Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Abuse of Power In a Small Town Election

A report in the independently owned Palo Alto and Mid Peninsula Daily Post. 

Things aren't just nasty in national politics these days. We're having a nasty week in my little hometown, Los Altos, California, where our mayor tried to use the power of her office to get some  campaign signs removed from the window on the private property of a local business. She supports the other candidates.

Hard to believe this would happen in a town where council members are paid about $12,000 a year plus health insurance. Could there be more at stake than that? You think?

What happened is this: two local men, whose family has owned a pharmacy in our downtown since I was born (which was a long time before our mayor moved here, BTW) put signs in their pharmacy window for a couple of city council candidates. Our mayor doesn't like these particular candidates, as she supports three others.

So, she emailed some powerful friends--corporate executives at Safeway, a company that is building a giant store that is going to be shoe-horned into our little downtown. The mayor, Val Carpenter, greased the skids for Safeway, which is not having to follow most of our traditional building code rules about density, square footage, height, and added parking per square foot.

Safeway has some power over the pharmacy in question, or, our mayor thought they might, because Safeway is buying out the pharmacy (sale closing December 1) so it can have a pharmacy of its own in the new megastore. The mayor's email went to two executives at Safeway, one of the largest companies in the state of California

"My understanding from my own campaigns for Los Altos City Council is that Safeway corporate policy is not to allow any campaign signs on your properties. If that is still the case, I'd appreciate it if you could so inform Bart and Kent Nelson of Los Altos Pharmacy and direct them to remove the signs ASAP. If that is not the case, I'd appreciate your displaying campaign signs on your Safeway property for incumbent Megan Satterlee as well as Planning and Transportation Commissioner Jan Baer, both of whom voted in favor of your new store in downtown Los Altos." (Underline is my own.)

Whether Safeway would have taken or will take action isn't yet known. What happened when the email was made public, is.

One candidate the mayor endorsed, former League of Women Voters president, Jan Pepper, put about a mile between herself and the mayor with this statement: "I do not condone such actions by an elected official in this campaign or in the civic affairs of Los Altos," she wrote. Good ethical call.

Meanwhile, the two candidates whose signs our mayor tried to remove, are still picking their jaws up off the floor. No official comment from one, Jeannie Bruins; but the other, Jerry Sorensen said: "As an intended target of Mayor Carpenter's attempted intimidation of Safeway and Los Altos Pharmacy, I can assure you I would not tolerate such tactics from any campaign supporter. Mayor Carpenter has managed to outdo herself by using her position to attempt to intimidate local property owners."

The Nelson boys, who still own the pharmacy for another six weeks, said, in essence, Carpenter should mind her own business. Unfortunately, I suspect that is just what she was doing. The business part, anyway.

Mayor Carpenter, by the by, tried a similar tactic a couple of years ago against our tiny, amateur theater company. They produce an annual "Follies" and in that particular year they made fun of the vacancy rate in our downtown. Ooops. That sounded too much like a criticism to Mayor Carpenter. The little group of volunteer thespians got a cease-and-desist-having-fun-at-our-expense-or-else letter from the mayor and a cronie of hers on the council. Since the city gives the theater free rent, you can imagine the "or else."

Thank goodness for an independently owned local newspaper called the Palo Alto and Mid Peninsula Daily Post. They uncovered this latest email and published the story. They don't put their stories on line, which is a shame. But they do real journalism. This is journalism's calling. To find out about and report on abuses just like this one: big or small. They are a corruption of a system that people are still dying to preserve.

Bravo to reporter Kristen Peters, whom I met on two stories out at Moffett Field during the pas year. I am happy to see this kind of political bullying exposed.

Add to 
Google Reader or Homepage
Subscribe to Robin Chapman News


Robin Chapman said...

To my readers: thanks for all the hits from Los Altos! We've had a number of hits from Pleasanton as well.

Jan Pepper said...


From the beginning of my campaign for Los Altos City Council, I have stated that I am not seeking or accepting endorsements from current city council members. You can read more about this here:

Thank you,
Jan Pepper
Los Altos City Council Candidate