the only woman I get 50 percent of the votes," Kishimoto said, eliciting laughs from the crowd and her colleagues.

The gender imbalance is one of the most striking aspects about the new council. With Espinosa, 35, and Yeh, 29, it is also younger.

Two of the new members — Burt and Schmid — have a strong interest in land use, but the new council will be without Mossar's environmental leadership, Kleinberg's emphasis on disaster preparedness, Beecham's knowledge of water and electricity and Cordell's focus on high ethical standards.

The council also loses two lawyers — Kleinberg and Cordell — gaining a high-tech businessman (Burt), a public policy consultant (Yeh), an economist (Schmid) and a philanthropy executive (Espinosa).

And, perhaps most importantly, the council now has eight members who can vote on Stanford issues. In 2007, Mossar, Klein and Cordell had to recuse themselves due to their connections with the university, giving the remaining members additional influence.

The importance of the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions came into focus Monday, as the new council had its first difference of opinion — about who should be its vice mayor.

The council unanimously elected Larry Klein, 69, as mayor. As vice mayor under Kishimoto, he was widely expected to be the city's next elected leader. Klein returned to the council in 2006, after serving twice as mayor in 1984 and 1989.

But the vice mayor seat was contested by Peter Drekmeier and John Barton.

Espinosa and Yeh sided with Barton, citing his extensive experience as an elected official and skill at running meetings.

But Barton, an architect, teaches at Stanford University. And although he receives no pay, there is a perceived conflict of interest, Kishimoto said.

"It just seems very important that we avoid that perception since Stanford is going to be a very important part of the next year," Kishimoto said.

Councilman Jack Morton said he was also concerned about Barton's teaching connection.

Barton said he received the advice of at least five government attorneys, all of whom agreed he does not have a conflict.

"I think that in all of those 11 years of (elected) service I've acted in an ethical manner," said Barton, a former school board member. He noted that he has recused himself on some issues even when he didn't have to.

But six council members voted for Drekmeier, whom Kishimoto called a "natural-born leader."

Following the vote, Barton gave Drekmeier a congratulatory hug and asked his colleagues to vote again, to unanimously support Drekmeier. They did.

Launching his term as mayor, Klein cited the top five issues facing the council: the selection of a new city manager, climate protection, improving the libraries, constructing a new public-safety building and the Stanford Medical Center and Shopping Center expansions.

"It's not time for any new initiatives. For me, it's for taking care of business," Klein said.

He had intended to play the song "Takin' Care of Business" by Bachman Turner Overdrive Monday night, but that would have required paying royalties, Klein said.

Unprompted, Drekmeier belted out a line of the refrain then shrugged nonchalantly as his colleagues and the audience burst into laughter.

The council will begin "taking care of business" Saturday at its retreat at the Lucie Stern Community Center. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Fireside Room.

Staff Writer Becky Trout can be e-mailed at btrout@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by conflict?, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 9, 2008 at 9:40 am

Drekmeier has more of a conflict than Barton. He has lobbied against Stanford for several years for his various environmental causes. I guess its only a conflict in PA if the majority disagrees with you.


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