But if a proposed new policy passes, Palo Alto City Council members will not be able to accept the “gift” of someone buying a cup of coffee for them – or anything else, including lunch.
The “no gifts” proposal came from Councilmember La Doris Cordell, who said she wants to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest, and therefore wants a policy that would prevent a council member from accepting any gift from someone doing business with the city, seeking to do business, or looking for permits or other entitlements from the city.
Surprisingly, two of the three other council members on the four-member Policy and Services Committee agreed with Cordell at their meeting this week.
I think the “absolutely no gifts” policy is way over the top. For example, I had a cup of coffee with a developer the other day. The coffee shop was crowded, and he said, I’ll stand in line, you get a table. When he brought back the small cup of black coffee, I offered to pay and he said, “Forget about it.”
I forgot about it. But if I were a council member, I would have to say, “I am sorry, but I certainly cannot accept your paying for a cup of coffee because I can’t be bribed by letting you buy me this coffee.”
By doing this, I have just insulted the developer big time, suggesting he was there to bribe me into doing something. I suppose over time I would find a more politically correct way of saying, “Can’t let you buy me anything!”
Nevertheless, this policy is still overkill.
The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission disallows for council members statewide from accepting any gift worth more than $360, and says that anything over $50 must be reported. That seems reasonable, and it has worked in Palo Alto for years.
As Councilmember Jack Morton pointed out, he doubts any of the council members could be bribed by coffee, and that Cordell “is implying we’ve been a hotbed of immorality.”
Most of us know what a proper and improper gift would be. A cup of coffee (black please) is fine; a free lunch when you are the unpaid speaker at that lunch is perfectly acceptable, a small poinsettia plant at Christmas is okay. A season ticket is a no-no, as is a box seat at a sporting event.
Hasn’t the council more important issues to talk about?