http://paloaltoonline.com/print/story/print/2009/09/18/guest-opinion-endorsements-8212-conflict-of-interest-or-union-bashing


Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - September 18, 2009

Guest Opinion: Endorsements — 'conflict of interest' or union bashing?

by LaDoris Cordell

As the Palo Alto City Council race gets into high gear, at least two candidates have placed the issue of conflict of interest front and center.

They have pointedly declined to seek the endorsement of Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, whose membership includes the great majority of Palo Alto city employees. The candidates maintain that because the city is in negotiations with the union, their seekingthe union's endorsement represents a significant, although not illegal, conflict of interest.

A conflict of interest in government exists whenever an individual or organization is in a position to influence or benefit from an official decision. A conflict of interest can be actual or it can be a perception.

For example, the City Council, during my tenure, adopted a "no gifts" policy that prohibits council members from accepting gifts of any kind from anyone except family members. We adopted this rule to avoid even the perception of a conflict of interest in our decision-making, to remove any doubt that our decisions might be influenced by gift-givers.

When I ran for council I refused to accept monetary contributions from anyone, preferring to avoid the perception that I might be beholden to interest groups or individuals. I therefore applaud elected officials and those running for public office who strive to avoid the pitfalls posed by conflicts of interest.

If the candidates who now refuse to seek the union's endorsement had adopted an across-the-board no-endorsements policy, then their refusal to seek union support would be laudable.

But they have not. To the contrary, these candidates are actively seeking the endorsements of other special-interest groups, including realtors, developers, environmentalists and neighborhood associations.

The great majority of council decisions concern land use, zoning and housing issues. As a consequence, developers and realtors frequently appear before the council to advocate for their various projects.

Arguing on the other side, oftentimes, are environmentalists and representatives of neighborhood associations, of all whom are well known to council members. These interest groups are in no different a position than are the members of SEIU with respect to what they seek from our council -- to be fairly heard and fairly treated.

Therefore for these candidates to single out only SEIU's endorsement is naive at best and hypocritical at worst.

Tensions are high as the city management and union leaders negotiate SEIU's new contract. Talk of a pending strike has escalated. This is not the time for council candidates to engage in union bashing, which, sadly, is exactly what those who have singled out the union in this fashion are encouraging.

We need council members who represent all of our community, which includes our hardworking city employees. An endorsement from the union is no less an honor than an endorsement from any other group, nor is it more of a conflict of interest.

LaDoris Cordell is a former judge, Palo Alto City Council member and special counsel to the Stanford University president. She can be e-mailed at ladoris@judgecordell.com.

Comments

Posted by names?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:13 am

So, who are these two candidates?


Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

"We need council members who represent all of our community,"

well, I have been in PA for 15+ years and have yet to see a council member that meets that criteria--the council members have their own little agendas (traffic, green etc) and/or they are using the position as a stepping stone for their political ambitions. When they are done with their term they point to their achievements (i.e. the Homer Avenue tunnel for one ex-council member) and pat themselves on the back for a job well done


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:28 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by City Employee/ Resident, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2009 at 4:35 pm

Realtors and Developers...control the newspapers and the council. They have built campaigns on Bush Cheney tactics of fear and anger. Most of the local newspapers have succeeded in union bashing and driving the anger and predjudice against the Palo Alto workers - City staff that is the least paid of any city staff group. Until this campaign began...SEIU employees have been regarded as lower class and of inferior income in the community. Historically, this rings memory of past frightening and predjudicial campaigns against a group of individuals.




Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2009 at 5:32 pm



Three points

1/ most SEIU members do not live in Palo Alto, so they do not vote here.

2/ Aside from the linkage with ACORN, SEIUs recent deceptive flyer combined with the 25% sick out has created a strong alienation by SEIU of Palo Alto voters.
There is no net benefit and a strong liability these days for any politician being associated with SEIU.
This is not union bashing it is just common sense and prudence on the part of the candidates involved where they have differences with SEIU in terms of values and ethics.

3/ LaDoris Cordell, the author of this letter, had serious conflict of interest issues involving Stanford University and Palo Alto, have these been resolved? if so what was the process and outcome?


Posted by Lineman for the City, a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Sharon,

Now you're taking a swipe at one of the most respected members of the Palo Alto community?

Judge Cordell's relationship to Stanford University when she was on
the council is totally irrelevant to the issue raised in her guest
opinion; and

As everyone knows, during her tenure on the council, Judge Cordell
recused herself from participating in any matters concerning Stanford.
the same is true for Larry Klein whose spouse works at Stanford, and for John Barton who is employed by Stanford. Judge Cordell immediately
recognized the conflict of interest and never participated in
discussions involving Stanford and never ever voted on any matter
concerning Stanford.

Have you ever been to a CC meeting? I went to many where I watched Judge Cordell leave the room and not participate in any discussions that were associated with Stanford.


Posted by Samuel, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2009 at 11:03 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by balance, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 20, 2009 at 10:37 am

How does Ms. Cordell know what SEIU is asking in return for their endorsement? This is a petty opinion piece based on no knowledge of the reasons that these two candidates have chosen not to seek SEIU endorsement.
PAWeekly, you should at least provide a right of reply before accepting libelous content.


Posted by Samuel, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 21, 2009 at 3:58 pm



Candidates are free see seek endorsements from organizations that share their values as well as reject endorsemnts from those that do not.

SEIU appears to have serious value issues at this time and it is wise for political candidates to distance themselves form SEIU until the relationships with ACORN have been reported on in full.

I presume that this is the case with the 2 candidates in question.


Posted by Marvin, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 21, 2009 at 4:07 pm

Oh, Please Samuel, cut out this ACORN fixation that you and your wife, Sharon have.


Posted by Samuel, a resident of Stanford
on Sep 21, 2009 at 4:26 pm



If there is no link between ACORN and SEIU.
Then why, today, has SEIU website The SEIU website has published a statement issued by Andy Stern, President of the Service Employees International Union, issued regarding right wing outings of ACORN and SEIU corruption.?


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:07 pm



The issue of union endorsement is delicate for political candidates in a Democracy.

Some unions have enforced membership and would not pass third world Kleptocracy Web Link standards.

The current scandals involving SEIU and Acorn at the national level and the local tactics of PA SEIU are cause for concern by any reasonable politician and voter,

In contrast to PA SEIU,Stanford SEIU seems to be clean in their dealings and reached an open honest agreement with SU which faced the economic realities.

PA SEIU has not shown the same ethics so why should a PA politician seek their endorsement?

Hopefully these issues will be reported upon soon by aggressive, young reporters so that PA voters and politicians can make quality, ethical decisions on the SEIU matter.


Posted by Shamuel, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Sep 21, 2009 at 7:20 pm

Sharon/Samuel continue to rant and rave about acorn. Why? To stir the pot most likely while making outrageous accusations againt a union. Sharon/ Samuel is fixated with acorn


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 8:18 pm


I cannot speak for other posters, but my concern is the integrity and open disclosure of interests by elected officials in PA.
As I recall the Alinskys rules for radicals involve personal attacks Web Link

As everyone reads about these tactics they backfire.

Let us have free informed elections in PA, we deserve better than the Alinsky operatives here.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2009 at 8:18 pm


I cannot speak for other posters, but my concern is the integrity and open disclosure of interests by elected officials in PA.
As I recall the Alinskys rules for radicals involve personal attacks Web Link

As everyone reads about these tactics they backfire.

Let us have free informed elections in PA, we deserve better than the Alinsky operatives here.


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 6, 2009 at 3:07 pm

This is Timothy Gray and I am not seeking endorsements or contributions, and I have called on the three Union endorsed candidates to walk away from that conflict of interest and be free to represent the greater good of Palo Alto.

The attached letter is about Conflict of Interest related to the labor negotiations. I presented this information at Monday night's City Council Meeting.

Dear Editor:

I want to start my comments with offering respect and appreciation for the workers that make this City Great.

Our guiding principle is that we must find a balanced and sustainable solution that serves the greater good of the City. Without achieving that mutual goal, the city employees and the city residents lose.

At Monday night's City Council meeting, I offered some ideas on moving forward:

1. Put aside the discussion about the $22 million reserve. Even if the city had extra money, we have a responsibility limit our spending. It is well known that we are facing a $400 million infrastructure deficit. This is from years of not setting aside reserves for normal repairs and replacement.

2. We are in a different era than when pay structures were originally formulated. Offer some data on what workers with similar skills and education could obtain in the private market. If indeed it is true that salaries and benefits are above the market rate, preserving a privilege over others is not social justice.

This scenario is simply not sustainable, and unless changed, will lead to year after year of future deficits.

I attended the Union presentation during the one-day strike and they announced that they wanted to "invest in three more seats on the Palo Alto City Council so "they could have a majority" vote.

Here is an apparent double standard: What if it were a large Corporation that was trying to purchase influence and secure a voting block? Even with a pro-labor view, the objective nose smells Conflict of Interest. Who will be loyal to the residents?

There are three Candidates that have requested and accepted funding and endorsement from the Unions: 1. Corey Levens, 2. Nancy Shepherd, and 3. Gail Price. During the council presentation, I suggested that the three candidates have an opportunity to free themselves from being compromised by the conflict of interest. I encouraged them to offer absolute loyalty to the greater good of Palo Alto by rejecting this outside support and influence. This request was not about Gail, Corey or Nancy, but rather a suggestion on how they can offer an independent voice to the voters. We need to keep discussing how special interest has too much influence in local politics. Voters must choose independence.

Offered with great respect,

Timothy Gray, Candidate for Palo Alto City Council and not seeking donations or endorsements


Posted by Confused, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 6, 2009 at 9:39 pm

"This is Timothy Gray and I am not seeking endorsements or contributions." If someone is so worried about conflicts of interest, shouldn't the sentence read "I am not ACCEPTING contributions"?


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:07 am

This is Timothy Gray and I am not accepting contributions.

Thanks to the previous writer for pointing out this subtle but important difference. I am free from conflicts of interest.

Best regards,

Timothy Gray


Posted by Timothy Gray, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 7, 2009 at 9:24 am

Please don't kill the messenger. This is a stand for Justice and Fairness and a reporting of the facts. If an anti-union organization was backing a group of candidates, I would have an obligation to the truth to call out the candidates with that conflict of interest as well.

This is not for or against labor. We simply must vigorously defend our local institutions from the undue influence of special interests. That is not supporting the Right or the Left, is simply doing what is Correct.

My comments are simply being a champion of independence. If IBM had a multi-million dollar contract in consideration before the Council, I would feel a loyalty to the truth to call out also advocate that Candidates not accept support or contributions from that source.

This is about about freeing local government from the undue influence of special interest, and is neither an anti-labor or pro-labor stand. I am simply reporting a scenario that has a conflict of interest.

Let's all rally behind a solid Principle, and not get lost in the details of whether a Just Principle favors a particular position at the moment. Justice is blind. Just say no to conflict of interest.

Let's stick to a Principle-based discussion and unite around building a better City Government where everybody wins. Cooperation is one step forward, name-calling is two steps back. Join me in forward progress, and not sweep difficult topics under the rug.

This is about building a level playing field for civil discourse.

Offered with the greatest respect and appreciation for the work provided by the City of Palo Alto emmployees.

Timothy Gray, Candidate for Palo Alto (I am not accepting contributions.)


Posted by Me in Professorville, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 31, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Only an apologist would label someone else as a union-basher. This is a tactic akin to calling someone a racist when they don't agree with you. It is intellectually dishonest, insincere, cheap, divisive and should be dismissed entirely.