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!

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.

3. How many lawsuits has McKeithen supported on behalf of her Lindenwood neighbors?

Lawsuits that the whole town had to pay for but which were not in the best interests of the whole town, but just those who reside near Kathy in Lindenwood, include:

  • 1.  Lawsuit to prevent Lindenwood Urns from moving to the other side of Atherton.  Total cost to Atherton was: $_____________?
  • 2.  Lawsuit over Menlo-Atherton High School installing stadium lights.  Total cost to Atherton was:  $_______________?
  • 3.  Lawsuit to prevent Menlo-Atherton High School from building the Performing Arts Center.  Total cost to Atherton residents was:  $_______________?

Atherton lost all of these lawsuits, as far as I know.  Does anyone know what the total damage to the town was from McKeithen’s eagerness to help her biggest supporters?

Were there others?

5. Why is it that McKeithen gets anything she wants published in the Almanac?

McKeithen is certainly brazen about making unfounded accusations publicly, especially from her seat on the council bench.  Frequently, her accusations are reported in the local paper instantly, as if the story was written simultaneously with her attacks. Also, it seems that many of those who support McKeithen’s positions get published “viewpoints.  It seems that few of those who have opposing voices get published. Why is that?  Does McKeithen have some personal connection with the management of the Almanac?  She seems to wield the power to get published at will to her political advantage—is this why the playing field is so uneven in town and people are so afraid of her?  The risk that the paper will publish anything she comes up with?

6. Why doesn’t McKeithen support efforts to revitalize our town center?

In her twelve years in office, McKeithen has built little.  Instead, she seems to have made it a priority to break things, particularly individuals, including fellow council members, town staff and others who oppose things that she wants.  She hasn’t done anything to significantly improve Atherton that I am aware of.  She has successfully squandered much town money  opposing town-supported development efforts (like the PAC), and has attacked and pushed off multiple initiatives to revitalize the town center — merely by accusing those trying to move that effort forward of being “developers.”  So disdaining of opportunity of do anything to improve the town center, one would think she liked seeing it growing increasingly shabby . . . which maybe she does.

Thus, it shocked many of her former supporters when, as a big change of her whole orientation in which she had steadfastly opposed all improvements to Atherton, they found that McKeithen ardently and passionately supports the desire of the County Librarians to complete a massive development for a new Atherton Library—not where the town wants it (where it currently has been, in the town center), but smack in the middle of the town park!

Such a curious about-face.  What could cause such a change of heart to the dismay of many?  Does she suddenly love reading?  We don’t think so.  Speculation has it that she can accomplish multiple goals with this pet library project:

1.  By winching the library out of the town center, she can cause one town building to be abandoned, possibly creating true urban-like blight in self-identified “rural” Atherton.

2.  Without the Library as an anchor structure, she can throw a big wrench into the existing Town Center Task Force’s efforts to revitalize the town center, since not having the library there may well reduce the ability of that group to raise private funding. It will also greatly diminish the ability of that group to build decent community meeting space, which the town desperately needs—in the town center—since the library won’t be there to share the cost of building that kind of space.

3.  Lastly, in the kind of quirky logic that only Kathy seems capable of, it appears that by aggregiously denying residents any say at all and then going to war with the whole town to suppress all the controversies she herself creates, she’ll be flexing those all-powerful council muscles and showing her County Library buddies that it is her doing that allows them to build their white elephant in Atherton’s sole park, over all of the objections of the whole community.  In this way, Kathy can get on the good side of the team that holds all of the tax money and she’ll be viewed as a library hero.  This will really help her chances of possibly getting her name put on the library and not even have to contribute a cent!

Other hypotheses?

18. How much do McKeithen’s tactics cost residents?

Back when the council made its controversial decision to approve the Library Committee’s recommendation to “prefer” the Park location, the council already knew that doing so was fomenting controversy and that moving ahead with such an approach would incur large extra costs to the town.  Yet, because of McKeithen’s fierce defense of her ALBSC and support for them to get what THEY/SHE want (over what residents in town might want), and refusal to listen to the real concerns of residents, the council majority accepted those extra costs.  Incredibly (perhaps just to me), the council very uneventfully approved an increase in the expected budget for LSA, the CEQA consultants, because the controversy would force them to do extra work, change a fairly simple CEQA approval process that had been budgeted at $69,000 into a more formal and exhaustive, but legally defensible EIR process, at an extra cost of about $100,000.  See the council report from Michael Kashiwagi and Neal Martin presented at the November 16th council meeting (Item No. 19) (Sorry the town website makes it impossible to link to specific documents).  Here is what Atherton’s contract town staff does, when faced with the immovable McKeithen, who refuses to defuse the controversy that her very own committee generates:

Discussion

As the process has evolved some community members have expressed concerns about environmental impacts that might result if the new library were sited in Holbrook-Palmer Park.  Specifically, concerns were expressed at the Park & Recreation Commission meetings on July 6, 2011 and October 5, 2011, at the ALBSC Community Meeting held on September 8, 2011 and at the City Council meeting on October 19, 2011.  Those concerns generally relate to the loss of existing park and recreation space, traffic volumes and traffic safety in the park, and adequacy of parking.  In terms of the California Environmental Quality Act and case law these concerns are classified as “public controversy”.

Also, one result of the Environmental Screening Analysis was the determination that the existing library building is a potential historic resource and if it were removed that action would constitute an unavoidable adverse impact requiring an EIR and possibly a Statement of Overriding Considerations.

Due to these concerns staff requested that LSA Associates provide an expanded work scope for the preparation of an EIR instead of an IS/MND for Town consideration. That proposal is attached and discussed below.

Staff has met with the Atherton Library Building Steering Committee to discuss the options for meeting CEQA requirements. It was pointed out that experience has shown that an IS/MND is easily challenged from a legal perspective. Should an IS/MND be prepared, certified and challenged, significant time and money would be lost and a court could subsequently require preparation of an EIR. While an IS/MND could be completed in 2 to 3 months less than an EIR, it is riskier and could be more expensive in the end. After discussing the issues at its meeting on November 2, 2011 the ALBSC voted to recommend that the City Council proceed with an EIR for the library project and further recommended the City Council authorize an additional $86,230 to LSA for preparation of an EIR for the Library project. A more detailed discussion of the proposal is provided under the heading “LSA Associates Revised Work Program” below.

So here’s the very beginning of a tally for residents to evaluate what the costs of having things done the McKeithen way in Atherton.  We are speculating here and hope to get some refinement to these numbers—but at the very least, it will provide some increased transparency on this issue:

Costs to Town of McKeithen’s Tactics

  1. Total of three Lindenwood lawsuits:  $500,000 (est., someone have this?)
  2. John Johns “silencing” settlements: $250,000 – (?)
  3. Library Project CEQA Review Overage:  $86,230 (plus additional still unknown)
  4. Forfeited federal stimulus energy funding (shuttering the EPC):  $30,000
  5. Library JPA funding no longer going to town?: $700,000 per year (?)
  6. Lost value of expertise and dedication of long-term employees forced out: (?)
  7. Lost value of resident good will towards the town government (?)

Approximate range of costs of McKeithen:  $800,000 to $1,500,000