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Why a Palo Alto City Council member risks breaking the law by giving speeches

Original post made on Apr 12, 2023

Long before Julie Lythcott-Haims won a council seat, she had a national reputation as an author, educator and public speaker. Now, a FPPC ruling may force her to curtail some of these activities.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 12, 2023, 9:27 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by DebbieMytels
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2023 at 10:55 am

DebbieMytels is a registered user.

Thanks, Concilmember Lythcott-Haims, for your clear explanation of why you are appealing the FPPC ruling. We all benefit here in Palo ALto, I think, form having a person with your stature and wisdom also serving us on the PA City Council, and your decision to appeal this decision feels like a good one to me. Being an author and "public educator" seems like a very legitimate business, and restricting your income from this work seems unfair. Over the years we have had councilmembers who serve as real estate agents, local bankers, local attorneys, local business owners and many other professions whose work is much more directly related to their public service on the City Council -- and therefore is much more likely to result in conflicts of interest -- than is your work as an author and education expert. I hope you are successful in your appeal.

Posted by JHM
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 12, 2023 at 11:01 am

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I am speechless (Though obviously NOT!) that this narrow, ridiculous and insulting edict is being applied to a person - man or woman - who has a long proven professional life as well as focus on helping others and merely wants to expand her contributions in serving others. If I were in her shoes I would simply resign at Palo Alto’s loss and go on with my professional expertise in helping others AND supporting my family.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2023 at 12:33 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

I'm a bit confused by the article. Did she request the FPPC ruling before or after she started campaigning and fund-raising?

If the latter, isn't that sort of like asking for "forgiveness not permission" after you've done what you want?

Also, interesting how quickly the FPPC seems to be moving on this. I remember how they dragged their feet in releasing their findings on Liz Kniss's "campaign finance irregularities" until after people had voted and the election results were finalized.

Posted by ALB
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2023 at 12:53 pm

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Yes Kniss’s ruling was not revealed until after her term expired. The process took FOUR years. Now Gary Winuk the former chief of FPPC’s enforcement division (2009 - 2015) is representing Julie Lythcott Haims.

Posted by Paly02
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2023 at 1:43 pm

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I appreciate Councilmember Lythcott-Haims' transparency with us on this matter. I wish her the best of luck in the appeal. Her work is important for parents and kids everywhere, and like someone said above, I don't see the same conflict of interest that, for example, a real estate agent might have on the council.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2023 at 3:34 pm

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Re a real estate agent having conflicts of interests, funny that you pick that when we've long had our City Council and Planning and Transportation Commission dominated by real estate lawyers, real estate investors, real estate developers including one whose family just bought 2 big apartment complexes on Middlefield plus countless others freed up by their employers specifically to push their agendas re more office space and higher density.

When Palantir had several employees sitting on various commissions, they funded a global PR campaign to amplify the false claims that Palo Alto didn't welcome startups -- an intential which intentionally misquote of another council member saying that letting big employers like Palantir dominate downtown office space pushed out startups because they could no longer compete with big companies when trying to rent properties.

That canard is still echoed in lots of campaign statements even though it's the exact opposite of what was said. That global PR campaign did not come cheap and clearly shows the staying power of lies.

When evaluating candidates I always look at who's backing them, which candidates have the most contributions coming from entities outside Palo Alto and which are backed by people who actually live here. To quote another candidate, Palo Alto is not a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder; it's a community.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2023 at 5:35 pm

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Surely it is something that she should have discovered before she decided to run?

The pros and cons of running for elected office should be weighed against lifestyle and income before declaring to run. I can't understand why she had not seen this coming or why she should now expect an exemption. Rules are rules, and even if you don't like them, they have to be adhered to.

Posted by Paly02
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2023 at 6:11 pm

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Holy crap, I had no idea Palantir had multiple employees on multiple commissions. I shudder to think. JFC

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 12, 2023 at 7:12 pm

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Although I disagree with a number of the Councilmember's positions, it seems very wrong to disqualify someone from the Council for essentially being a public intellectual.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2023 at 10:13 pm

Native to the BAY is a registered user.

This is near fiction in scope. Our mayor is a licensed real estate agent as well as a member of a neighborhood association and speaks to her constituents as “friends” while ruling in their favor when voting against good, safe, climate friendly housing . The fact that JL-H’s is a the sole earner, HOH and her career as been built brick by brick, is to help teens and parents sort thru troubling 21Cent challenges. A GodSend to current AI think stink. As well as speaking for the unheard populace who who have little financial means or time w multiple part-time jobs to show up on a Monday night at 6 to represent themselves and the rest of us. This stinks of Denmark. Are the torches and pitchforks out so soon?! Meanwhile CC members w stocks in Global / Local start up and grounded companies get a pass. As well as said, real estate holders, licensed or have shares in large properties get to ride free. I suggest revisiting the Stone film, “Wall Street”. Or later, “Greed.” How about credentialed teachers. Are they not public speakers since getting paid by public tax funds? What ridiculousness ... I can no longer utter, hear, use “It’s Pali Alto excuse”. We were born of procuring and generating a dominate gene pool. Whether a horse or human. Theronos gets 11 years yet we are at an apex of moral/ethical existence of humanity. It’s now do or die for the remaking or rather remaining rest of us. Bootstraps is now data and algorithms. Unless one started giving it away freely, decades ago to the Internet’s Google, Apple, Facebook it’s a pup tent for you or a hamster tunnel for you, or a sidewalk for them or a gutter for the remaining!

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2023 at 10:32 pm

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[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]

Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2023 at 11:21 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

The FPPC ruling that Ms Lythcott-Haims is not free to speak and earn money from speaking engagements unrelated to her capacity as a paid City Councilperson is an abuse of its governmental power. Their ruling breaches her 1st Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Ms Lythcott-Haims has not created a new source of money because she was elected to the Palo Alto City Council. This is her career. I hope that her colleagues also write supporting her right to work.

It's ludicrous.

Posted by SRB
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 13, 2023 at 7:39 am

SRB is a registered user.

FPPC seems to just go by the law.....that past California assembly members passed (dura lex sed lex).

From reading the article, the ruling doesn't limit a council person's speech just the amount of fees they can collect from public speaking engagement. A simple solution could be to lower their speaking fees until they represent less than 50% of her income?

Posted by PaloAltoVoter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2023 at 8:46 am

PaloAltoVoter is a registered user.

Before everyone jumps on the outrage bandwagon, stop and think why this is a good law. It doesn’t matter what topic a speaker is speaking on. Or if they get paid and just tell a knock knock joke. The point is paid speech is ripe for corruption. If an elected official has the majority of income from speaking, anyone could easily funnel them money for “special consideration”. And it should include a business whose primary purpose is generating income from speaking otherwise there’s just a huge loophole in trying to shut this down.

Just substitute “elected MAGA official” for “Julie Lythcott Haims” and some of the people above may rethink their outrage. This is a good law.

As others have commented people are free to speak , it’s the having the majority of your income dependent on it that leads to potential corruption.

Posted by Starry Night
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2023 at 12:12 pm

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Thank you for bringing some balance to this discussion. This is a tricky issue.

The law stipulates that speakers fees are allowed only if it's part of a legitimate business and doesn't constitute most of their income. This is there to prevent bribery / influence, as a company could easily curry favor with an official through an excessive speakers fee.

The law does, quite obviously, apply to Julie Lythcott Haims. While this is part of a legitimate business, it also makes up a majority of her income -- and that's not allowed.

Although I'm no fan of JLH, I feel bad for her and I hope that the law can be narrowed down a bit. It absolutely makes sense for, say, the governor to not be able to make a ton of money through paid speeches. It also makes sense for a Palo Alto official to not be able to make a bunch of money by charging fees within Palo Alto or surrounding areas.

But is it really likely that a Palo Alto official is going to be bribed by, say, the University of Wisconsin or something way out of their jurisdiction?

JLH is obviously fighting for herself, and her claim that she's only fighting because *others* would be affected is a little silly. Nonetheless, I hope that she prevails and an exception can be made for local officials (who are essentially unpaid -- or so lowly paid that they might as well be unpaid) taking speaking fees way beyond their jurisdiction. This seems like a reasonable exception.

As it stands right now, FPPC rules effectively mean that speakers, authors, and possibly even consultants should be wary about running for local office. I don't think that's a good thing.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2023 at 4:46 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

Is the FPPC standing on all elected officials' necks, or just the ones who ask for clarification of the rules?

There is a legal issue that she can't get around without first correcting her LLC listing in the Secretary of State's Statement of Info (the SOS office shows she has until 6/30/2023 to complete before getting the boot). Her listing shows her "principal", "mailing" and "agent (for service) address" all at a "virtual address" on El Camino. That's a no no and I have to wonder if she was operating under another LLC that she doesn't want to be paid under any more.

Clearly she was making money before she created her LLC. But the LLC separates her from some debts and lawsuits. There are also many ways to creatively file personal income taxes while getting paid by your LLC.

That said, she first registered the LLC she's earning income under now on 6/16/2021. Clearly before the 2 year period. Even the former head of the agency can't help her with that. If she's trying to re-invent the wheel at FPPC, she won't be able to change those long-standing laws. But she will remain seated in the Council Chambers until she gets voted off of Island Palo Alto, because the wheels of justice crank so slowly. People are not going to re-elect someone who spends so much time speaking and being in court that they don't have time to serve the people who elected them. It's really a shame, because an obvious solution exists: talk less, write more.

Posted by rita vrhel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2023 at 5:09 pm

rita vrhel is a registered user.

Why all the outrage over just discovered existing FPPC rules? The rules exist for a reason and were not passed in secret or yesterday.

Concerns over violated First Amendment rights? Really?

Complaints about other CC members employment? How is this related to the issue being discussed?

This is all just so far fetched!!!!!!!!

Julie should have looked into this BEFORE she ran. Why ask for special consideration NOW?

Thank you PaloAltoVoter and other posts for injecting some COMMON sense into this discussion.

Let her sue the FPPC; that is her right. Please consider this issue as Julie's personal matter and let her handled it as such.

Let's stop all this false and silly outrage. There are more pressing community issues which deserve our attention.

Thank you

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 13, 2023 at 5:55 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

WE have a city manager and City Council. They are presumably voted into office to help guide the city and keep it out of the news. That is about good decisions arrived at by discussion with the council members and agreement with a projected outcome based on legal procedures currently on place.

A confusions level now appears where the speeches by a council memeber may be at odds with what the city is trying to project. So one person is using the status of being on the council to further their political positions. What ever those political positions are it sounds like they are problematical as the person had ignored legalities before signing up to run. All of these issues were well known so now the council in total is put in a bad light - it is compromised.
Yes - people on the council have real jobs but those real jobs are producing products and were well know before the people ran. We are looking for their experience in Real Estate so that the council is not wasting time on some topic that has no window of reality.
If she has a need to be an Opinion then her real job - LLC is better suited to being a contributor to a local newspaper. Not all of her opinions are apprecitated and not all of her projected outcomes are of value to the city in total.

Posted by Fred Balin
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 13, 2023 at 7:02 pm

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State law could also be changed as it was in 2005 after LaDoris Cordell was elected to the council.
Web Link FYI

Posted by A Person
a resident of Southgate
on Apr 14, 2023 at 10:35 am

A Person is a registered user.

From what I understand, Palo Alto is one of relatively few cities with an unpaid city council. People need to work to live. So unless we want to pay these volunteers, they will, naturally, require employment. Julie's been a professional 'voice' for decades, to the benefit of many. It's her career and her life's work, and it does not pose a [conflict of] special interest. I wonder whose special interests are protected by attempting to financially bully Julie out of her council work?

Posted by Rebecca Winslow
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 14, 2023 at 11:57 am

Rebecca Winslow is a registered user.

Simple solution...PA City Council Member Lythcott-Hains should be allowed to speak freely on any topic sans private speaker's fees which might prove to be a conflict of interest with her role as a PACC member.

Another option would be for Ms. Lythcott-Haims to have a blog on PA Online.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 14, 2023 at 12:13 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

WE all beleive that everyone is equal under the law. We are not going to promote that some are more equal than others at this time. WE are beyond that. All members of the PACC are well educated and successful people. We need to ensure that all are getting equal treatment. In the newspaper it reported who the organizations are that provided funding for her political run for office. Not so equal here. Are those groups going to get special treatment?

We do not need publicity right now that speaks to political favors and funding. I would say that it does pose a conflict of interest. She has already taken topics way ward in discussions as seen of the meetings on TV. We do not need people who are promoting their books, talks, and political inclinations which are not even on the table for discussion. If she is busy being an "influencer" then she can do that in a newspaper forum.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 14, 2023 at 12:34 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

As the other paper reported yesterday, ALL candidates are required to file their disclosures DURING their campaigns and she was MONTHS LATE in doing so and is only now asking for clarification and for exceptions to be made FOR her.

As a Harvard-educated lawyer, she should know attention to filing deadlines and other legalities matter.

Given that, I don't get why she's suddenly so upset and expects special treatment.

As a candidate and now am elected official, she should have known she was expected to be here for meetings not traveling to all her speaking engagements/ etc -- which reminds me that she campaigned on how how it was more important for CC members to lobby the COUNTRY to be more inclusive on the big issues -- social justice, kindness, equality -- than focus on LOCAL issues because city staff doesn't need to be second-guessed or monitored.

I remember wondering if she knew she was running for CITY office rather than one with a national platform.

Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 17, 2023 at 4:23 pm

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Her issue is not with the City of Palo Alto at this time - it is an issue with the County and State election process which has to verify the candidates and put their names in the voter handbook. The information provided by her at that time was incomplete - and therefore incorrect. And the lack of information was speicifc to "money".

Note that a high percentage of the residents in this city relative to the University are well published and on speaker tours as well as teaching in the US. They all understand the rules and regulations of how they operate in their lane. And they are all professionals in their approach to what they publish in the papers. Opinions galore.

She did not take the time to read and follow instructions in the voting regulations relative to running for a local office. That is a conflict of interest and creates a problem for the city if she is voting on policies.

Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 18, 2023 at 10:33 am

Online Name is a registered user.

I suspect this whole brouhaha is just a way for her to get publicity and rouse public outrage since she campaigned explicitly on the plank that is was critical to speak NATIONALLY -- ie beyond Palo Alto -- on big issues like equality, social justice etc. -- rather than concentrate on the LOCAL issues that are the CITY Council's focus.

Given her stated unwillingness to "nitpick" aka review work by city staff and paid consultants, many of us wondered why she wasn't trying to serve with some big-picture organization.

Posted by MyFeelz
a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2023 at 5:03 pm

MyFeelz is a registered user.

It's called a stepping stone. Or leap-frog. Or "use your current position as an interview for the next higher elected position you seek" in whatever form.

Posted by Native to the BAY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 19, 2023 at 9:37 pm

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@MyFeelz like water seeks its own level?

Posted by mjh
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 23, 2023 at 1:03 pm

mjh is a registered user.

Julie Lythcott Haines appears to have had little knowledge of, or interest in, many aspects of Palo Alto prior to being elected. During one public candidate forum she was taken off guard and admitted she hadn’t even known that Palo Alto had its own airport! During her first council meeting I was quite taken aback with her dismissive attitude toward her responsibilities as a council member when she emphatically stated that she would need to leave meetings no later than 10 pm as any later would interfere with her being able to conduct her personal life. Or amenable to moving council meetings to an earlier start time. You would think anyone aspiring to a seat on the council would at least take the trouble to find out before running what exactly were the responsibilities and what the workload of being elected to a council position would entail. To say nothing of proposing to eat during council discussions which appears somewhat disrespectful of her colleagues and to the public either present in the council chamber or watching her munch away on the live broadcast from home.

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