Around TownWHO'S CALLING? ... Palo Alto officials had mixed feelings Tuesday night when they debated establishing an anonymous "fraud, waste and abuse" hotline for whistle blowers at City Hall. Though the council's Policy and Services Committee ultimately recommended instituting the new hotline on a trial basis, City Manager James Keene and Councilman Larry Klein voiced concerns about the prospect of employees issuing baseless complaints behind the mask of anonymity. Klein brought up as an example Palo Alto Online's Town Square forum, where readers are encouraged but not required to state their names. "We've all read Palo Alto Online where people who are anonymous say things that they'll never say if their names were attached to them. That's the downside," Klein said. Councilman Pat Burt then proposed his own idea to root out the nameless, grudge-bearing accusers. "We can have a hotline against anonymous complainers," Burt quipped.
GOING DIGITAL ... As the Palo Alto City Council prepares to switch from paper packets to iPads to get their weekly reports, one question has yet to be settled: Should the city pay for the new iPads or should each council member be responsible for his or her own device? At least three council members argued this week for the latter option. Councilwoman Gail Price argued for the former option earlier this week, when the Policy and Services Committee debated the topic. Council members, she said, receive "modest stipends" and it would be appropriate for the city to pay for something that would make the council function better and be greener. But Klein, an attorney, disagreed and said having council members buy their own iPads (or laptops) would help protect their privacy. City-purchased devices, he said, would be more liable to be used in court in the case of litigation than those bought by council members for private use. Klein "If you used your Gmail account to communicate with whoever, it's less likely to be discoverable than if you use your city account to communicate." The other two committee members, Pat Burt and Karen Holman, sided with Klein and voted to "encourage" council members to buy their own tablets. The full council will consider the switch, as well as who will pay for the new iPads, on Aug. 1.
ON THE GLOBAL STAGE ... Gunn High School senior Brian Zhang took a gold medal — scoring eighth-highest overall — in last week's International Physics Olympiad in Bangkok, Thailand. Nearly 400 young physicists representing 84 countries competed in the gathering. The U.S. team, of which Brian was a member, brought home two gold and three silver medals. The other U.S. gold medalist was Ante Qu of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South in Princeton Junction, N.J. Four countries — Taiwan, China, Singapore and Korea — won five gold medals. The U.S. team's aggregate score was the fifth highest.
IT'S A WHAT?! ... Palo Alto resident Kathleen Lee became a Jeopardy! champion on the July 14 show and managed to make usually serious host Alex Trebek laugh as well. Lee, a pharmaceutical scientist, won $30,601 over a two-day period before being ousted by Mark Runvold, a student and waiter from Moscow, Idaho. Lee's "blooper" that brought a smile to Trebek came during the first round under the category "Reptiles" for $800. The clue posed was: "Although called a 'toad,' this North American animal is actually a lizard that feeds mainly on ants." Lee rang in. "What is a horny toad?" she said. The answer wasn't quite right, but Trebek was flexible. "We'll accept that. It's ahorned toad. I have no idea of — well, we won't go there," he said, laughing.
POOMF! ... The smell of burning leaves led Palo Alto firefighters to a blaze on Randers Court Wednesday, where a palm tree had caught fire after contacting power lines. Firefighters briefly closed Randers and extinguished the blaze in about 45 minutes, though 51 residents temporarily lost power. No homes were damaged, but the palm tree will never be the same again.