In the latest Around Town column, the city's chief information officer has been accused of violating a state conflict-of-interest law and local agencies are warning the public of scammers.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW? ... A Palo Alto resident who has been leading a neighborhood effort to oppose Verizon's plan to install antennas on city poles has launched a new offensive against the city. Jeanne Fleming, member of the group United Neighbors, has filed a complaint against the city's Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental, accusing him of violating the state conflict-of-interest law by allowing a telecom organization to pay for his trip to China in September 2016. The jaunt to Yinchuan is one of eight trips Reichental took in 2016, according to a statement of economic interests that Reichental had filed in February 2017 (other destinations included Dubai, Germany and France). In all cases, he noted in the form, he has "never personally received any money for any of these events." The complaint acknowledges that city employees are allowed to accept travel payments from 501(c)(3) nonprofits, which generally focus on charity and education. The China trip, however, was sponsored by TM Forum, a 501(c)(6) nonprofit, a designation that applies to business groups and chambers of commerce. Fleming maintained the trip seemed to violate the legal $470 limit for gifts that employees are allowed to receive in a given year from a single source (the trip reportedly cost about $5,000). Fleming also suggested in a statement that Reichental's involvement with the telecom industry is related to the City Council's decision in May to reject Fleming's appeal and to approve Verizon's plan to install wireless equipment on 11 poles, notwithstanding the fact that the contentious application was handled by city planners — not the IT Department — and that it followed a similar approval by the Architectural Review Board. The decision, Fleming argued, should be overturned. The Fair Political Practice Commission has confirmed that it had received the complaint, though as of Thursday it has not yet determined whether the complaint warrants an investigation. Reichental said he made a few "clerical errors" which he intends to fix by amending his Form 700. He also said that it is his normal process to get FPPC advice before committing to trips, for which he never gets paid and which are normally paid for by government entities, non-for-profits and educational institutions. In the case of the China trip, it was the Municipality of Yinchuan rather than TM Forum that had paid for the trip (TM Forum, he said, "were only the event coordinators"). "It's my normal practice to call the FPPC advice line before I commit to trips to ensure they are compliant," Reichental said.
DON'T FALL FOR IT ... People posing as employees from two Palo Alto agencies have struck in the community. The Police Department is alerting the public to a scam that swindled a local man out of $10,000. The resident alerted police on Oct. 30 of a cellphone call from someone who claimed to be part of the "immigration office" and told him he was an identity-theft victim. A follow-up call from someone who identified as police Officer Jim Hopper (the department doesn't have an officer by this name) urged him to cooperate with the aforementioned immigration office. A third caller from a different "immigration worker" told the man to load money onto gift cards for new ID cards. Investigators are looking into the case, but want to make clear that an officer wouldn't solicit for a payment by phone. A similar scam has hit Palo Alto Utilities, where people claiming to be department employees call residents and threaten to cut off their electricity unless they pay their overdue bill. To report a scam, call police at 650-329-2413.