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State to Investigate Councilwoman’s Potential Conflict of Interest Regarding Saltworks Comments

The Fair Political Practices Commission stated that Rosanne Foust was to recuse herself from all Saltworks discussion while in her official role as a councilmember.

The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) will investigate whether Councilwoman Rosanne Foust violated state law when she on April 9 regarding the controversial Cargill/DMB Saltworks project.

Two Redwood City residents, Marsha Cohen and Marianna Raymond, filed the complaints. The letter from the Commission acknowledging the filing from Cohen is attached.

“The facts are clear that she has continued to use her official position to influence a government decision while simultaneously holding a paid position,” Cohen wrote.

Raymond added, ““I feel regretful that I would even need to do this because I have a high regard for our councilmembers and all they do for our city. But part of good citizenship is being involved on a very, very big project. We have to be watchdogs over our public officials and make sure there is no impropriety of any kind.”

In 2010, the FPPC said in an advisory letter that Foust could not participate in any council discussions regarding the Saltworks project because of her paid position as President and CEO of the Sam Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA,) which formally endorsed the project on January 19, 2010. Foust was not part of the endorsement decision at the time.

The commission said that Foust violated the conflict of interest clause of the Political Reform Act, which ensures that “public officials perform their duties in an impartial manner, free from bias caused by their own financial interests.”

However, because the Interim city attorney at the time advised Foust that there was no conflict of interest that she was warned and not fined.

At the April 9 meeting, Foust prefaced her comments during the Matters of Council Interest stating that she was speaking as an individual and not from her position as a councilmember.

“I don’t feel that I did anything wrong,” Foust said.

“But I respect the process and this gives me an opportunity to get my side out,” she said.

For nine minutes, she elaborated on the enormous impact the project has had on the community and ultimately suggested that the council place an advisory vote on the November ballot.

“I’m concerned because the project has been incredibly divisive in the community,” she said of the 1,436 acre development. “It’s overshadowing every single thing that we do.”

She said the advisory vote would include “a detailed project description listing all the benefits of the development” not simply a question asking the public “yes or no” on whether they support the project.

Raymond said that if Foust wanted to express her opinion like every else, Foust should have spoken during the public comment period for three minutes like all citizens.

“She gave herself a disclaimer saying that she was just a resident, but she was doing it in front of the room in an official capacity,” Raymond said.

The letter from the Enforcement Division dated May 10 states that Raymond and Cohen “will next receive notification from us upon final disposition of the case.”

“However, please be advised that at this time we have not made any determination about the validity of the allegation(s) you have made or about the culpability, if any, of the person(s) you identify in your complaint.”

 

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Ralph Garcia May 18, 2012 at 04:46 PM
She was suggesting that the project be put to the voters so the council had a idea where this thing should go. I don't see that as being involved. Who ever filed this is way out of line and has no clue as to how the system works.
Eggbert May 18, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Thank you, Ms. Cohen and Ms. Raymond, for your actions. Mr. Garcia might consider his own understanding as to "how the system works". The most cursory reading of the article yields the bones of their contentions. If an even more elementary distillation is necessary: 1.) Ms. Foust was instructed by the state to no longer speak in council discussions on this issue. She did anyway. 2.) Ms. Foust attempted to disengage herself from the state regulations by claiming to speak "as a private citizen". She might well have declared herself to be speaking "only as a two-headed panda"; it wouldn't make it so. She spoke at a length and during a time in the meeting allowed only to officials. Thus it is appropriate for the state agency to review the matter. I'm not sure what elements of this are unclear to Mr. Garcia. Regardless, he might at least show respect to two fellow residents who chose to expose themselves to uninformed public potshots in the name of what they believe to be right. I congratulate them.
Reality Check May 18, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Because it was and would continue to be a violation of state conflict-of-interest laws, FPPC advised Foust in 2010 that she was to stop using her official position "in any way" regarding Saltworks. Speaking from the dais for 9 minutes from her council seat and via her council members' microphone, and saying nice things about DMB and/or Cargill while calling for a vote with all the benefits (no negative impacts?) spelled out sure looks like using her official position to influence her colleagues and the public on Saltworks. The way you can tell she was using her official position is to ask yourself whether RCNU (or any other group or person opposing Saltworks) could just decide to give an 9-minute speech (not on the agenda!) from the dais. No! Only a council member using their official position could get away with doing that without being interrupted by the mayor and threatened to be removed from the council chambers by the police (as a woman was while lawfully and politely speaking within her time limit during public comment at a recent council meeting -- mayor Aguirre cut her off as soon as the woman suggested that maybe it was time to "oust Foust").
Ralph Garcia May 18, 2012 at 06:00 PM
As a member of the Planning Commission for almost 11 years I believe I'm pretty sure I know how the system works. Knowing Rosanne as I do I know she was trying to get this thing going or kill it. It has sucked way to much city time already.
Reality Check May 18, 2012 at 06:19 PM
If you both know how the system works and know Rosanne, then you should have known she was in violation and warned her before the FPPC had to do so in 2010.
Eggbert May 18, 2012 at 06:46 PM
An 11-year member of the Planning Commission resorts to personal slams, verbal degradation of two responsible citizens working within the system to right a perceived wrong? "Who ever filed this is way out of line and has no clue as to how the system works." I certainly hope this isn't illustrative of the average city servant's perspective on citizen involvement. Meanwhile, it's noteworthy that Mr. Garcia cites his personal connection to Ms. Foust, rather than respond to the facts in dispute. Does he contend Ms. Foust did not address the council in a manner and length not permitted a private resident? If he concedes that she did, does he dispute Ms. Cohen and Ms. Raymond's responsibility to confront perceived illegal, unethical behavior in their own system? By contrast, I would assert they exemplary, patriotic people. Much easier to sit by and shrug off such wrongs, assuming that yet another small breach in the civic fabric is none of their business. Very disturbing to see them attacked by a fellow citizen who has wielded his own city authority.
Ralph Garcia May 18, 2012 at 07:53 PM
As in most public hearings the conversation is often one sided with one side not having all the facts just their personal experience. So I will keep my thoughts to myself on this subject in the future. Hopefully the Saltworks project will just go away and die.
Roger Brina May 18, 2012 at 10:39 PM
What part of "Foust could not participate in any council discussions regarding the Saltworks project" is so hard to understand? Advocating for any direction on the project, even a public vote, is out of line. All of us who care about good government were surprised that a council member who already had her hand slapped by the FPPC did what she did on April 9. No elected official is "speaking as an individual" when they do it from the council dais.
Roger Brina May 18, 2012 at 10:40 PM
"Hopefully the Saltworks project will just go away and die." We are in total agreement!
Aaron May 18, 2012 at 11:39 PM
Ralph obviously didn't even bother reading the article.
Aaron May 18, 2012 at 11:42 PM
see... didn't bother reading. Jumping to the defence of a friend is very admirable Ralph. We could all use more friends like Mr. Garcia.
Aaron May 18, 2012 at 11:44 PM
*twinkle fingers*
David Amann May 19, 2012 at 05:24 AM
It looks to me that those who filed the complaint would have been okay with Councilmember Foust's comments if they were limited to 3 minutes and if they were spoken 8 feet away at the public comment forum. To feel the need to file a formal complaint over 6 minutes is overkill in my opinion. I think a better and more humane course of action would have been a letter to the City Attorney and to editors asking Ms. Foust to make comments as an individual during public comment. It would probably accomplish 90% of what the filers intended and saved a fellow human being some suffering.
Eggbert May 20, 2012 at 05:50 PM
Mr. Amann, why would a polite letter accomplish what a state investigation and admonishment already had not? The six minutes is not the nut of the issue; that's merely symptomatic. Ms. Foust's clear disregard of state regulations - her apparently willingness to provoke action of any kind on an issue where her conflict of interest was well established - plainly goes well beyond the length of her comment alone. In fact, her transparent and near-laughable effort at disguise - "speaking as a private citizen" - indicates a disrespect for both state regulation and her own constituency. As she seemed willing to play both as patsies, we've moved out of polite letter territory and into that of potential state sanctions. As should be.
Sharon Levin May 21, 2012 at 03:56 AM
I must second what Eggbert says and thank Ms. Cohen and Ms. Raymond, for their actions. I do not go to City Council meetings, after dealing (or not being allowed to deal) with them regarding Schaberg Library, it just felt like an exercise in futility. Thank goodness for people like Ms. Raymond and Ms. Cohen who remain ever vigilant and make sure that government works as it should.

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