Nothing but questions!!

Kathy McKeithen got elected to the Atherton City Council in 2000 on a platform that had the following priorities:

  • Bring accountability, transparency, and responsive stewardship to town government
  • Create an environment that fosters respect and openness to citizens and town employees; seek input from Atherton citizens
  • Establish term limits so that new people with new ideas can keep the Council from becoming complacent

Councilmember McKeithen is soon to be completing her THIRD TERM.  She has now been on the City Council for twelve years.  Much like her commitment to TERM LIMITS—she seems to say one thing and do the opposite.  If she actually were doing what she says her priorities are, it is very likely things in Atherton would be okay.

Unfortunately, residents don’t feel respected at all.  Resident input on important matters, such as McKeithen’s pet library project, has been utterly ignored while her committee mushes ahead doing what they want.  And there is a lot that is going badly in Atherton.  Residents recognize that the town is having many, many problems.  The town has now gone nearly two years without having been able to hire a permanent town manager.  The last Interim Town Manager the town had quit abruptly six months ago.  There is yet to be any appointment.  The council is completely divided: the majority appears to be going “rogue” and, with no professional management to provide guidance, the council majority is taking actions with virtually no accountability to what is in the best interests of residents.

While the town has had continuous controversy and acrimony over the last twelve years, things are much worse than they ever have been and Kathy McKeithen is in the center of it all.  It seems like a good time to take a good hard look at what she is doing and whether or not McKeithen has lived up to ANY of her stated priorities.

The problem is, not only isn’t there any transparency, there isn’t any coherency either. Her notion of “responsive stewardship” feels more like covert deconstruction and conspiratorial agendas to strip rights (and now the park tennis courts) away from residents.  When one looks merely at the facts of what Kathy does, it makes little sense.  I find that I have many more questions about Kathy McKeithen—and especially why she does what she does—than I have answers. I wish I had the answers.  I am therefore going to do what I can, and write down my questions.  I am hoping that those of you who read this, can fill in some answers.  I’ll attempt to provide some answers or simply theories about why she does what she does, but please add your own insights where you can.  Use the open comment links but it is best that everyone respond anonymously.  These are perilous times in Atherton and, given what we know, anyone who ventures to critique Ms. McKeithen will get accused of something!

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3 thoughts on “Nothing but questions!!

  1. McKeithen voted to block other council members from placing items on the agenda,

    Atherton council members accuse their colleagues of censorship over agenda rules

    by Andrea Gemmet
    Almanac Staff

    Two members of the Atherton City Council are accusing their colleagues of censorship for making it harder to place issues on meeting agendas.

    Until recently, Atherton had no formal process for a member of the council to add an item to a meeting agenda, leaving it up to the city manager to set the agenda. In March, a new policy was adopted requiring the approval of two council members before an issue could be placed before the entire council.

    But now that’s going to change. At the June 17 meeting, a divided City Council passed new rules requiring an additional step — not only does a pair of council members have to agree in order to propose an agenda item, but it will require a majority vote of the council to authorize the item’s placement on a future meeting agenda.

    So, if three or more members of the council vote against a proposed item, that item won’t get on a meeting agenda and won’t be discussed by the City Council.

    The vote was 3-2, with Elizabeth Lewis and Charles Marsala opposed.

    “Agenda items can be very dangerous if they’re not approved by the council,” said Councilman Jim Dobbie.

    Getting something on a council meeting agenda is important because, under the state’s open meeting law known as the Brown Act, an elected body can’t take action on anything that hasn’t been placed on an official agenda and published at least 72 hours in advance. The rules can be cumbersome, but they serve a purpose — to prevent the public from being blindsided by government decisions.

    Mr. Marsala said that a lot of controversial issues faced by the town in the past few years would have benefited from a public airing, if only he had been allowed to get them on the council’s agenda.

    “If there is an issue that needs to be brought out and vented, then let that happen,” he said. “I like the idea that if two council members want to bring something to the attention of the full council, (they can). I’m in favor of leaving things the way they are.”

    Mr. Dobbie said there could be “absolute chaos” if the rules weren’t changed. If an issue is important, the council will approve hearing it, he said.

    “If the council doesn’t allow it, we’ll have to take the flak from the public,” said Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen.

    She said that there is often a very good reason to delay discussion of a topic, such as waiting until a report about it is completed.

    “I feel this is censorship,” said Mr. Marsala

  2. Thiis will be an interesting experience. Will McKeithen run for a fourth term? When she ran in 2000, She stated she was asked to run to clean up Atherton’s problems. There were no problems, she claimed she found waste and mismanagement by the council. However a letter written by Smith McKeithen to Mike Hood in 1998 states that their neighbor Brian Bothun’s mother suggested she should run for council. McKeithen leads to campiagns to defeat the Parcel Tax, hurting Atherron’s Finance to discredit the council just to get elected to the council.

    Another area to look into for this site is that while McKeithen was on the Atherton Finance Committee, she supported three tax increases which had to be refunded. Tax increased have to be approved by a majority vote of the town.

    In 2008, she ran for her third term claiming the finances of the town were in great shape. Lewis correclty pointed out McKeithen was wrong. Refunds were due on the illegal taxes and the town had $2,000,000 in reserves that belonged to the Building Deptartment.

    Viewpoint – Wednesday, March 4, 2009
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    Editorial: Atherton on the budget ropes

    Like many communities, Atherton is facing a major shortfall in this year’s budget. But while the economic downturn is partially at fault, Atherton has only itself to blame for a large part of its expected $2 million deficit.

    It all started in 2003 when the council, on the advice of its finance director, decided to charge contractors and subcontractors a business license fee based on .36 percent of 1 percent of the project’s value, rather than the annual flat fee assessed in the prior years. While it was easy for the town to collect $250 from each general contractor, keeping track of numerous subcontractors was not.

    The idea was to make up the revenue the town thought it was losing to hundreds of subcontractors who some officials said were side-stepping their $150 annual license fee.

    The argument was convincing, and the City Council went along, voting unanimously on March 19, 2003, with the approval of its then city attorney, Marc Hynes, to impose the recommended new business license fee. The new charges were strongly opposed by contractors working in Atherton, who said the new fee overestimated the number of subcontractors on expensive jobs. They met with Atherton officials in an effort to change the new assessment plan, but the town held fast and revenues from the business license tax jumped from $150,000 to $450,000 annually.

    The system remained in place although the town’s resolve wavered last year, when more and more protests were lodged against the tax. Sacred Heart School, for example, said it was charged $55,000 in business license fees when it was building a new gym. Other residents echoed the private school’s story, saying they had paid far too much for simple remodeling jobs.

    Council member Charles Marsala took up the cause, and for the past year, has continued to press his fellow council members to consider changing the tax. Finally, under the threat of legal action, the city hired a consultant to review the business license tax system for contractors, and although the resulting advice was heard in a closed session, the council voted in December of last year to go back to its old method of flat fees and offer refunds for fees paid in the past two years.

    This isn’t the first time Atherton has had to refund money to irate and potentially litigious builders. In September 2006, the council rescinded the controversial construction off-haul fee a year after it was imposed, and announced it would refund the approximately $350,000, plus interest, that had been collected. Opponents of the off-haul fee, a charge on excavated dirt carted off building sites, said that it was an illegal tax, not a reasonable fee for road damage caused by heavy trucks.

    In the next fiscal year, Atherton expects a negative swing of $1.1 million from the business license fiasco, based on $425,000 in lost income and an estimated $680,000 in refunds that will be paid to contractors who were overcharged during the last two years. No refunds will be given for the higher fees paid from 2003 to 2005.

    Even in a good budget year, Atherton cannot afford to pay for a $1.1 million mistake that was approved on what appears to be terrible advice from its finance director and city attorney. Everyone is entitled to a bad decision now and then, but now it appears that a consultant’s analysis of the new business license fee should have been commissioned before it was assessed, not five years later, after the damage had been done.

  3. No answer just more questions.

    The attached story from the Almanc highlights a few of your points.

    1. John Johns gives a statement under penatly of perjury that McKeithen gave him Closed Session information to help in his case against Atherton. In the end McKeithen pushed to give Johns $225,000 plus health care for life. Johns had performed the investigations for McKeithen. Besides a Brown Act Violation, this could be Misuse of Public Funds and Honest Service Fraud. It costs Atherton over $1,000,000.00
    2. The Almanac reported the story and blocked comments. Why? The Alamanc does protecct McKeithen for bloggers in ways it does not protect others.
    3. Why was there no Atherton Agenda item regarding Johns claims. Johns was correct.

    News – Wednesday, March 5, 2008
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    Atherton: John Johns loses round in legal fight

    by Andrea Gemmet

    The saga of Atherton’s ex-finance director added some new twists last week, as a judge told John Johns he had to decide between suing the town and avoiding incriminating himself in a criminal investigation.

    In addition, Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, who had been Mr. Johns’ staunchest supporter on the council, repudiated a statement the former finance director made under oath.

    Mr. Johns was in court on Friday, Feb. 29, trying to block the town from questioning him as part of its defense against his lawsuit for wrongful termination.

    A Superior Court judge disagreed with Mr. Johns’ argument, clearing the way for Atherton attorneys to take his deposition.

    Mr. Johns was fired in October after being put on administrative leave for two months while a private attorney hired by the town conducted an investigation into complaints against him. The investigator’s report painted Mr. Johns as a bully who may have improperly done outside work while on the town’s time.

    Mr. Johns maintains that he was targeted for blowing the whistle on fiscal improprieties in Atherton’s building and other departments. He has called the report from the investigation flawed and inaccurate.

    The San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office is currently investigating whether Mr. Johns used town equipment or town time while doing outside consulting work, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

    Mr. Johns argued that he didn’t know there was a criminal investigation going on, citing a November phone conversation with Councilwoman McKeithen. He said Ms. McKeithen told him the criminal complaint was going nowhere, according to a declaration filed with the court.

    Ms. McKeithen, however, filed her own declaration on Feb. 27, saying she didn’t tell Mr. Johns anything about a criminal complaint against him. “The statement Mr. Johns attributed to me under penalty of perjury in his declaration … is not accurate,” she said.

    Mr. Johns’ attorney, George Camerlengo, argued that his client’s Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating himself in the criminal investigation would make it impossible for Mr. Johns to be questioned as part of the civil lawsuit for wrongful termination. He asked for a 60-day delay so the criminal investigation could wrap up.

    Judge Marie Weiner displayed little patience for that argument during Friday’s brief hearing, saying that the case law concerns only defendants in civil cases who were also facing criminal charges. Since Mr. Johns is the plaintiff who brought the civil lawsuit, the situation is different, she said.

    “I’m not going against case law,” she told Mr. Camerlengo. “If you want to make a new law, go ahead.”

    In her decision, Judge Weiner said, “A plaintiff is entitled to stand on his or her Fifth Amendment rights or to proceed with the civil suit — but a choice must be made.”

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