Menlo Park fire district election: Carolyn Clarke releases answers to union questionnaire

Jack Nelson only candidate to refuse to disclose responses

How much influence the labor unions should have on the Menlo Park Fire Protection District board is the hot-button issue in this year's election, with Chuck Bernstein, Peter Carpenter and Rex Ianson running on a slate against the two candidates, Carolyn Clarke and Jack Nelson, who have accepted union support for their campaign.

The district has been embroiled in a years-long contract impasse with the firefighters union, primarily over disagreements about raises. Given that the directors will vote on any proposed contracts, does accepting union campaign support create a conflict of interest? Ms. Clarke and Mr. Nelson say no, while the other three candidates, among them a former smokejumper and a retired firefighter, say yes.

Ms. Clarke, candidate for the board of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, has now released her answers to a questionnaire used by a labor union to help determine endorsements. She opted to provide her answers without disclosing the questions, as the San Mateo County Labor Council maintains those are confidential.

"Our endorsement process (is) an internal one and we ask candidates not to circulate their questionnaires. While some candidates may still (choose to) do so, out of respect for the process, we do not post or publish the responses," said SMCLC representative Julie Lind in response to the Almanac's request for copies.

Ms. Clarke's answers stated that she and Mr. Nelson "have very similar goals and priorities" for the district, namely operational efficiency, successful labor negotiations, financial stability and increased community outreach.

As far as labor activities, Ms. Clarke said she would not cross a picket line, would support an organized labor boycott as well as binding arbitration for settling economic disputes between management and labor, and, "depending on the type of support required, if elected (she) would be willing to use public stature to support union organizing."

Three labor issues she feels strongly about are workforce diversity, standards for service excellence, and re-establishing and maintaining "normal labor relations."

Her answers stand in stark contrast with those of Mr. Bernstein, who had released his copy of the questionnaire, complete with answers, on Oct. 16.

While noting that the specific circumstances would have to be considered, in general, Mr. Bernstein said, he would likely not support a boycott, and would also not rule out crossing a picket line.

The question about crossing a picket line is inappropriate, he said. "In my opinion, it would be wrong for an official to interfere in a union matter, one way or the other."

He noted that he does not support binding arbitration at all, on grounds that "non-involved parties should not have the power to determine the outcome of disputes."

The one labor issue he would like to address if elected is settling the years-long contract dispute with the firefighters.


That leaves Mr. Nelson as the lone hold-out over disclosing his responses to the labor council questionnaire. Asked why, he responded with the following email:

"Here is my dilemma, we all know that the questionnaire is the sole property of the Labor Council, the information contained in that document is mine, as the response. I gave them my WORD, that I would not share this with anyone, my WORD is my bond. I see no value in going back on my word as a running candidate, just for another story, the other guy's do not have a copy of it either. I cannot help with other candidates in general do, say one thing and then do something else. In addition to my word, I also have credibility and good character to live up too as well. There is way too much unnecessary drama connected to this race, why add more by comprising some one's ethics. If you look closely at the questions, some are simply yes/no and other answer's are relative to the situations and circumstances at that time and may have exception's to them. As a reminder, I have never had/held a union card, been a union delegate/lobbyist , as most of my work career, I have been in management positions. We ask these guys to put their 'life on the line' every time they go out the door, no reason not to have 'Safety Personnel' represented. If you remember the unions (whether you like them or not) help create the 'middle class', which has shrunk over the past several years, both labor and the middle class."

"This may not be the answer you are looking for, but you have my Word," Mr. Nelson concluded.

Incumbent Rex Ianson and former fire board director Peter Carpenter, running with Mr. Bernstein, decided not to fill out the questionnaire in the first place.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 30, 2013 at 2:22 pm

So could one postulate that Mr. Nelson is the labor rep at the table? "no reason not to have 'Safety Personnel' represented...." Unfortunately, he forgets that the chief officers are safety personnel as well. Not sure where he thinks labor should be represented. They're at the bargaining table, but I don't know any businesses which include a labor rep on the board of directors or in management groups.

If Mr. Nelson is so gung ho for labor, one has to wonder how he can also represent the electorate. You can't serve 2 masters.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 29, 2013 at 2:41 pm
Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The union sent me the questionnaire, which I declined to respond to and did NOT ask that I keep the questions confidential.

Here is my exchange with the union followed by the questionnaire that I received:

From: Peter Carpenter
Subject: Re: San Mateo Labor Council Endorsement Process
Date: August 15, 2013 11:52:08 AM PDT

Ms. Lind,

Thank you for your invitation but I do not wish to be interviewed or endorsed by the labor council.

Since there will (hopefully) be a new firefighter's contract negotiated with the Fire District during the forthcoming term, I can understand that it is in the labor union's interest to have Fire District Directors who you think will serve your interests. Similarly, an endorsement by a labor union for an election that will be immediately followed by labor negotiations carries with it the appearance of a conflict of interest.

If elected I will be committed to serve the interests of the citizens of the District. In a democratic society the choice of elected officials is properly the responsibility of the voters and not that of a small special interest group.


Peter Carpenter

On Aug 15, 2013, at 11:36 AM, Julie Lind wrote:


Thank you for making the decision to seek elected office this November. Attached please find the endorsement questionnaire for the San Mateo Labor Council. Completion of the questionnaire is a requirement for anyone interested in being considered for endorsement. The questionnaire is due no later than 5pm on Friday, August 23rd. The interview for your race will be held Tuesday, September 3rd from 5:30PM + 6:00PM at the CA Teachers Association Offices (333 Hatch Dr., Foster City). Please let me know if you'll be able to attend, and feel free to call with any questions. Best of luck!


Julie Lind, Political Director
San Mateo County Central Labor Council
650-572-8848 office/650-572-2481 fax
650-333-4110 cell

2005 election:

Menlo Park Firefighters' Association

District 10 of Local 2400, I.A.F.F
P.O. Box 534 Menlo Park, CA 94026-0534
(800) 218-9081

And here is the union questionnaire:

C.O.P.E. 2013


Name _______________

Office You're Seeking_______________________________________

Phone (work) ___ (home) ____(E-Mail)________

Home Address______________________________

PPC ID # (if not available, then Treasurer's Full Name)

Campaign Address

Profession Employer (if any)
Have you ever been a union member? If "Yes", which union, and any role or office you held:

What other elected or appointed offices prior to this election have you held/pursued?
* * * * * *

1. A. What are your goals and issue priorities for the Fire District? What do you think the issues are in this election?

B. Are you running with, or do you share the same views as, another candidate? If Yes, whom/what views?

2. What distinguishes your goals and priorities from those of other candidates in this election?

3. Why do you want to be on the Fire District Board?


4. What experience and/or education make you qualified to serve the Fire District?


5. To what extent do you feel the Fire District should be involved the day-to-day operations of the Fire Department?

6. A. Describe the role of the Fire Chief, as you see it___________________________________

B. What expectations would you have for him/her? _____________________________________

7. Do you have any ideas of alternative revenue sources for the Fire District? ___________________________________

8. The Cost of providing the community with the best service is expensive, and rising. How would you propose balancing the increasing costs with limited funds? __________________________________________________

9. What is your view point on consolidation of Fire service? On contracting them out? _______________________________________

10. Do you actively support the fundamental right of miscellaneous (non-Public Safety) employees of the Fire District to organize and collectively bargain with the District regarding their wages, hours and working conditions through the union of their choice?

Yes_________ No_________

(If No) What is your reason for opposition? ____________________________________________________________________

11. Would you cross an organized labor picket line?
Yes No_______

12. Would you support an organized labor boycott?
Yes No_______

13. Do you support the right of workers to form or join a union?
Yes No_______

14. If elected, would you be willing to use your public stature to support union organizing?
Yes No_______

15. Would you support the use of binding arbitration to settle economic disputes between management and labor?
Yes No_______
If No, Why?

16. What community organizations are you a member of?

17. Please list the endorsements you have received or are seeking:
Endorsements Received: Endorsements Seeking:

18. If you were to be endorsed by the Labor Council, what three labor issues would you want our members to know you have strong feelings about?_____________________________________

19. Briefly discuss your campaign strategy for getting elected (i.e. fundraising, campaign targets, endorsements, number of votes needed to win, etc.)

20. Do you have any additional comments regarding your campaign? _________________________

21. I have carefully reviewed this questionnaire and I attest that all of my responses are true and accurate.


Date: ________________

Please return to: Julie Lind
San Mateo Labor Council - C.O.P.E.
1153 Chess Drive, Suite #200, Foster City, CA 94404
Telephone: (650) 572-8848
FAX (650) 572-2481

opeiu 3 afl-cio 174

Like this comment
Posted by Over and over
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:46 pm

Peter how many times do you have to post the same thing?? We get it. Tow about moving the discussion along???

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 30, 2013 at 5:55 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Over and over - The Almanac started a new thread which then required a new posting to make it clear that the union did not that its questionnaire be treated as confidential.

Editor's note: Actually this thread was started by Bob, who commented on a story posted on the Almanac's home page. I'm going to close this thread and refer comments to the other thread: Web Link

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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