30. What kind of City Council do we want?

Atherton residents will soon be submitting their ballots with their choices for two candidates to fill seats on their council—which, for the first time since the new millenium, won’t include Kathy McKeithen.  It is the town’s first opportunity to make a break from the polarizing style she brought to the council and seat new members committed to representing residents’ preferences, rather than their own ambitions.

Even residents who don’t pay much attention to town events are aware that the council, throughout Ms. McKeithen’s long tenure, has been characterized by incivility, personal attacks, expensive settlements, inappropriate and excessive investigations, revolving door of senior staff and simply ridiculous amounts of controversy.  Expensive litigation over Lindenwood urns, the Performing Arts Center and Menlo-Atherton field lights all come to mind, as do attacks on all town officials and improper charges and rebates of building and construction fees, as major drains on town funds and good will. McKeithen was perennially front and center of all of these problems.  Luckily, we have a chance to break with this past, except for one disturbing notion:  that apparently McKeithen has put forth a candidate to serve as her “heir apparent.”  That candidate is Denise Kupperman, the long-serving chair of the ALBSC, McKeithen’s Library Committee.

The Atherton Library Building Steering Committee is the group that’s been pushing McKeithen’s biggest and most polarizing of projects which is being voted on as Measure F.  So, the question must be asked: could Kupperman possibly have the town’s best interests at heart in her run for City Council, or is she, as some contend, simply McKeithen’s proxy?  Given how important the new council will be in making post-election decisions about the Library, the ballpark, the Town Center and building good relations with the new Town Manager, it is critical that Atherton residents take a very close look at Ms. Kupperman and her ethics.

Unfortunately, both Kupperman’s website and her glossy mailer that arrived at homes this past week raise serious questions about Kupperman’s honesty and integrity.  Rather than proudly assert her “accomplishments” as Chair of the Library Committee, Ms. Kupperman totally downplays her involvement. As shown here, Kupperman calls herself a “Committee Member” and buries Library Committee at number 3 in a list.  No mention of being the chair of this notorious committee!  Which strikes me as rather two-faced.  If everything the Library Committee did was perfectly legit, as Ms. Kupperman and her “Yes on F” friends so stridently assert, why does Kupperman completely fail to mention her leadership role as the Chair of that committee?  We think this omission is clear acknowledgment that, as ALBSC chair, Kupperman did not exactly demonstrate “caring civic leadership,” as claimed on her flier.  She’s white-washing her credentials, stepping away from the responsibility she’s had for the fiasco created by her Library Committee. It’s rather alarming how dishonest this presentation seems (she has no children of her own, either, as far as we know).

Clearly, McKeithen and her ALBSC supporters like Kupperman. Many members of the ALBSC and their spouses signed her Candidate Filing papers as endorsers for council candidacy—including Councilmember McKeithen and her husband, Smith McKeithen. Yet, Kupperman chooses to leave both McKeithens off her list of endorsers on her flier and her website.  In so choosing, Kupperman is clearly attempting to distance herself from McKeithen and hide the full truth about who supports her. While we can understand her reluctance to acknowledge this relationship, nevertheless, the impulse to control and limit information to prevent residents from getting the true picture is alarmingly reminiscent of the way McKeithen herself operates.

Covering up her role in the town’s great library controversy and her relationship with McKeithen are truly bad signs. We would prefer if she came clean and distanced herself by promising process reform and even to “recuse” herself from library votes for which she is conflicted.  But Ms. Kupperman is not moved by honesty and goes in the other direction.  She astonishes some in town in her effort to bolster her credentials as “Working for Atherton.”  Her flier lists her membership on the “Environmental Programs Committee” right below “Atherton Library Committee.”  Seems like this would be another one of her big, proud accomplishments — but the committee hasn’t even met once since being reconstituted with several brand new members, including Kupperman, a few months ago.  Would Kupperman be trying to burnish her own credentials with the past notable accomplishments of what had once been a very vibrant committee?  Mind you, this is the same committee that, at the end of 2011, McKeithen attacked, suspended, investigated and had pilloried in the press because of a blog post discussing the environmental impacts of moving a county library to the town’s park that she didn’t like.  McKeithen, on behalf of the Kupperman and the ALBSC, forced the committee to unplug its own website and halt work mid-stream on a $100,000 home energy efficiency program, funded with tens of thousands of both town and federal grant dollars.  Kupperman claims to have 16 years as an active and caring civic leader—and likes to depict herself working in gardens—yet she didn’t oppose McKeithen’s ongoing suspension of the EPC and the resulting waste of the committee’s efforts and funds.  Was she working for Atherton then?  Was this “caring civic leadership” that we can find credible?

In a review of other issues, Ms. Kupperman has indicated on her campaign website that she is opposed to High Speed Rail.  Yet a brief web search finds that Kupperman was recently cited by the Palo Alto Daily News as being in favor of High Speed Rail.  They wrote:

Another resident, Denise Kupperman said she likes the notion of high-speed rail combing the state with the population predictions.  “It’s difficult to implement in a suburban corridor”, Kupperman said. “But ultimately it will happen”.

So which is it? We get the all-too-familiar sense that this candidate has decided to say or do, or omit saying, whatever it takes to sound acceptable to residents. This double-speak is reminiscent of Ms. Kupperman’s obvious mentor, McKeithen.

In another disturbing incident, the recent endorsement of Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest by the Atherton Police Officers’ Association resulted in the standard McKeithen-style backlash.  The APOA was accused of improper actions by the council majority, pilloried by the Alamanac and Kupperman was seen and heard screaming at both senior and junior members of the police force and town staff.  Although the issue of outsourcing the police has not formally been raised at the council level, McKeithen’s well-known hostility towards the police and calls for outsourcing all police services to the county Sheriff, has made Kupperman’s position on outsourcing naturally suspect.  Many people suspect, in fact, that McKeithen’s preference to move the library away from the town center has everything to do with depriving the town center of the library (and its tax funding) as an anchor for town center redevelopment.  Thus, the decision on Measure F is actually tied into future decisions about police, and they have a right to endorse candidates on that basis.  However, Kupperman’s response makes frightfully clear that we could be seeing a new McKeithen-like creature rising from the ashes.

Kupperman’s glossy fliers, appearing simultaneously with “Yes on F” fliers have led many people to suspect that both have been produced using library funds (or using “donated” library graphic design support that need not be reported). At the recent Candidate’s Debate forum, people noticed that Ms. Kupperman was the only candidate of four who apparently knew all the questions in advance. She came so well prepared, she had deftly written answers for each question that she read aloud! (See the link for the video of the session.)  She sounded a lot like McKeithen, who routinely read her own scripted statements. Kupperman may not have done that much to impress the crowd with her prepared speeches, but in combination, Kupperman has indeed made a great case for being Ms. McKeithen’s successor on the council.  The question is: do we want another “McKeithen?”

What kind of City Council do Atherton residents really want?  Do we want to replace McKeithen with a canddidate with the same agenda, who is both closely tied to and beholden to McKeithen?  Do we want someone who has demonstrated how well they have learned McKeithen’s unsavory tactics for manipulating facts and information to suit her goals — nowhere done better than with the Library Project?  Do we really want to place power in the hands of someone who will verbally attack those who oppose her, including town police and staff?  Or do we want to finally shake loose of McKeithen’s toxic, agenda-driven influence altogether?

My preference would be to see us select council members with a proven track record and integrity.  Elizabeth Lewis, the incumbent, has a highly respected track record and there are two other viable candidates, each with credible commitments to serving on behalf of Atherton residents and not their pre-existing agenda.  Let’s focus on these!

28. Will the smell linger?

With the recent decision by Kathy McKeithen not to run for her fourth term on the Atherton City Council, many residents have heaved a big sigh of relief. We may not be expecting town politics to ever be genteel but now, at least, we don’t need to fear McKeithen’s blurted “I think” accusations against her political opponents, ranting from her seat on the council about what she thinks they’ve done (with or without any factual basis) after public comments, when the accused is not in a position to speak and defend themselves because of the end of “public comments.”  It was a cute trick, if a little over-used.

Those decorum-defying episodes kept many people from ever wanting to step foot in the council chambers and were not for the weak of heart. Yet, some of us wonder if, with McKeithen off the council, it will ever be safe to take a deep breath here in Atherton.  Even at the height of her power on the council, McKeithen did not limit her tirades and attacks to her public official persona.  Many suspect that she spent late nights keeping sharp by putting people in their places through an array of anonymous personas who made appearances on the Almanac Town Square blog.  In such cases, readers got a strong whiff of McKeithen thru her typical-sounding rant, without the actual sighting.

Take this Almanac article concerning the Council’s controversial 3-2 Vote “Preferring” the park site.  Read down about 25 comments from folks all distressed about the council’s vote, to where you find a commenter writing as “Smell A Rat.”  Here’s what they write:

Posted by Smell a Rat – Use Common Sense, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2011 at 9:17 am  I would suggest that many of you who wrote would be better off spending some time educating yourself as to the facts rather perpetuating misinformation and setting forth narrow-minded views.As to Park & Rec’s comment – the 300 signatures requested that a Master Plan be done, not a survey of whether the library should go into the Park. One might reasonably ask, if a Master Plan is so important, why didn’t Ms. Fisher (former Mayor – isn’t every council member?), a member of the Town Center task forces looking into the building of a new Town Center for years, require that a Master Plan be done as part of that much larger project? Why only now when a library might be going into the Park and the library committee has already stated on its own that it believes the Park Master Plan needs to be updated?To Davena Gentry – Holbrook Palmer Park was given to the Town to be a high class Public Recreational Park. At the time the gift was being considered, the number one use envisioned by the residents of Atherton was a LIBRARY. Just where do wedding and corporate events fit into public recreation?To Atherton Voter – “The new building in the Park is a new community center with abundant meeting rooms…. why are libraries closing across the country as digital books become the norm?” There is no indication that the new library would have anything more than one small meeting room, and perhaps not even that if the community did not want it as determined in the design and size phase. As for libraries closing – why are local private schools expending millions to build state-of-the-art libraries and new libraries drawing record attendance? Your facts are simply wrong. Do the research.By law, and as the recipient of federal monies, Atherton cannot restrict use of the Park to Atherton residents. And why should we? Perhaps Menlo Park and Redwood City should consider charging us a fee? Maybe Burgess should be off-limits to Atherton residents and Little League teams? If we intend to close off the gate to Felton Gables because they won’t let school children pass over private property (and as was suggested even restrict their right to build gates that back up to the Park on their own land) why not have guards posted to keep out any non-Atherton residents? Remember they tried that along Connecticut beaches? Illegal, let alone unconscionable.To Wedding Planner – “Someone pays the town $3,000 or more to use the facilities for a few hours and the council thinks this is not profitable? How?” How? Because there is such a thing as EXPENSES. Look at the materials from the October 19, 2011 council meeting (they are on-line) that relate to continuing to rent out the park. Look at the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS of taxpayers’ money which has gone into subsidizing these mostly non-Atherton parties just the last few years. It is precisely these costly events (with no guarantee that changes can be put into place to make them profitable) that have contributed to “hard pressed [financially] Atherton”. And what about the wear and tear referred to in a recent article? The town received $1,050 this summer for a corporate event for 500-800 people. Our park effectively could not be used by residents at the time, suffered foot-traffic (at a minimum), and with overhead included probably ended up costing the residents money — but wait — maybe the residents like paying for parties to which they aren’t invited more than they like having non-residents borrow books.What a bunch of close-minded, selfish people we have become. As for the petitions, incredibly biased surveys (complete with prejudicial and misleading cover letter) and the new Town Center, I refer you to my comment posted there. For years I have read on these blogs about Atherton’s negative press. The lawsuits are nothing – they happen in the best of communities for no fault of their own. What we should be ashamed of is so much of what has been written here – the” keep everyone else out” attitude, the failure to think in terms of a community. In supposing we are somehow better than others, we have truly come off worse.


Posted by atherton voter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2011 at 9:47 am[Post removed. The quote is from an anonymous poster. Please don’t attribute to a named person.]


Enough people recognize McKeithen’s style that the commenter after this quote seems to have called her by name—yet the Almanac deleted that, probably at her request.

Here’s a tiny bit of analysis:  This writer uses some very interesting techniques to argue his/her points.  In this instance, despite over 25 comments posted prior to this one which argued against putting the library in the park, this writer has an “I know better than you” arrogant tone.  She sites tons of facts—but not all are correct.  For the parents among us, also note the bullying way the writer picks out others to address directly, in a sequence of attacks. This is a frequent McKeithen technique.  Note the multiple condescending insults, the open-ended, insinuating, colorful questions and slick transitions, diverting attention from the substantive issue to her own distracting issue or accusation (even though not really relevant) while failing to address the underlying concern. Note the direction to see her own prior comments (giving herself away, really.)  Finally, notice how the closing lament is for how bad and heartless all of us have become (and the author includes herself), because we dare question using our park for a library.  This lament has a similar format to the one that McKeithen used in her signed Letter entitled: Has Atherton lost its soul over library issue? where she writes:

I realize that we have become a town of beautiful gated homes but are at risk of losing our soul.

Just a final observation about the sense of impunity and arrogance that could be read into the language of “Rat” (as other commenters called this author) when she writes:

One might reasonably ask, if a Master Plan is so important, why didn’t Ms. Fisher (former Mayor – isn’t every council member?), a member of the Town Center task forces looking into the building of a new Town Center for years, require that a Master Plan be done as part of that much larger project?

The little toss-out — former Mayor – isn’t every council member? — seems to be a gratuitous jab aimed at the councilmember that McKeithen herself—in concert with Widmer and Dobbie—kept from becoming Vice Mayor in the ordinary course of council business earlier that year. A little masked gloating, perhaps?

For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, read this Editorial by one of the Almanac Editors (who chooses not to be named), which piece could easily have come directly from McKeithen’s own typewriter.   Then read down to the comments posted by Thank you, copied below:


Posted by Thank you, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 7:55 amA big Thank you to the Almanac for seeing through the machinations of Didi Fisher, Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis. The money for the library must stay with and for the library, not a town center, police station, etc. The residents of this community are indeed fortunate that over a multi-year process, the public and their elected representatives came up with an outstanding plan to build a fabulous library in the park. I continue to disagree with Peter Carpenter. There is no precedent for taking 3-2 votes to the citizens because of “deadlock.” That’s simply grandstanding.
Posted by Thank you, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:11 am>>> It seems that the use of library funds use,in spite of clear statements to the contrary, are going to be used to build a new town center. Nothing could be further from the truth as they cannot be used except for library purposes. That should not be difficult to understand, “Thank you”Just a red herring. Marsala cooked up a Ponzi scheme a few years ago to have the library buy a decrepit building from the Town, which would then turn around and build a glorious new police station with that money. There are some very sneaky and horrible schemes that have been cooked up to pilfer the library money while still making it seem like it’s still for the library. That just won’t work, and won’t be allowed.

In the first comment, Thank you seems to be thanking the Almanac Editors for “seeing through the machinations of Didi Fisher, Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis” — ie for publishing her letter as an “editorial.”  (Somehow I doubt the editors of the Almanac are following that closely what is going on in Atherton or that they would, if they were talking to anyone but McKeithen, insult good people like this).  Then a little self-serving back-patting (how fortunate the town has been), combined with the standard distortion of the facts of the ALBSC’s faulty and barely one-year long process (propaganda used many times by ALBSC members), and, to finish off, throwing in of an insult of another’s “grandstanding” (of which no one is more guilty of than McKeithen herself—another common occurence).

In the second comment, Thank you uses McKeithen’s trademark “headline-grabbing,” if utterly unsubstantiated vocabulary (i.e. red herring, Ponzi scheme, decrepit, very sneaky, horrible schemes, cooked up, pilfer, etc. to demonize the intentions of others (without any facts presented).  Thank you finishes off with a wonderful authoritarian flourish, worthy of someone who thinks they control the whole town!

The question that will be answered only in the coming months and years, even after this election is behind us, is will McKeithen’s toxic influence linger, like a stench, over Atherton politics even when she’s no longer visibly on the council?

27. Does McKeithen attempt to monopolize the airwaves?

I find the campaign orchestrated by Ms. McKeithen and her apparently dwindling list of compatriots against the Athertonians group quite revealing.  In the past, McKeithen could literally control the “airwaves” about any issue, first because she and Dobbie managed to censor the council minority members by eliminating their ability to get any of their concerns onto the council agenda, and second due apparently to close relationships with editors of the Almanac, most notably Ms. Rene Batti, who has been very obliging towards the ever headline-spewing McKeithen.  Suddenly, with the emergence of the Internet and town email lists like Yahoogroups and Google Groups and even private blogs, McKeithen can no longer personally define what kind of information gets out.  This appears to be infuriating for her.

I took a look back at the articles, editorials and viewpoints published by the Almanac. While McKeithen and her friends are currently up in arms over “censorship” because the Athertonian spit out a bunch of those same individuals for attacking it, it seems that for the last few years, the only partisan views being published to the town have come from McKeithen and her Library cohorts.  The focus of all of their efforts have been to push their Library Project on the town no matter what controversy it caused (they didn’t seem to care about that).  Originally, they attacked the blue ribbon task force (“ponzi scheme” to rob the library), then the EPC (“illegal” operations), then the Town Center Task Force and more recently, they have attacked the Athertonians Yahoogroup moderators (informing the public—oops, we mean “name confusion”) — presumably because of posts that have called attention to key agenda items.

Who are the folks pushing the library on the rest of us?  I did a little research and I’ve come up with what seems like the list of McKeithen’s inner circle, whose impact, influence and power over the town, thanks primarily to a constant presence in the Almanac, are highly disproportionate to their numbers.

1.  Kathy McKeithen:  Member of Library Steering Committee, three-term Councilmember, Atherton’s representative on the Library JPA, and dominant player on many other town committees and commissions.

2.  Denise Kupperman:  CHAIR of Library Steering Committee, former member of Library Task Force

3.  Smith McKeithen:  Married to Kathy, attorney, actively attends many private meetings held by Kathy with town staff, so may serve as her private legal adviser.

  • Instigated an attack by McKeithen on the EPC due to a post on the EPC’s website discussing the environmental impacts of moving a county building away from the town’s transit hub, as stated by McKeithen during a council meeting (citation coming).
  • Letter to Almanac: Attack of Athertonians Group

4.  Jim Dobbie: Councilmember Cohort and McKeithen backer, has reliably voted with McKeithen on all library matters, appears to do whatever she tells him to. As mayor, his big initiative was to discontinue rentals of park facilities (for the library) without council approval.

5.  Ginny Niles:  Member of Library Steering Committee, former member of Library Task Force

6.  Sandy (Howard) Crittenden:  Library Steering Committee, Arts Committee (which wants space in the new library in the park), Developer

  • Almanac Article: Correcting problematic EIR finding, Crittenden is shown going out and measuring the width of Watkins Avenue with Kathy and Smith McKeithen and correcting their own EIR findings (by Rene Batti)

7.  Walter Sleeth:  McKeithen backer, other than always showing up at meetings to argue in favor of rushing through the library, or to attack the Athertonians Group, no known town role

8.  Marion Oster:  Library Steering Committee, Chair of Atherton Heritage (stands to gain new large space for her small group in the proposed multimillion dollar library)

  • Instigated an attack by McKeithen on the Athertonians’ group because of its calling attention to the agenda for the council meeting that approved an additional $86,000 of town tax funds for EIR consultants due to town controversy in November, 2011.
  • Authored the opinion that claimed that the Main House in Holbrook-Palmer Park is not historic in support of the Library’s plan to demolish the Main House.

9.  Karen Bliss:  Former Chair of Library Steering Committee, President of Friends of the Library

10.  Joan Saunders:  Friends of the Library, Library Steering Committee, Library Task Force, Atherton Arts Committee

11.  Pat Dobbie:  Wife of Jim Dobbie and vocal proponent of moving the Library to the Park.  Active as observer and cohort to ALBSC and has advocated for Library in the park to the Atherton Garden Club.  Also considered by some as likely anonymous commenter on the Almanac blog.

26. Will there be a candidate McKeithen in 2012?

Twelve years is enough time for the residents to weigh whether or not Kathy McKeithen has lived up to her representations.  These are McKeithen’s own stated qualifications and goals from 2000.

Given the recent controversies surrounding McKeithen and her Library project, these are worth a closer review.

In response to why she thought she was qualified to serve on the Town Council, McKeithen writes:

  • A broad and deep knowledge of the Council and the Town document — contracts, budgets, accounts receivable and payable, municipal ordinance, applicable law.
  • Proven track record for initiating positive change
  • Dedication to improving the Town and healing fundamental divisions.
  • Ability to communicate well and work with people.
  • Open-minded.
  • Have the time to do the job well.

I will agree with her first and last bullet points.  In fact, McKeithen’s notorious scrutiny into town documents and minute micro-managing of every aspect of town activity and town staff has been legendary . . . but I have not heard that it’s been positive. Rather, such detailed knowledge seems to have come at tremendous costs—usually in extraordinary legal fees, as the town has launched investigation after investigation, at her insistence.  Most investigations done by Atherton or outside agencies don’t seem to have uncovered any wrong-doing (other than those involving John Johns, who was seen by many as working with McKeithen to attack others).  Rather, a very large number of them resulted only in departures of town talent—not so surprising, given how demoralizing it is to have one’s reputation besmirched first, and only cleared after the fact.  Not what I would call successfully “working well with people.”

Similarly, is firing nearly all staff people with bitterness “initiating positive change?”  Is ignoring petitions signed by hundreds of residents and locking in a controversial EIR process (that cost the town nearly $100,000 more because of the controversy) “healing fundamental divisions?”  Is staunchly defending one’s own committee despite its refusal to conduct adequate public process or cooperate with other groups to do reasonable town-wide planning being “open-minded?”

2.  Responding to why people should vote for her, McKeithen wrote:

  • As someone who actively participated in the two-time defeat of the parcel tax (because like so many others I did not approve of the way the funds were being spent), I believe that I am in a unique position to understand how to begin to heal our Town and move it forward.

Is defeating the town’s parcel tax a form of healing?  It seems more like a form of punishment? It actually punishes residents and staff.  Wasn’t McKeithen, a member of the council, actually working directly against the efforts of other council members?  Is defeating the parcel tax a sensible approach to solving the problem—or is it combative and reactive, because the town really needs the funds?  Clearly, we needed the parcel tax (which passed later), so it may have been a more positive approach to support the parcel tax but cooperate with fellow council members to make sure that budgeting and proper financial oversight are established.  That could at least have been seen as an attempt to work well with others—but that wasn’t what she chose to do.  If you don’t like how your dog behaves, do you refuse to give it food?  No. You train it to behavior better.  If you choose to refuse it food, maybe you don’t like your dog.  At any rate, her statement itself exemplifies just how poorly McKeithen understands working together for solutions. She has not shown any capacity that I have seen for healing.  The stick is the only tool she uses and she uses it whenever she’s not happy (which seems to be all the time)!

  • Desire to restore credibility and trust by responding quickly and respectfully to residents’ needs, being accountable for the results, making the Town more transparent and improving communications – e.g. broadcast meetings on TV, streamline the agenda.

Far from restoring credibility and trust or responding quickly and respectfully to residents’ needs, McKeithen’s steadfast refusal to address resident concerns about her Library project has put the town through a year of really terrible convulsions. Transparency? Improve communications?  McKeithen attacked the resident email group, the Athertonians, because she didn’t like that it communicated about council agendas to residents—especially relating to the Library and EIR.  Even the City Attorney had to explain to McKeithen that she could not censor resident communications.  As the sitting council member on the Library Steering Committee, maybe McKeithen should be held “accountable” for what seems like the biggest heist of good will, trust, confidence and credibility this town has seen.

  • A belief that consensus, credibility and trust can only be built on the availability of knowledge – the opportunity to know what is happening in [our] Town and why.

The Library Steering Committee’s recommendation to the council did not sit well with lots of folks—because it did not reflect any input from any of the community workshops.  Where is the evidence that shows that residents want a library in the park?  We’d like that “knowledge” as that is what McKeithen’s steering committee was chartered to do—engage residents in making this decision.  Nevertheless, with no evidence and with McKeithen herself defending against requests for the committee to produce evidence, McKeithen’s majority approved that recommendation.  No facts, no credibility, just protests and petitions to change course.  That’s not what I call a consensus.

  • The changes that McKeithen wanted to see on the council includes:  A full and complete discussion of all the issues and the alternatives rather than a piecemeal or closed-minded approach.

Sounds good.  So why did McKeithen herself slam a resident-hosted survey showing more than 80% of resident’s wanted town-wide master planning to allow the library to be considered in the town center development.  The library wants its own piecemeal solution, and seems pretty darn closed to the idea of being located in the town center.  McKeithen accused the town center organizers of trying to steal library funds. On what basis?  Talking about alternative ideas?  On top of that, she refused to approve having a survey of the town done.  Refused even when the Park & Rec committee demanded that and when her fellow council members requested that.  Refused to allow discussion of the Master Plan on the council agenda.  In fact, McKeithen spent months suppressing discussion of the full issues that residents raised.  This seems incredibly defensive, piecemeal and closed-minded.

McKeithen convinced many to vote for her in 2000, 20004 and 2008.  She wrote then that she wanted to see the Town Council enjoy:

  • A more respectful consideration of what the citizen and other Council members have to say.

Twelve years on the council is a very long time.  Long enough for Ms. McKeithen to appear to have completely forgotten what she found so offensive when she first ran and to have become that and worse herself. Long enough that to achieve her own goal of getting more respectful consideration of what citizens and other Council members have to say (not to mention her aspiration to see term limits put in place), Ms. McKeithen should wisely choose just not to run.

9. Why would McKeithen promote Widmer over Lewis?

This question refers to the whole, extremely strange and rather suspect Vice Mayor/Mayor selection thing that happened in December 2011 and which had some follow-on weirdness in 2012.  Anyone else care to speculate?  This episode with the Atherton council went largely unnoticed by many in town. Yet, this small act and possible major violation of the law, set the stage for much of the subsequent hostile actions perpetrated against the residents of the town relating to the Library Project.  Love to hear what others think, as it is possible to suspect that this little incident, more than any other, reveals the ugly under-belly of the beast that we are dealing with.

As I understand it, Carlson nominated Lewis, whose turn it really was, having had three years of service on the council.  Lewis probably seconds that motion.  Then they vote.  Carlson and Lewis vote “Aye” and Dobbie and McKeithen vote “Nay.”  Widmer stuns everyone by abstaining from this vote, so the nomination fails.

Think about this.  You are a brand new council member, newly seated five minutes ago.  The next most junior council member colleague of yours who has already served three years on the council, was just nominated to be Vice Mayor, according the the council’s long-standing protocol of nominating that member of the council who has served the longest without having been Vice Mayor.  What do you do to launch your political career?  Abstain, force that nomination to fail?  For what beneficial purpose?

I don’t know about others, but I find this little episode to be hitting a nadir in the chambers of Atherton’s not always so genteel politics. What happens next is both surprising and not so surprising: McKeithen and Dobbie nominate Widmer and the three vote to put him into the Vice Mayor seat.  Just like that.

It happened so fast, people changed seats, and then the meeting moved right along. A lot of us were just staggered, downright uncomprehending.  It seemed to be merely outright meanness by Widmer.  We didn’t really have any clue of why McKeithen and Dobbie would line up like that, until this past fall, when residents begin to call out their concerns about the ALBSC and we started to see Widmer squirm under the spotlight of McKeithen’s botched Library outreach job and so many suppressive council votes.  He didn’t seem at all convinced about what the ALBSC was doing, yet dutifully marched in step with McKeithen, despite awareness of all of the ALBSC’s “failings” as he called them.

It was John Danielson who let slip a little information:  he said Dobbie prided himself on having mentored Widmer.  It makes you wonder what that mentoring consisted of.

24. What motivates Kathy McKeithen to cast aspersions towards the Atherton Police?

It seems that Kathy McKeithen will jump on any opportunity to condemn and point her finger at the Atherton Police.  While virtually every other Atherton resident I ever speak to is absolutely ecstatic about the job the Atherton police do, McKeithen has been known to froth at the mouth anytime she gets a chance to accuse the police of something.  I would love to know what underlies this set of hostilities, which seems to go way back.

Extremely concerning is how, motivated by her publicly-known hostilities towards the police, she has twice worked in opposition to fellow council members to defeat the Town’s Parcel Tax (which is designed to primarily fund Police costs, I think), even though its defeat cripple town finances, since a portion funds other town needs.  How is trying to defeat the Parcel Tax in the best interests of residents?  Aren’t there other, far more effective ways to address organizational concerns with the police, if that is what her concerns are?

I find it highly unprofessional for one of the town’s most senior council members to level the kinds of vague accusations that Kathy utters fairly often in public—but in the case of the police, towards a highly professional organization that not only works full time but also puts their lives on the line to protect and defend us.  Nevertheless, it appears from the range and breadth of her accusations, no person, council colleague, volunteer committee or respected profession is immune from finger-pointing by McKeithen.  With behavior like this, my analysis suggests that either she just completely lacks the kind of effective people management skills that are needed to address her “fears” in an appropriately professional way (such as meeting with the Police Chief) or her reasons for issuing utterings like this are not actually to get to the bottom of what is happening—but possibly just to spread fear, doubt or hurt reputations.  It is really difficult to understand what the public benefit could be of a council member talking like this at a council meeting but here, according to Almanac reporter, Rene Batti in this linked Almanac article, are McKeithen’s latest vague, unsubstantiated insinuations involving the police:

The difficult job of serving on the Atherton City Council for the past 11 years has been made nearly intolerable by incidents including vandalism at her home, an unexplained incident of police cars driving around her property . . .” Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen declared during the Jan. 18 council meeting.

Regarding references she made during her statement to problems she’s encountered outside the council chambers, Ms. McKeithen told the Almanac that “odd things are happening.”

One example: Multiple incidents of vandalism to her irrigation system. The system’s hoses were “cut up into 12 or 15 pieces,” and hers is the only residence in her neighborhood to experience the vandalism, she said.

Although she said she suspected the incidents were occurring while she was away at Wednesday council meetings, police department records show that the two occasions that officers were called out were on July 22, a Friday, and Aug. 22, a Monday, according to Lt. Joe Wade. But the reports say that it was unknown when the vandalism occurred.

Lt. Wade said that on the second call to the McKeithen home, officers were told that there had been a third incident as well.

Officers had offered to begin patrol checks around the house after the first call, but the offer was declined. In August, the patrol checks were requested, he said.

There are no suspects or leads in the case, Lt. Wade said.

Ms. McKeithen said her concern over police cars “on at least one occasion totally circling my house” stemmed from an incident reported by a family member after she returned home. When she called the police department and was told officers hadn’t been at her house, she called other jurisdictions and was told none of their officers had been in the area.

She questioned whether the incident had actually occurred until neighbors asked her what the police were doing at the house that day, she said. But “no one in the police (department) will own up to that happening,” she added.

Another incident involved “two people dressed in black in my backyard, with knapsacks,” she said. Suspicions of being targeted also led to her hiring a professional to check for eavesdropping “bugs” in her house, she said.

When asked who she thought might be vandalizing and trespassing at her home, she said, “I have no idea.”

25. Where’s the “beef” from all those “community meetings?”

I have read what pro-library folks, like Walter Sleeth, keep telling us, that in their opinion, there were plenty of opportunities for members of the community to weigh in on the library, and that we “failed to heed all the notices for giving input.”  The message is the library committee did its job and “residents failed to show up” but I’ve become skeptical that this is really true.

Jim Dobbie, council member and one of the Library’s most vocal supporters and regular contributors to the Almanac, wrote a “Guest Opinion” that said:

Calls for referendums are misplaced in this instance, where more than 50 public meetings have been held and over a dozen community meetings.

Now wait a second!  I remember when the first public notice came out about the Library meetings in June 2011.  I thought the postcard notifying us was really professional-looking:

This postcard is the first notice to the community that I received.  Did anyone get other notices that I missed?

There were these two meetings held in late June 2011.  Big letters: IMAGINE: Very casual seeming approach, in fact. It says “Drop in for an hour or Stay for the Whole Time!”  Then there was this postcard sent in September:

Seems rather bland, no specific information about where the process is.  But then, suddenly, the committee spits out a very long report and recommendation to the council to put the library in the park.  And to approve the EIR process, which by the way, the committee had already started working on in the spring, and oops, might as well approve that increase of almost $100,000 extra to pay increased EIR budget costs due to the public controversy)!

How did I and everyone else miss hearing about the other 59 meetings?  This seems like a pretty big discrepancy.  I mean, the middle of summer can be a bit laid back, I grant. But missing 59 meetings?  I don’t think so.

Trying to figure out what all was going on, I went to the Library’s modest web site up on the Town web site.  It looks like this:

Town of Atherton
Library Steering Committee

Members & Calendar

Back To: Agendas/Reports/Minutes

Site Selection Report to City Council on October 19, 2011

Report to Park and Recreation Commission on Library Building Project (October 5, 2011)

Frequently Asked Questions

Library Funding

Process to study new library options

Library Study and Atherton Library Trends

Building Programs

Environmental Assessment

Site Selection

Additional Material

Project Management Selection Related Documents

Library Steering Committee Historical Documents

Phase I Architect Selection Related Documents

New Atherton Library Community Preferences Questionaire Results

ALBSC Community Meetings on Initial Design Feb-March 2012


Kathy McKeithen (Council) Karen Bliss (Voting Member)
Michael Kashiwagi (Staff Member)
Sandy Crittenden (Voting Member)
Carine Risley (Staff Member)
Denise Kupperman (Voting Member)
Ginny Nile (Voting Member)
Marion Oster (Voting Member)

The Library Steering Committee meets on the 3rd Monday of each month at 10:30 a.m. in the Council Chambers, unless otherwise noticed. Meeting dates can be confirmed on the Community Calendar


2012 Meeting Dates

January 5February 2March 1April 5May 3

June 7

July 5August 2September 6October 4November 1

December

Quite a bit of info, yes, but when I looked through this listing, there isn’t a whole lot about all those supposed 62 public meetings. In fact, the only section of information that even pertains to the community engagement process had seven items and is appropriately called “Process to study new library options.” (I reproduce these here, so we can look at them closely.)

  1. Mailer 1 for June 2011 flyer
  2. Mailer 2 for September 2011
  3. Community Outreach Activities
  4. Focus group arts and heritage notes
  5. Focus group parents note
  6. Focus group teens notes
  7. Email note sent June 23, 2011 by Town of Atherton

I’ve already showed you # 1 and 2.  Those are postcards about meetings.  Apparently #7 was an email sent on June 23rd by the Town, which I didn’t get.  Numbers 4, 5, and 6 were actual meetings but they don’t appear to have been noticed or advertised to the general community.  These were, in fact, “Focus Groups.”  I certainly did not hear about them and there is no notice posted showing how these groups were set up. Did anyone else get notice of them?  Still, that brings the number of actual meetings up to 6.

(I have now reviewed the summaries of the Focus Groups—you should also!  What a trip!  I have to say, using these three focus group meetings to bolster their case of having “engaged the community” seems rather lame.  In one case, the “Parent Focus group,” the library folks state that they simply recruited six random moms and one nanny who happened to be hanging around the library during story time, to ask them some questions.   The “Teens” group, they  interview a classroom of Menlo-Atherton sophomores and juniors (only one of which admits to having ever been to the Atherton library) about what they want in a library—but they never ask these kids whether they’d prefer to have an extra playing field, versus a library in the park, which seems to me to be rather pointless given the task at hand.  The third focus group is comprised of a very small group of Atherton Heritage folks, with overlap into the library committee’s own members and all they talk about is how much dedicated library space they would like to have for themselves. None of these “fccus” groups talk about, let alone provide any input for the location recommendation that the group made in October.  How these even be said to be helpful evaluating the “location” options, when all they really discuss is configuration options, not relevant.  So I take it back, we are still at three meetings.

Lastly, there is one final hope: document #3, entitled “Community Outreach Activity.”  I take the time to copy this for you here:

Unfortunately, this list only reproduces the other items already reviewed with one exception—a neighborhood meeting described as “Selby/Stockbridge”, with 40 residents attending.  No summary is provided for this meeting.  Can any report what happened there?

For that matter, while there are summaries of the three pointless focus groups, there are no summaries posted for ANY of  the three “IMAGINE” community workshops, where people actually showed up.  Ms. McKeithen: Good job on the postcard design: BIG Fail on transparency about the results of those workshops! No imformation posted at all.  But, wasn’t transparency your goal? Let’s review those goals again:

  • 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

When neither Ms. McKeithen’s Library website, nor any of the notices mention a word about the meeting process, how long it goes, what is covered, how the decision was made, is that transparent or responsive stewardship?  When people complain that they are left out on the decision-making process, and Ms. McKeithen’s own committee refuses to listen to their concerns, complaints and legitimate objections, is that fostering respect and openness?  Seeking input?  But not using it?   Like it or not, this Library project earns A BIG FAIL on process transparency and Design, Ms. McKeithen.  With those three meetings essentially being all there was from your committee, you’d think the post card could at least say something like “Last chance to weigh in on important town decisions!” rather than “Drop in for any hour or stay for the whole thing.”  That seem rather deceptive now, in retrospect.  Especially since the only ones who knew what the process was, was the library folks.

Real community engagement starts with some brain-storming but they eventually get down to serious discussions of pro’s and con’s about the use of the park and competing needs for open space.  That part doesn’t seem to have happened at all—which really makes the results of the committee worthless—since there is no evidence that any other groups who care about the park were even given a chance to weigh in.  Where are summaries of Dames input, ACIL input, Little League input, Lacrosse input, Park walkers, dog walkers, Playschool parents, etc.?  Where are the lists of the ideas that came out of the brain-storming you asked people to do?

The best explanation for where all those missing meeting are is that Mr. Dobbie is including the 33 committee meetings and special committee meetings held almost weekly by the library committee, not advertised, but promoted but which occupied committee members from apparently August, when the committee launched, until June, when the committee held its first real community meetings, advertised as such.  I think I know the difference—as do most residents.  So why would Dobbie try to make it sound like there were so many meetings with the community there?  It seems that there has been such a continuous stream of hyperbole around all those 50 or 60 so called “public meetings” that even ordinarily highly thoughtful and intelligent residents like Mr. Sleeth can start believing these fictions.

The real question is: how can Mayor Widmer (with a motto “Expect More”) condone this committee’s end run on meaningful community input, the failure to provide the community process transparency and the completely misleading messaging coming from marketing materials and members of the council, who should be protecting residents’ and the town’s interests, but who instead are very artfully attempting to convince residents that their frustration over not having any input on the project was their fault in the first place?