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September 23, 2023
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ACLU threatens legal action against Town

In debate over improving Code of Conduct, earlier situation involving former elected official surfaces

The ACLU of Northern California is stepping up its pressure campaign against the Town of Los Gatos, threatening legal action if it doesn’t reverse a rebuke of a Planning Commissioner who complained to state officials about a referendum drive that quashed residential densification plans.

It’s now representing Kylie Clark, the commissioner who was censured and ordered to counseling following a public hearing in February where she was called a racist by multiple residents for referring to the Los Gatos Community Alliance members as “white anti-housing men.”

Shilpi Agarwal, ACLU of Northern California legal director (submitted)

“The Los Gatos Town Council refused to revoke the censure of Ms. Clark. They are also continuing to require that she attend counseling,” the organization’s legal director Shilpi Agarwal told the Los Gatan, Monday. “If we are unable to reach an agreement with the Town, we will consider litigation.”

The ACLU sent a letter to Los Gatos about the issue March 1, accusing Town officials of trying to chill free speech by reprimanding Clark so publicly.

It repeated these concerns Monday.

“We were hoping our letter would resolve the issue,” Agarwal said. “It is disturbing to see the lengths the Los Gatos Town Council will go to silence conversations about race, wealth, and housing construction.”

On Feb. 28, the Town’s Policy Committee—including Clark’s partner Councilmember Rob Moore—dug into options for how to fix the Code of Conduct so discipline is handed down more fairly in the future.

Karen Delaney, a former Santa Clara County civil grand juror, said she doesn’t believe the scope of the review is large enough.

She told the Policy Committee it should have listened to her when she spoke on Oct. 18, 2018. That was a couple months after she received an email from Steve Leonardis, the Monte Sereno City Manager who was on Los Gatos Council at the time, accusing her, Margaret Smith and Karen Tomlinson of harassing him about a mural on his $2 million commercial property they didn’t like.

The email, sent from a government account, also threatened legal action.

“P.S.,” it concluded. “Tell Margaret I’m sorry I didn’t vote to reappoint her for the planning commission.”

Steve Leonardis
Monte Sereno City Manager Steve Leonardis. (Los Gatan file photo)

Back then, Delaney had pushed for a process update that could have prevented the Clark debacle from getting out of hand, she said.

“I’m shocked to hear that the purpose seems to be limited to actions involving commissioners today,” she told the Policy Committee, Feb. 28. “While the recent case is different in some ways, there is one common flaw that shows why the current Code and process fails to resolve all complaints in a satisfying and final way for the community.

“In neither instance was a neutral outside third party brought in to investigate and mediate. In both cases, the Town Attorney said it wasn’t necessary because the facts were known. I was also told it would just cost the Town too much money.”

City of Monte Sereno City Manager Steve Leonardis Says He was never Disciplined After Threatening Legal Action against Local Women

She followed up that evening with an email where she argued Clark received a harsher punishment than Leonardis did.

“Just to be clear, the volunteer (female) commissioner who expressed her personal opinion to the state was publicly shamed, er, I mean censured, with at least two council members suggesting even more severe consequences,” she typed. “I repeat my comments that the code of conduct policy, process, and practice need an overhaul for both council members and commissioners because these are not the correct outcomes.”

Los Gatos officials are “carefully reviewing the ACLU’s letter,” Mayor Maria Ristow said Tuesday.

“The Town did recently receive correspondence referencing an earlier complaint about Councilmember Leonardis, but does not have records regarding the outcome of that complaint so does not have information regarding the process or outcome,” she said.

In an email to the Los Gatan, Leonardis said he was never disciplined after threatening legal action against the women who disliked his paint job—or at all during his more than nine years on Los Gatos Town Council.

*This article has been updated to fix incorrect math about the length of time it took for Karen Delaney to speak to the Policy Committee the first time.

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected].



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