News - April 20, 2011

Fergusson has no conflict yet, commission says

by Sandy Brundage

The informal opinion of the Fair Political Practices Commission is that a Menlo Park councilwoman at this time doesn't have a conflict of interest by participating in council business regarding high-speed rail and also working for Siemens, a global corporation interested in bidding on the project.

According to emails released to the Almanac by the ethics commission, Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson asked for advice before traveling to Washington, D.C., in early March to meet with legislators regarding high-speed rail after a "political detractor" complained of a conflict of interest.

"The political detractor pointed out on Friday that Siemens promotes itself as a manufacturer of High Speed Trains and rail equipment, and therefore, in that person's mind, I have a conflict of interest," Ms. Fergusson wrote on March 6. "I do not believe that I have a conflict of interest, and request that the FPPC make a determination on that matter."

On March 31, she also told the commission that Siemens was one of 1,100 companies listed on the rail authority's website as expressing potential interest in the high-speed rail project, and that she had voted as a member of the Menlo Park City Council to sue the rail authority.

The ethics commission responded on April 1 that Ms. Fergusson's "decisionmaking could potentially financially effect (sic) Siemens, but it's not foreseeable yet. She should probably request further advice (maybe written advice) if Siemens becomes more involved in the actual CHSRA (request for proposals) down the road."

The response also states that this was not a final decision by the commission, and didn't constitute legal advice.

In a memo sent by Ms. Fergusson on April 8 to her colleagues on the dais, she said she'll keep participating in council decisions related to high-speed rail until a conflict exists.

That might settle one source of consternation regarding Ms. Fergusson's trip to Washington, D.C., but not another — the councilwoman still hasn't decided whether to ask the council to reimburse the approximately $1,400 trip. In the days leading up to the trip, residents expressed indignation over her plan to stay in a $400-per-night hotel.

City Manager Glen Rojas said he wasn't aware of a deadline for submitting reimbursement requests, apart from the end of the fiscal year on June 30.


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