Less than a year ago, Peter Carpenter, who is currently the president of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District, endorsed fellow board member Virginia Chang Kiraly as she ran for a seat on the San Mateo County Harbor District.
Lately however, the two board members have repeatedly clashed in public, and recently Mr. Carpenter appears to have changed his mind about the suitability of Ms. Chang Kiraly serving on both the fire and harbor boards.
On Oct. 2, a week after Ms. Chang Kiraly says a fellow board member warned her to "watch out for Peter because he might come after" her, Mr. Carpenter emailed an outspoken opponent of Ms. Chang Kiraly, John Ullom of Half Moon Bay, and asked him for an update on a complaint he'd made eight months ago about Ms. Chang Kiraly.
In February, Mr. Ullom had sent a letter to California State Attorney General Xavier Becerra requesting that he be allowed to sue Ms. Chang Kiraly to determine if she holds "incompatible offices." Those documents have been available to peruse online since February.
According to the California Fair Political Practices Commission website, state law says that officials cannot hold two elective offices "if the offices have overlapping and conflicting public duties," which is considered to be holding incompatible offices. The law also says any incompatible-offices claim must be vetted by the attorney general's office before it can go to court.
"What was the disposition of the incompatible offices claim that you filed re Virginia?" Mr. Carpenter asked in his email to Mr. Ullom.
Mr. Ullom's response, which was sent to all board members and contained language the Almanac can't repeat, was: "Hello Mr. Carpenter, You are an arrogant (redacted). You would stab a compatriot in the back. Go screw yourself. I won't work with traitors."
Mr. Ullom later told the Almanac he has dropped his attempt to sue Ms. Chang Kiraly over her dual board seats.
On Oct. 6, Mr. Carpenter sent the Almanac a written statement saying the documents Mr. Ullom submitted in February pose "reasonable questions regarding Virginia Kiraly's simultaneous service on the Fire Board and the Harbor Board and I urge her to seek a written opinion from the California Attorney General in order to remove any uncertainty on this matter."
In reality, the attorney general's office does not rule on such matters, but must approve lawsuits seeking to determine whether a candidate legally holds office (quo warranto cases) before such suits can proceed to court. For Ms. Chang Kiraly to "seek a written opinion" from the Attorney General, as Mr. Carpenter requested, she would have to file a lawsuit against herself, and the opinion would only say if her lawsuit could proceed to court.
His statement also says that Mr. Ullom's case "apparently did not proceed solely because Mr. Ullom did not have the funds to do so." That contradicts what Mr. Ullom told the Almanac and Mr. Ullom's communications from the attorney general's office.
Mr. Carpenter did not respond to questions about why he is now bringing up a document filed eight months ago.
On Oct. 4, Mr. Carpenter began distributing copies of Mr. Ullom's old complaint via email. Mr. Ullom said he received two separate emails from Mr. Carpenter containing only the complaint as an attachment. Both emails had been sent with other receivers' emails hidden. "Per your request" and "FYI" were the headings on the two emails.
Ms. Chang Kiraly said Mr. Carpenter sent the series of emails soon after she was warned by fellow board member Rob Silano at a conference in Monterey "that I should watch out for Peter because he might come after me."
Ton of bricks
"I didn't know what that meant," she said. "I said, 'is he going to physically threaten me?'" Then, she said, "It hit me like a ton of bricks that he was going to go after me for holding incompatible offices."
Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman has confirmed that he was told about the incident by Ms. Chang Kiraly at the time.
"I am aware of what you are referring to," he said in response to an email asking him to confirm that Ms. Chang Kiraly "texted you about threats from Mr. Carpenter conveyed to her by Rob Silano at the Monterey conference." Chief Schapelhouman said the warning "was not a threat against one's person" but was about possible "legal action."
Mr. Silano said he would not respond to the Almanac's request to comment and did not deny conveying the threats.
Ms. Chang Kiraly said after the threat was conveyed she was so worried about possible legal action Mr. Carpenter might take that she asked an attorney at the conference if the fire board would have to pay her legal bills if Mr. Carpenter filed such a lawsuit. The attorney, who works for Meyers Nave, the fire district's contract counsel, told her the fire district could be responsible for her legal costs, she said.
Mr. Ullom gave the Almanac an email sent to him in April by the attorney general's office that said it could not rule on the merits of his incompatible-offices request because such requests must be prepared by an attorney. The documents were not prepared by an attorney. The email offers to take another look at his argument if resubmitted by an attorney.
Mr. Ullom said he dropped the matter because someone who is also involved in his cause had acted in a way Mr. Ullom considers unethical.
Legal opinion shared
Ms. Chang Kiraly said Mr. Carpenter was told by the fire district's own attorney shortly after her November 2015 harbor district appointment that her appointment is legal. Fire district legal counsel Steve Meyers told Mr. Carpenter, fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman and board member Silano that Ms. Chang Kiraly could legally serve on both boards, she and others who were told by Mr. Silano about the opinion said. Later, Mr. Meyers repeated his opinion to Ms. Chang Kiraly, she said.
Chief Schapelhouman and Mr. Silano were asked to confirm the conversation with Mr. Meyers. Mr. Silano did not respond and Chief Schapelhouman said he preferred not to comment because the matter could be on a future board agenda. Neither denied the conversation took place.
The harbor board's counsel also has provided a written opinion that Ms. Chang Kiraly is eligible to serve on both boards.
No election in sight
While the emails and accusations from Mr. Carpenter may sound like political campaigning, Ms. Chang Kiraly is not currently running for office and will have served concurrently on both boards for two full years in November. She has three more years until her fire board term expires, and four more years on the harbor board seat she won in November.
However, Ms. Chang Kiraly has publicly spoken out forcefully against Mr. Carpenter recently.
At the September meeting, Ms. Chang Kiraly was one of two board members who said they could not vote that night to fill a board opening left when director Rex Ianson resigned effective Aug. 31. The application process was unfair and "lacked specificity without full board vetting; it was vetted by only one person and his puppet," Ms. Chang Kiraly said at the meeting, referring to Mr. Carpenter and Director Rob Silano.
Only two of the seven candidates had submitted resumes, which she said was unfair. She and Mr. Bernstein also argued that they did not have time at the meeting to get to know the seven candidates, whose applications they had only received four days earlier.
Moments after Ms. Chang Kiraly's comments, Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Silano voted to adjourn the meeting. The move came a little over 35 minutes after the meeting had started, before the board had acted on a single agenda item. The meeting continued, however, because Ms. Chang Kiraly and Mr. Bernstein did not vote to adjourn. See the video here.
A few days later, on Sept. 20, Mr. Carpenter sent Ms. Chang Kiraly a series of emails telling her that she should not be speaking with Chief Schapelhouman "about your concerns with the way in which the Board is performing its responsibilities." Mr. Carpenter said that he had "directed the Chief" to "no longer engage in such discussions" with Ms. Chang Kiraly.
"Since the Board's performance is not within the Chief's areas of responsibility it is inappropriate to direct such concerns to the Chief rather than directing them to the Board itself," Mr. Carpenter said.
Ms. Chang Kiraly responded: "All directors are equal and have equal access to the Chief. Therefore, I will continue to communicate with the Chief as an equal member of the fire board."
In July, Ms. Chang Kiraly read a memo at the end of a board meeting accusing Mr. Carpenter of intentionally excluding her from a meeting she had requested with Atherton and San Mateo County officials. The memo also took exception to public records requests Mr. Carpenter had made to the town of Atherton.
"What Peter is doing is not serving the public well at all by focusing on me," Ms. Chang Kiraly told the Almanac this week. The fire board has important issues to decide, including filling Mr. Ianson's seat, contracts with its firefighters' union and other employees, and repairing frayed relationships with Menlo Park and Atherton, she said.
"We must always remember that the people's business comes first, so I hope the fire board can rise above politics and continue the important work we do to make our community safe," she said.
"When the fire board president is lashing out, he's not serving the public well," she said. "He's not focusing on the people's business. He's focusing on personal attacks on something that he knows isn't an issue right now."
The statement Mr. Carpenter provided did not address some of the issues raised in the story and some of Ms. Chang Kiraly's comments, a summary of which he was provided in advance.
Chief Schapelhouman said in an email that "there (are) currently differences between the Board members on various issues. ... I work for all of (the) Directors while trying to balance those impacts and implications to our core mission" of providing "timely essential fire and emergency services to the community."
"If the Fire Board would like to discuss this with me in a public meeting, I'm more than happy to offer my recollection, discussions, comments and suggestions for improvement to them as their Fire Chief," he said.