A seemingly harmless postcard intended to provide residents with financial information has brought controversy to the small community of Portola Valley.

Mayor Ann Wengert stated that the Town of Portola Valley began a campaign in 2008 intended to better communicate with residents.

Wengert said that, along with major development on the town’s Web site, 13 postcards addressing a wide array of topics varying from trash pickup days, information on a newly revised noise ordinance and a budget update, have been distributed.

Prior postcards have only given information about speaking events and general information.

Councilman Richard Merk told PublicCEO he was surprised by the contents of the latest postcard saying, “They never said anything like this in the past.”

Wengert and staff edited and distributed the final product with the feeling that it was important to inform residents of the state of local finances.

The problem: Wengert’s “staff” does not include all members of the town council.

Merk has asked, “Why was it not done with consideration of the entire council?”

Although the postcard never mentions a utility tax directly, Merk stated the card “blindsided” at least two council members.

Councilwoman Maryann Derwin said she believes the postcard was on the right track, but the timing of its distribution may have been poor.

Derwin feels that the postcards give the public a basic understanding of how the town spends taxpayer money, but the intention was to explain the current financial state of the town, “Where we are with our budget, how we got here, and what’s ahead,” Derwin said

Derwin explained the town has put a utility tax on the November ballot and that the postcard could have been perceived as pro-utility tax measure.

Derwin argued the informative nature of the postcards against the possible perception it has had, “If the utility tax measure doesn’t pass in November, we are in deep trouble.”

Merk hinted that this was not the first time information has been withheld from the entire council.

“I think staff and my colleagues should have held off on sending the piece until after it was brought before the full council at a meeting so that the five of us could discuss the merits of sending the piece as written,” Derwin said.

Derwin said the town has frozen staff salaries, along with “doing quite a bit of pruning.” 

“We are very fortunate in Portola Valley to have achieved a balanced budget with little visible impact on the amount and quality of services we offer our residents,” Wengert said.

Merk claimed this is largely because the town has been responsible in spending, and has healthy reserves.

The philosophy of this small community has always been to hold the importance of informing the public.

“The town has bent over backwards to make sure information is well distributed,” Merk said.

Louis Dettorre can be reached at ldettorre@publicceo.com