Sep 14 2012

OPINION: Incorrect Ballot Argument for Measure Y

The following letter was sent to the Piedmont Civic Association:

When voters read the argument in favor of Piedmont’s Measure Y parcel tax, they’ll see the usual points from city leaders desperately seeking to pass a tax, and a significant misrepresentation.

Mayor Chiang and Councilman Wieler were authorized by their council colleagues to write the ballot argument – a move necessary to ensure compliance with the Brown Act and electoral code.

Despite all their caution, the Mayor and Councilman seemingly couldn’t help themselves from embellishing a very important fact, in order to strengthen their argument. Chiang and Wieler wrote that the “City Council unanimously supports renewal” of the tax. This is the important concluding message to the proponents’ argument. If true, this conclusion would send voters a strong message of support, an overwhelming endorsement, from their elected leaders for this tax.

The statement is not true. It’s an absolute misrepresentation of the facts. The City Council never voted to support the tax. Council voted to place the tax on the ballot, to allow voters to make a decision. Ballot placement is not an endorsement of the tax.

The Council also authorized the Mayor and second member to sign arguments relating to the Measure. The Council passed no resolution endorsing the tax.

Furthermore, at least one Council member, Garret Keating, was always clear that he only supported placing the measure on the ballot so that the voters of Piedmont could make a decision for themselves. He reiterated his neutrality on September 4th.

As soon as the argument was filed, we alerted City Administrator Geoff Grote, City Clerk John Tulloch, the Mayor, and Council members to the misrepresentation. The City Attorney was also aware of the correspondence. Despite all the outside pleas to have the offending language removed, staff and Council have refused to correct the misrepresentations.

At the September 4th City Council meeting this issue was raised during Open Forum. Administrator Grote, Mayor Chiang and Councilman Wieler publicly acknowledged the misrepresentation. Councilman Wieler apologized directly to Councilman Keating.

When asked directly to act to correct the misrepresentation Mr. Grote stated the City will take no action and declared that any resident could go to Court to correct the matter.

A city administration that prides itself on its partnership with residents is now blatantly disregarding that important relationship by refusing to correct the public ballot material misstatements. The City could have easily petitioned the Superior Court to correct to the misrepresentation. The City Attorney could have drafted and filed the writ at minimum cost to the City. There would have been no opposition, and a more truthful argument would be printed and sent to all Piedmont voters.

Instead, the City, which has never been afraid to litigate, is suddenly coy. Mr. Grote suggested that any voter can petition the court to correct the misrepresentation. Why place the burden and the responsibility of correction of the City generated rebuttal misstatement on the voters?  The City has ample time to restore transparency and honesty to the November election. It’s the only decent thing to do.

Ryan Gilbert, Member Municipal Tax Advisory Committee and co-signatory
to the ballot argument against Measure Y,

Editors’ Note:  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.

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