20. Failure of fiduciaries to make the case for the library

Transparency, accountability, respect for residents’ intelligence, and respect for the needs and concerns expressed by their constitutents are all lacking in the approach taken by the council majority, under the whip of Ms. McKeithen.  Rather than do the hard work to make the case to the community and share what we’ve been told is a lot of research and work, the council majority has attempted to force their decision on the rest of the community.  Residents have not had any opportunity to assess whether a new library in the park is the right thing for our community, because the ALBSC came out swinging, bringing their recommendation to the council for a vote and allowing the process to move ahead before the community had any real chance to vet the project. I can’t say this any better than this gentleman did:

From: Ross Koningstein <ross.koningstein@gmail.com>
Date: May 24, 2012 9:45:24 AM PDT
To: Athertonians@yahoogroups.com
Subject: [Athertonians] Re: Tennis Courts at Holbrook Palmer Park

. . .  One of the comments I made to the proposed library environmental impact report was that there was no discussion of whether a library move could be optimal for the town.  These economic impacts (opportunity cost to putting a library in the park) – affect all the other things in the park, and on future town decisions as the buildings are upgraded/replaced, etc.

Such costs are ultimately born by the town residents in the form of extra costs or reduced value of the town’s services, facilities, and infrastructure.  We expect our council to make decisions in the interest of the town and its residents.  By not asking for and factoring these costs into a decision the council members who vote for this are not fulfilling a fiduciary obligation to the town.

I fail to understand how a council member could vote for the library project as planned without a factual analysis of what the town as a whole needs in its town center – and pros and cons of moving forward in different ways.  Convince me this is good for the town by presenting the consequences of alternatives.



21. Why don’t residents know what lies behind a string of rash council actions?

During the town’s Library EIR comment period, the council took a string of rash action that has been largely unexplained and rather concerning.  What are residents to make of the council’s abrupt dismissal and disbanding of the Town’s General Plan Committee?  It appears to be a strategy by council members to “tighten their grasp on power” (phrase stolen from a report on Egypt’s Military)  ahead of town action on the Final Library EIR.  The first any of us heard of it, was when one member sent the below message:

FROM: david@davidhenig.com
DATE: Wed, 9 May 2012 16:55:00 -0400
SUBJECT: Atherton General Plan Committee disbanded

I just received notification from the Interim City Manager
thanking me for my service to our community and informing me that “Council voted to dismiss the General Plan Committee and assign the duties and powers to the Planning Commission.”

David Henig
59 Sutherland Drive
Atherton, CA 94027
M 415.205.3900 H 650.234.8375

For the council to take such an action, without legitimizing either the reason or the timing with the community is yet another instance of council secrecy, disrespect for the intelligence of residents, disrespect for process, failure of the council to act in the best interests of the town (rather than the Library Project), and a failure of the proverbial “transparency.”  Such rash actions also alarmingly suggest that the council is not being led by Mayor Widmer, who we think of as being more deliberative but is still being directed by Kathy McKeithen (who, by virtue of having a guarantee of Mr. Widmer’s support in such screwball tactics) seems capable of doing whatever she wants in support of the Library Project).

It seems painfully obvious that this council action simply stems from McKeithen’s disinterest in having the General Plan have any opportunity to weigh in on the Library Project — since its members included Council members Carlson, Lewis and former council candidate, David Henig — all of whom support the notion of democracy in Atherton, unlike (McKeithen, Dobbie or Widmer), and would like to see residents having a say on the Library Project.  More troubling, however, is that McKeithen is also now attempting to install her own lieutenants—her husband, Smith McKeithen, and her henchman Dobbie’s wife, Pat Dobbie—on the Planning Commission.  (Also, not unlike the Egyptian military’s tactics.)

Here is what one resident had to say about this move by the council, which really sums up the issue:


In my opinion, the rather sudden dismissal of the General Plan Committee accompanied by the granting of its authority and powers to the Town Planning Commission will give the Council increased ability to determine the outcome of all issues related to the future development of our community: e.g. changes in zoning and approval of large projects such as proposed construction of the Town Library in the park.

I fully expect the next move to be a dissolution of the Town Center Committee – another citizen group that has met for more than two years to study the needs of the community for new administrative and police facilities and that has presented two fine architectural visions for such a project.

When the opportunity for resident involvement is taken away, the very few will wield the hammer of their personal agenda. I would like to know Where, When, Who and Why this decision was made.

Sheri Shenk
66 Virginia Lane

22. What motivates McKeithen’s long-standing antagonism with the Building Department?

It seems curious to me that Kathy McKeithen has repeatedly attacked Building Officials in the Town of Atherton.  In this Palo Alto Online article from 2006, residents were so outraged by McKeithen’s public attack on Building Official Mike Hood, that they initiated a Recall Campaign against McKeithen.  Even in 2006, McKeithen scorned Atherton’s Code of Conduct to publicly demean one of the town’s senior managers, and someone (so I’ve heard) was as nice as they come:

The recently formed Atherton Residents for Responsible Governance was galvanized by the upheaval in the town’s building department and the year-old excavation fee. The group said department staff were above reproach, and blasted the excavation fee as exorbitant and illegal. . . .  Jilian Manus Salzman, a member of the group, said she believes McKeithen violated Atherton’s code of conduct by publicly demeaning former Building Official Mike Hood, among other things. A petition signed by 25 residents was sent out on Friday by certified mail to start the recall process, she said.

Here’s where the pattern gets really interesting.  For so many of the events that have triggered huge uproars in the recent series of confrontational encounters with McKeithen, she ardently defends herself by accusing others of exactly the offenses that people think that she’s been committing.  And in 2006, her comments for the article were:

“It’s a sad day when people in pursuit of their own self interests (work against) the common good of the town,” McKeithen said.

McKeithen said she has no personal agenda and is working solely for the good of the town.

No personal agenda?   Hmm!  Maybe it’s as simple as her desire to inflict sad days on lots of people.  Anyone care to comment on what happened to that recall effort or the group Atherton Residents for Responsive Government?

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


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?