To Recuse or not to Recuse
Actually, it is not an option for a public official when the public official has a financial interest in a decision or it is reasonably foreseeable that the decision will have a material effect on any real property in which the public official has a direct or indirect interest worth two thousand dollars or more (California Government Code §87103). The Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) says that the effect of owning property within 500 feet is the “materiality standard” for real property.
This just happened to me here in Foster City because my house is located within 500 feet of Boothbay Park. The issue to be voted on from which I needed to recuse myself was whether or not the City of Foster City should give/lease/sell all or a portion of Boothbay Park to build a fourth elementary school due to overcrowding in the existing three elementary schools in Foster City.
I was advised by our city attorney based on advice from legal staff at the Fair Political Practices Commission that I would have to leave the dais after making a brief statement as to why. However, I was sequestered in a conference room where I could view the proceedings on TV.
Most of my neighbors who elected me four years ago were somewhat surprised that I could not represent them on this issue when it obviously was going to impact our neighborhood. However, I will say that Neighborhood 8 mobilized like no other neighborhood in recent history to get its point across to the remaining council members. One man in particular, Will Moore, who is 80 years old, helped by his wife and daughter, was at Boothbay Park all day every day as park users showed up to recreate. He passed out cards and became just about a one-man show along with Veny Pirochta for moral and technical support.
I learned that evening that passion comes in many forms. There were some young people and young adults who spoke so eloquently from every “side” they were representing and I was very impressed by their confidence and strength of conviction.
What this proved to me, as I represent the entire City of Foster City, is that the other side of town was unaware there was such a hot topic. I talked with many folks that did not have the information unless they subscribed to the listserv through our City that automatically sends an email to you if you are signed up to hear about issues that concern you. I would advise residents to go on our website (www.fostercity.org) and sign up to be automatically notified about issues that are of interest to you. It is everyone’s responsibility to keep informed.
When all was said and done……when we learned that the majority of residents that spoke were passionate about not losing a park……the one fact remained. Even though as a council member I cannot make decisions about matters that the FPPC says may help or hurt me financially.….my role must continue to be a supportive one when it involves the future of the children of Foster City.
However, when it comes to education, the State Constitution and law gives this responsibility to school districts and not to cities. What hurt most is that, in my opinion, the shortsightedness of the San Mateo-Foster City School District polarized our City. We were forced to be divided….the “school people” vs. the “park people”, the “school people” vs. the “we aren’t convinced we need another school people” and the “school people” vs. “use the existing venues people”.
We are ALL one in the same people. We are NOT divided in working toward the common goal of quality education for our children…..let us not forget we must co-exist in this lifetime so we must look at compromise and flexibility as we all fight to solve overcrowding of our schools. Look at your tax form…..we support three school districts so can we collaborate and partner with each other??? I would be happy to sit on such a committee……contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
September 30, 2009
To Recuse or not to Recuse