A consultant's proposal that Menlo Park take a proactive role in swaying public opinion with regard to the specific plan before the Measure M initiative qualified for the ballot was rejected, according to City Manager Alex McIntyre.
Malcolm Smith, now retired from 12 years as Redwood City's communications manager, pitched senior Menlo Park officials in March. The proposal included drafting letters to the editor to be signed by "supportive community members," writing talking points for use by the council and other officials and preparing content for distribution via social media.
"We said no; we're looking for educational material, not advocacy," Mr. McIntyre told the Almanac on Monday (Nov. 3).
News of the proposal broke over the weekend after former councilman and Measure M supporter Heyward Robinson found a copy of the pitch among documents released by the city on Friday, Oct. 31, in response to his Public Records Act request.
Mr. McIntyre said the only piece of work the city hired the consultant to do was write content for the city's website about the specific plan and the initiative. The content was then reviewed for impartiality before going live by the attorney contracted to represent the city on specific plan issues.
Mayor Ray Mueller, currently in China on a business trip, said he was not aware of the consultant's activities on behalf of Menlo Park. According to the city manager, the $5,000 contract was not presented to the council "because it was so low profile. It was about getting the website done right."
Why hire out for the website content? According to Mr. McIntyre, the city wanted someone familiar with government who could write about the specific plan and initiative in a straightforward way without resorting to confusing jargon.
Initiative advocates have challenged whether the city's website, as well as information presented in its Menlo Focus newsletter, is truly impartial. State law allows a city to spend public funds to provide balanced information on a measure as long as the materials do not take a partisan position.
The state attorney general "declined to get involved" after Mr. Robinson filed a complaint over the newsletter, Mr. Robinson said, but he has also made complaints to the Fair Political Practices Commission, the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office and the grand jury.