The hot national debate over crude oil train safety has taken an unusual twist in the Bay Area city of Benicia , where a blunt-talking mayor's right to free speech is being pitted against an oil company's right to a fair public hearing.
This summer, amid tense public debate over a Valero Refining Co. proposal to bring crude oil on trains to its Benicia plant, Mayor Elizabeth Patterson revealed that the city attorney had privately advised her that her frequent public comments about oil transport safety could be seen as bias against the Valero project.
The mayor said the city attorney advised her to stop talking about the oil trains and sending out mass emails containing articles and other information, and to recuse herself from voting when it came before the council. [via @sacbee_news]
JoAnne Speers is a former general counsel to the League of California Cities who now teaches leadership ethics at the School of Management at the University of San Francisco . She said case law on the matter can trip up cities and elected officials.
"I feel for the mayor and elected officials generally," she said. "It seems paradoxical with issues of great importance to their community, if they want to participate in the decision, they are subject to certain constraints."