Town Council should look in the mirror when levying ethics charges
By Tom Werbe
Please note: Op-Ed previously published in the Almanac, 2/1/17
If you heard someone make a pitch for having a government agency treat every person equally, would you consider that unethical? In Woodside, apparently, the answer to that question is “yes,” as the Town has used it to justify an expensive investigation of a volunteer who did just that.
Nancy Reyering has served on Woodside’s Architecture and Site Review Board (ASRB) since 2010. Last May, when a project designed by a council member came before ASRB, she submitted a statement that urged her colleagues to treat the council member as they would any other member of the public.
The statement read, in part, “Even a cursory review of this project raises questions as the architect is a member of the Town Council, and as such, is someone in charge of writing our building regulations. Therefore he, and anyone else in a similar position, has a great responsibility to bring in projects that are reflective of the Residential Design Guidelines, the General Plan, and the Municipal Code, ….[as submitted, the project could] create the potential appearance that council members are privileged when bringing projects before the ASRB.”
In the Alice-in-Wonderland logic that dominates Woodside’s Town Council, Ms. Reyering’s statement was unethical by suggesting that even the appearance of a conflict of interest be avoided. This is not just a spat between town leaders. If you live in Woodside, your tax dollars are involved.
Under the direction of former Mayor Deborah Gordon, Woodside’s town manager and town attorney hired an outside attorney who conducted an aggressive investigation of Ms. Reyering, treating her with suspicion and contempt. Given the depth of the investigation — and a common-sense understanding of legal fees — it’s hard to imagine that this witch hunt has cost Woodside less than $10,000, if not two or three times that much. The Town has refused to disclose the cost of the investigation.
The Town’s actions in this matter are bewildering at best and corrupt at worst. The concern for Woodside residents is the lack of transparency and vindictive treatment of a volunteer by the mayor and staff. This investigation not only unfairly tarnishes the good name of Ms. Reyering, but it serves as a deterrent to other community-minded citizens who might be willing to volunteer to improve and protect quality of life in our little hamlet.
The Town should come clean about this investigation. How much has it cost? Who brought it forward, and what role did the mayor, town attorney, and town manager play in the decision to actively pursue it? What does the Town hope to accomplish? Should other volunteers be concerned about making public statements about ethical behavior? Will they be investigated at taxpayer expense, too?
Town management should identify a plan of action for educating elected and appointed officials about Woodside’s existing code of ethics, which states that officials should: “Avoid even the appearance of conflict between public duties and personal interests and activities in all Town forums.”
Woodside residents deserve better than this circus. Please join me in urging the Town of Woodside to drop this investigation immediately and to set into place additional guidelines to avoid a similar scenario in the future. This is nothing short of harassment and bullying, and it is unbecoming of our fine town’s leaders.
Tom Werbe is a long-time resident of Woodside.
Tom Werbe is a longtime resident of Woodside. Editor’s note: Since Mr. Werbe wrote this column, Ms. Reyering has obtained a letter from the town attorney that she says indicates the town spent $42,905 on the investigation. The town manager told the Almanac that the cost was actually $27,465, but the town will not release documentation supporting that assertion.
Tom Werbe is a longtime resident of Woodside.
Editor’s note 2/13/17: Since Mr. Werbe wrote this column, Ms. Reyering has obtained a letter from the town attorney that she says indicates the town spent $42,905 on the investigation. The town manager told the Almanac that the cost was actually $27,465, but the town will not release documentation supporting that assertion.