Fremont council member could be looking at censure for proclamation

Fremont Councilmember Teresa Keng speaking at a event last November organized by a pro-Chinese group that advocates for the reunification of China and Taiwan.

Fremont elected officials admonished Councilmember Teresa Keng at a meeting Tuesday night for issuing a proclamation without the city and council’s knowledge. Fremont Mayor Lily Mei also raised the possibility of censuring Keng.

The severity of Keng’s actions, meanwhile, were further revealed Tuesday night to be more than just a simple snafu on her part, but also one involving a potentially sensitive diplomatic incident.

It looks like it’s from the City of Fremont and that’s the problem.-Fremont City Attorney Harvey Levine

Councilmember Rick Jones, who brought the referral to council Tuesday night, said a resident alerted him to Keng’s participation in an event held last November by the U.S. Alliance for China’s Peaceful Reunification, a pro-Chinese group that advocates for the reunification of Taiwan with mainland China.

An image of the proclamation, along with photos of Keng, were posted on WeChat, a popular text messaging app, Jones said.

The presence of the city’s seal, along with the phrase “The City of Fremont” in large type atop the document deeply troubled city officials.

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Image of the document city officials said Keng offered to the pro-China group last November. City officials said the documents were given without their knowledge.

“It looks like it’s from the City of Fremont and that’s the problem,” said Harvey Levine, Fremont city attorney. “It’s important that we be very careful in terms of foreign affairs that could affect our community relations.”

Fremont has a large Asian American population. Additionally, a sizable portion of the same demographic is of Taiwanese descent, including Keng.

Furthermore, the U.S. pledge to defend Taiwan against military intervention by China is one of the hottest potential geopolitical flash points in the world.

“I’m not an expert in Chinese-Taiwan relations, but this seems to be a sensitive issue to many,” Fremont Councilmember Vinnie Bacon said.

Keng denied any wrongdoing, adding the documents was merely a courtesy thank you to the group. “How do you break a rule without that rule existing,” Keng said.

But Fremont’s council handbook delineates the process for issuing city proclamations. The power rests mostly with the mayor. Most cities in the East Bay have similar arrangements.

“This was done without our knowledge and it was done very publicly,” Jones said.

Fremont Councilmember Yang Shao took exception with Keng’s failure to fully explain why she presented the proclamation without council approval. On two occasions, he said Keng had “dodged” the question.

“It puts us in an arena that we’re not suited for,” Mei said of Keng interjecting the city into an international issue.

Later, the council voted to direct city staff to examine whether the process for issuing proclamations needs revisions. City staff was also asked to explore possible punishments for Keng’s actions, including censure, a highly punitive moved that is akin to impeachment.

In Alameda County, however, the act of a local government body officially rebuking a colleague with censure is very rare.

It’s only been successfully used once in Alameda County over the last decade when the A.C. Transit Board of Directors censured Board Director Joel Young in 2013 for improperly providing closed session legal strategies to the labor union that the agency was in negotiations for a new contract.

Oakland attempted to censure former Councilmember Desley Brooks, also in 2013, for 12 charter violations that involved a teen center in her East Oakland district. But Brooks later escaped censure.

Any stain of censure could be perilous for Keng’s re-election in November. Although, Keng won the District 1 seat in 2018, because of the city’s on-going expansion of the council from five to seven seats, her first term is initially set for only two years, and revert back to four years, thereafter.