Fire board member says board president is 'going after' her

Virginia Chang Kiraly says board member warned her to 'watch out' for Peter Carpenter

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.

"Watch out"

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.

Carpenter's statement

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.

Who pays?

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.

Meeting adjourned

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."

Intentional exclusion?

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's response

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.


Sign up for Express to get news updates. Follow the Almanac on Facebook and Twitter.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


47 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 6, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Mr. Carpenter is in fact the person unsuited for the Fire District Board and certainly the President of the MPFPD. He has shown time and again in the last year that he can not make good decisions and has lead a board that continues to make mistakes, alienate the city councils and let down his constituency. I hope that there is a way to force him out before he can do more damage.

20 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:04 pm

While I don't always agree with Mr. Carpenter, I have to say that I'm disappointed in Mrs. Kiraly's most recent fire board representation. Previous Boards have been able to make decisions on appointing a director at the established meeting. If she wanted more information she should have asked for it prior to the meeting -- it's called doing one's homework. She and Chuck Bernstein were a poor showing of our elected officials.

Additionally -- serving on 2 elected boards -- really?! Isn't that kind of greedy or boosting one's ego. If she is really that "experienced" she should have known better to do her homework and been better prepared.

Sounds like maybe cleaning house would be a good idea or establishing term limits.

17 people like this
Posted by Gimme a break
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:23 pm

[Portion removed; don't speculate on the identity of other posters.]

(Rob Silano), People elected you to make decisions. Please have the courage to stop being Carpenter's "puppet" and think for yourself. Calling you Carpenter's "puppet" wasn't Kiraly's finest moment, I'll give you that, but she said what everyone thinks. At least, she had the courage to call a spade a spade. If the fire district is going into union negotiations with the firefighters, as Kiraly said, do what's best for taxpayers. That may be hard for you since the firefighters union funded your first campaign. Hopefully you won't be too much of the firefighters union's puppet either.

13 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:36 pm

Poor Commissioner/Director kiraly, picked on again. I’ll wait to vote for her twice for re election to both the fire board and harbor district in 2020. She will save on political materials. Why don’t you Virginia do as Peter Otacki did, when he won a seat on the Menlo Park Council, he resigned from the fire district.

Be an adult, do the right thing, step aside, now is a great time. There are many to choose from to take your place.

22 people like this
Posted by Gimme a break
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Dirctor Silano, I couldn't agree more that there needs to be housecleaning. I think it's time for Peter Carpenter to go, and if you can't think on your own, it's also time for you to go.

15 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:49 pm

@Gimme -- despite what you may think, I am not Mr. Silano. I was commenting on fire and community activities even before he was elected to the fire board. If you were to look at other comments throughout the online version, you would see that I am not Mr. Carpenter's puppet.

I'm sure you really didn't mean to draw an inaccurate conclusion.

24 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 7, 2017 at 12:13 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Some relevant information that was not included in this article:

1 - From: Peter Carpenter
Subject: My statement
Date: October 6, 2017 at 11:28:33 AM PDT
To: Richard Hine <>

"I have recently received a copy of a proposed lawsuit by John Ullom which challenged Virginia Kiraly’s simultaneous service on the Fire Board and the Harbor Board. That lawsuit apparently did not proceed solely because Mr. Ullom did not have the funds to do so.

Upon reviewing the extensive and careful documentation in that propose lawsuit I believe that there are 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.

I make this statement as a resident of both the Fire District and the Harbor District and not as a member of the Fire Board or on behalf of the Fire Board.”

2 - The Ullom suit
Web Link

3 - Legal Opinions of the Attorney General - Opinion Unit

"As the chief law officer of the state, the California Attorney General provides legal opinions upon request to designated state and local public officials and government agencies on issues arising in the course of their duties. The formal legal opinions of the Attorney General have been accorded "great respect" and "great weight" by the courts."

19 people like this
Posted by Gimme a break
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 7, 2017 at 1:49 am

Two other long posts below for a different article that are worth reading because I think they outline what Mr. Carpenter is trying to do, which is control the majority of votes on the board. The process to fill the vacancy left by Mr. Ianson seems to be flawed, and it has Mr. Carpenter's fingerprints all over it. Sounds like he is retaliating against Ms. Kiraly for calling out his unethical and bullying behavior because she wants a fair process to appoint the fifth member of the fire board.

Mr. Carpenter: your and Mr. Silano's behavior is very disappointing for men in leadership roles on an elected board.

As board president, instead of trying to bring your board together, you let your pride get in the way and bring up old news, trying to hide behind John Ullom, who doesn't even live in the fire district. Shame on you! At least, Mr. Ullom was man enough to call you for what you are, a "traitor", for retaliating against Ms. Kiraly because you aren't getting your way with filling Mr. Ianson's seat and exhibiting very childish and petty behavior.

1) Posted by Randy
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 5, 2017 at 2:45 pm
This process has been flawed from the start.

1. The district gave different stories about Ianson's resignation date. The date is important. It determines the deadline by which the board must fill the vacancy, in this case 60 days. If the board doesn't act in time, it goes to the board of supervisors.

2. Peter Carpenter at first wanted Ianson to vote with the rest of the board on his replacement. That was ridiculous since Carpenter -- who is always telling other people what the rules are -- ought to know that would be impossible under the Government Code 1780 (d) (1). The board can only consider a vacancy after the vacancy occurs.

3. Based on the video, the interviews were inadequate. It was like the board was going through the motions. Nobody would hire an employee for their business using such a superficial process, so why should we put somebody on an important local board this way?

4. There was a confrontation at the Sept. 19 meeting between Carpenter and Kiraly over whether the board should vote that night on a replacement or take more time. The board appeared to split 2-2 on this question, with Kiraly and Bernstein wishing to take more time, while Carpenter and Silano wanting an immediate vote.

5. [Part removed. Please avoid negative characterizations in Town Square posts.]

[Part removed. Please avoid speculation in Town Square posts.]

I believe Nachtscheim was on the board several years ago when the district has having so many labor issues. One of the questions they should have asked Nachtscheim is what did he learn from the district's legal dispute with the firefighters' union? What mistakes does he believe were made when he was on the board? It's a fair question since the fire district was fined by PERB for several law violations in how they dealt with the union. (I'm not a fan of the union, but when it comes to collective bargaining agreements, it's important for both sides to obey the law.)

[Part removed

2) Posted by Randy
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 5, 2017 at 3:25 pm

I apologize Mr. or Ms. Censor for my characterization of two MPFPD directors. Please let me rephrase my point.

1. Why isn't Rob Silano more independent of Peter Carpenter? Tapes of previous meetings show that Silano seems to frequently echo Carpenter but he does not contribute his own ideas.

2. If appointed, will Nachtscheim he be independent of Carpenter's influence?

Again, I apologize for phrasing my point in a politically incorrect way. I work with my hands, and I'm used to calling a spade a spade and not mincing words.

11 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 7, 2017 at 7:23 am

Don't forget to come to the Pancake Breakfast at Station 1, from 7:30 AM to 11:00 AM. All invited!!!!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 7, 2017 at 7:59 am

Bob, According the the article there were problems with the candidates that prevented the board members from choosing a replacement. For example it says the applications were only vetted by two people and only two of the applicants supplied a resume. I don't think it was the fault of the two members who felt they needed to do due diligence as much as it was Mr. Carpenters fault for not having the proper materials ready or involving other elected members in the vetting process.

2 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 7, 2017 at 8:00 am

Sorry the above comment was meant to be addressed to Bob not meant to use his name as the "Posted by"

35 people like this
Posted by and i generally love everyone...
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Oct 7, 2017 at 9:42 am

I waited a day before wading into this mess.. simply because I cannot think of two more unlikable local politicians.

Nationally, of course, one can think of a more unlikable and belligerent politician. At least he doesn't use the Almanac as his personal twitter-trumpet.

14 people like this
Posted by John The Baptist
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2017 at 11:09 am

John The Baptist is a registered user.

[Editor's note: Parts of the post below have been removed because they involve (1) negative labels that are not conducive to productive discussions or (2) allegations of legal wrongdoing. Town Square is not the appropriate venue for such comments.]

@The guy who usually loves everybody. You nailed it.

[Part removed.] I can show you the email (Peter Carpenter) sent me where he denies ever using his personal email to Fire District Business. I can also show you the hundreds of emails Peer Carpenter sent using his personal email address that a PRA request revealed.

Peter Carpenter [part removed] often brags about his genetic connection to the author of the Brown Act so as to burnish his self assigned transparency rating of "10". Yet he uses his personal email account to do the business of the fire district. He gossips with the Chief about Bernstein. He complains about Kiraly. He rants about local City Council members. He also does the same with his personal email address and local reporters. Carpenter used his personal email because he knew it was shielded from PRA disclosure. Except now it isn't per recent court rulings.

Carpenter has known about my suit regarding Kirlay's dual office since I filed it. Now that Peter and Virginia are in a tussle, suddenly Virginia's enemies are Peter's friends. Or at least that is what Peter thought. Here is the email he sent me the other day in hope of enlisting my cooperation against his fellow board member:

What was the disposition of the incompatible offices claim that you filed re Virginia?



And that's all you need to know about Peter Carpenter.

But then we have [part removed] Virginia Chang Kiraly. Virginia as a puppet for South San Francisco. She will vote the way her puppet masters in South City instruct her when it comes to subsidizing the sinking dump by the bay called Oyster Point Marina.

And PRA requests that distract? Too funny! Virginia Chang Kiraly filed a PRA request against two fellow board members on the Harbor District. Yep. That's right. The same Virginia Chang Kiraly who takes Peter Carpenter to task for filing PRA's against other districts, filed two against her own. Worse even, the contents of Virginia's request closely mimic the a PRA request filed by the [part removed] who screwed up the Mavericks Surf contest. Cartel Management [part removed] are lashing out at both myself and Harbor Commission member's who have since Cartel showed up three years ago, have been pointing out Cartel were a bunch of [part removed].

Just like Peter tried to co-opt me, Virginia aligned herself with Cartel in hopes of damaging her rivals on the Harbor Board. Cartel went broke and ripped the contest off from the locals. Virginia is still trying to force fellow Board Members to respond to HER PRA request. A request that looks one heck of a lot like the one filed by Cartel.

Rant as I have, nothing will illustrate better the petty mean girl nature of both Virginia and Peter than this short cringe inducing clip:-- Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by Sabrina Brennan
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 6:44 am

Please fact check this Almanac story. It's my understanding that the SMC Harbor District's attorney has NOT provided a letter stating that Virginia Chang Kiraly is eligible to serve on both the Harbor Commission and the Fire District boards.

California law requires an automatic vacancy in the first office held by an individual if the two elected offices are assumed to be incompatible. An incompatible office is identified by California law as one in which the duties of two offices overlap so that their exercise by one person may require contradictory or inconsistent actions to the detriment of the public interest.

To avoid the appearance of serving two incompatible offices the Fire Director/Harbor Commissioner should resign from one board. Continuing to serve on both elected boards diminishes the integrity of California special districts.

The lack of accountability regarding incompatible office should be investigated by the SMC Civil Grand Jury.

For reference:

1999 SMC Civil Grand Jury report regarding Concurrent Holding of Two Elective Offices: Web Link

Final 1999 SMC Civil Grand Jury report recommendations: Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 8:33 am

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe should have investigated this on the first day and solved it.

3 people like this
Posted by Town Hall Debate
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 8:33 am

There should be town hall debate where Brennan and Carpenter lay out their case why there is a conflict of interest. Kiraly could lay out her case why there isn't a conflict. Invite the public and the press. Let us decide.

Brennan and Carpenter should make a public invite to Kiraly.

15 people like this
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Oct 8, 2017 at 8:46 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Ms. Brennan:
The Almanac always checks facts before a story is printed. In this case we viewed copies of the written opinion and a staff report repeating the basics of the written opinion.
To quote from the memo from Steven D. Miller, the harbor district's general counsel, dated November 13, 2105. "In sum, I do not think that a court would find the position of Harbor Commissioner to be incompatible with that of a member of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District."
"None of the factors (in the relevant law) appear to be present here. First, no Commissioner has any supervisory power or control over any employee or officer of the Fire District and vice versa. Second, there does not appear to be any foreseeable scenario in which there would be a clash of duties between the two offices."

In addition, the harbor board received a staff report dated November 16, 2016 from General Manager Steve McGrath which says in part: "Your staff and counsel believe that there is not an incompatible office issue as there is not authority of one agency over the other; there is no foreseeable clash of duties; there does not appear to be a public policy issue."

8 people like this
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 8:55 am

Michael G. Stogner is a registered user.

To quote from the memo from Steven D. Miller, the harbor district's general counsel, dated November 13, 2105.

This is the same attorney from the same law firm that, allowed 3 commissioners to motion and vote to issue a 5 year permit when that was NOT on the Agenda. The cost of that still to be determined approaching the $1,000,000 mark.

San Mateo County Elected Officials voting for things not on the Agenda is more common than you would think.

2 people like this
Posted by Gimme a break
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Oct 8, 2017 at 9:24 am

[Post removed. Town Square is not the venue to make allegations and speculations about legal wrongdoing.]

3 people like this
Posted by John The Baptist
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 9:56 am

John The Baptist is a registered user.

The DA has not charged anybody with a Brown Act violation. Get your facts in line before making rhetorical accusations.

Brennan has never had control of anybody on the Harbor Board. I doubt you have ever witnessed Kiraly in action at the Harbor District.

6 people like this
Posted by Sabrina Brennan
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 10:10 am

Sabrina Brennan is a registered user.

Hello Barbara,

Thank you for the information. Please publish Steven Miller's 2015 opinion letter. I don't recall reading it.

The Nov. 16, 2015 staff report said, “If an issue of incompatibility is found to exist, Ms. Chang Kiraly forfeits her position on the first Board, in this instance the Menlo Park Fire Protections District.”

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

DoorDash is opening a shared delivery kitchen in Redwood City. What does that say about the future of the restaurant industry?
By Elena Kadvany | 9 comments | 3,155 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 1,819 views

Menlo Park Can Learn A Lot from Palo Alto (Part 1)
By Dana Hendrickson | 3 comments | 1,171 views

Bond. Bond Touch.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 855 views

The holiday season
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 772 views