Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline and Councilmember Kirsten Keith will form a subcommittee designed to assist the city in negotiations with Facebook, as the social networking giant looks to on Willow Road.
Though every city council member expressed interest in serving on the two-person committee; Cline and Keith were ultimately chosen by fellow members at Tuesday's council meeting.
Their roles will be to serve as a liaisons between the rest of the and the city staff that will be negotiating with Facebook representatives on development issues. The subcommittee members will not be participating in the negotiations.
Instead they will be expressing concerns and priorities of the council to members of the city negotiating team, as well as reporting back to the council with new information and developments from the bargaining table. And as negotiations between the city and Facebook over what the company plans for its new headquarters in Menlo Park, Cline wants to dispel any possible concerns regarding conflicts of interest for the subcommittee members.
He requested, prior to his being appointed, that the subcommittee members be prohibited from attending events sponsored by Facebook, or accepting gifts from the company, or engaging in any activity that may influence their position regarding ongoing negotiations.
"There should be limited, if not zero access, to Facebook if you are on this subcommittee," said Cline.
Councilman Andy Cohen, who served on a similar committee when the city was negotiating with the Bohannon Development Company to construct the Menlo Gateway Project, said he agreed.
City Attorney Bill McClure said there are no laws restructing council members from associating with a company that is currently in negotiations with the city. But he did admit that fraternization between Facebook representatives and elected officials could open the door to the possibility of compromising any ongoing negotiations.
"There is an opportunity for divide and conquer," said McClure, referring to council members who could be targeted by Facebook as people who can be persuaded into making decisions that are in the company's favor.
In order to prevent such behavior, Cline proposed that the council approve a policy that restricts subcommittee members from associating with Facebook, or those who have vested interest in the project. The rest of the council unanimously approved of his suggestion.
McClure said his office will begin work to draft language illustrating that intention in further detail.
In December, the city staff is expected to release both a Draft Environmental Impact Report and Draft Fiscal Impact Analysis, which will offer the first glance into how the development of the Willow Road property will affect the rest of Menlo Park. Already has begun the process of entering into a development agreement with the city that, if agreed upon, would grant Facebook long term approval for construction on the property in return for "public benefits" it provides to the city. What benefits the public has not yet been defined.
Menlo Park City Manager Glen Rojas and City Attorney Bill McClure will lead the city in negotiations over such issues with representatives from Facebook. The subcommittee formed Tuesday will then work closely with the city staff on issues related to such negotiations.
But the subcommittee members will not be empowered to make decisions, as that is ultimately left to the entirety of the City Council.