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MIJ: Conflict claimed in Novato lawsuit against railroad agency
Sunday 13 Apr 2008, 10:00
Filed under: NCRA, Railroad

Joe Wolfcale
Article Launched: 04/09/2008 06:56:50 PM PDT

PETALUMA – The North Coast Railroad Authority board wants to ban its two Novato members from participating in closed-door sessions when the city of Novato’s lawsuit against the rail agency is discussed.

The board Wednesday agreed to solicit the state attorney general’s opinion on whether Marin’s representatives on the nine-member board should recuse themselves from discussion of the lawsuit due to a perceived conflict of interest.

“This issue has been buzzing around for some time,” said Allan Hemphill, board chairman. “I think it’s a fair statement that when the board looks at this, you have two people appointed by agencies that are suing our agency sitting in the middle of our confidential meetings and deciding how we go forward tactically.

“We’ll tolerate it until we get a decision from the attorney general on the proper procedure to follow.”

Former Novato mayor Bernie Meyers and Novato business consultant Tom MacDonald were appointed to the board in October by the Marin County Board of Supervisors. The appointments came after Supervisor Judy Arnold and Novato Councilman Jim Leland resigned their positions after Novato initiated its lawsuit in September. The county joined Novato’s lawsuit in December.

The rail agency plans to revive freight rail service from Sonoma County south through Novato to Napa County. The agency has indicated up to 32 trains pulling as many as 60 cars could roll through Novato.

The city’s lawsuit says reviving freight rail service
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poses safety, pollution, traffic and noise problems.

The conflict-of-interest debate began Wednesday when longtime rail advocate Mike Pechner, a Bay Area meteorologist, circulated photocopies of two e-mail exchanges between Novato City Manager Dan Keen and MacDonald, dated Oct. 25, days after MacDonald was appointed.

MacDonald had requested additional information about signal contracts and the message contained references to the lawsuit.

“I was trying to get better informed,” MacDonald told the board Wednesday. “I can’t control the other person’s responses. I can say no briefings ever happened and that was the end of communications.”

Meyers, who twice served as mayor, bristled at the suggestion he would not uphold his confidentiality oath to the board.

“There’s not been one single incident where I’ve divulged something that shouldn’t have been divulged,” said Meyers, an attorney.

Contacted later, Keen defended MacDonald and Meyers.

“It’s preposterous to the extreme that any elected board member who might have a difference of opinion wouldn’t be allowed to participate in that agency’s decisions,” he said.

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