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!

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29. Will Kupperman be continuing McKeithen’s work?

Kathy McKeithen has declined to run again for the council.  Yet, the decision  by Denise Kupperman, longtime Chair of the notorious Atherton Library Building Steering Committee, to run for council makes it sadly clear that McKeithen’s toxic influence may not go away all that quickly.

Could Kupperman, who for the past three (?) years has been leading the charge for Kathy McKeithen on the Library Committee, not be complicit in the well-known effort by this rogue committee to impose their will on the community but pretend that they didn’t?  Kupperman is no dummy.  She’s been at the center of the process and the public face of it. As an accountant, could she fail to have noticed that the abbreviated community process did not result in any data/input/results of a fruitful community engagement process—or even a free and open discussion by the community, which sadly has never been allowed to happened. Doubtful.

Rather, she along with McKeithen have tried to make people simply believe that our community should want what is the strong preference of the joint Library team (the Library Joint Powers Authority and the Atherton Library Committee (the ALBSC) even though they were never willing to allow us that chance to actually discuss it along with all of the related issues about competition for park use and technology use and decide.  They deny their corruption of process and try to point the finger at those who have pushed back on these tactics, to say we should feel like terrible people for not supporting the library . . . !

Ms. Kupperman has been Chair of the ALBSC and working furiously on this Library “wack-a-mole” project with McKeithen for how long?  Now, she’s spearheading  the “Yes of Measure F” campaign.  Yet, on her campaign homepage, her disclosed “Volunteer efforts include:

  • The Holbrook-Palmer Park
  • Landscape Master Plan
  • The Atherton Tree Committee
  • The Holbrook-Palmer Park Foundations and Atherton Dames
  • The Atherton Library Building Steering Committee
  • Ad hoc Grading and Drainage Committee
  • San Mateo and San Francisco County Master Gardeners

Holbrook-Palmer Park?  Landscape Master Plan?  Wasn’t that done in 2005?

Let me ask you: Who fails to even mention that they were the Chair of a very high profile town committee that is working on the biggest development project in the town’s recent history on their campaign website? 

Obviously, someone who wants to re-write her own past and distance herself from prior handiwork. Someone who is aware of the controversy surrounding how her committee operated and the disrespect it has shown to the community and prefers not to emphasize her own involvement to those who are unaware of it. Also, someone who is willing to be less than completely forthright in order to get into a powerful position, so she can continue to flog her own (not so secret) agenda.

Someone has had “Chair” removed from next to Kupperman’s name on the town’s ALBSC website.  Also, with so many of the ALBSC members listed as both supporters of hers and on “Yes for Measure F”—why isn’t Kathy McKeithen listed?

This sounds like Ms. Kupperman has learned well from Councilmember McKeithen.  I am sure, if she is elected, she will carry on McKeithen’s long-standing tradition of re-writing reality to fit her own interpretations of the truth and keeping the public in the dark, especially about her own private agenda-filled actions, so she can freely point the finger at others.

Nothing but questions!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. How many people have been accused by Kathy McKeithen?

I believe I have only a partial listing but, as far as I know, the list of those who Kathy has directly or indirectly (through her lieutenants) attacked or accused of some wrong-doing at some point include:

* Highlighted names come from a commenter

2. How many of those accused were ever found guilty of anything?

Atherton has lost most all of the members of the council ever attacked, plus all of the town senior management attacked, numerous veteran town staff (including many long-term, highly dedicated employees not mentioned because no specific accusations were publicized) Police Chiefs, Heads of Building Department, Public Works, Town Managers, Finance Directors, City Attorneys and others. These departures have cost Atherton dearly in the value of the accumulated expertise and stability: how many of her accusations have ever resulted in findings of real malfeasance?

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?

4. Why does McKeithen attack the Atherton Police?

I know that Kathy McKeithen has opposed the town’s renewing Parcel Tax in the last two campaigns for it.  Why does she oppose the Parcel Tax, which is used primarily to help maintain the level of support that Atherton residents want from their Police Force?  For someone who claims to be trying to improve town finances, this seems rather strange.  Why has she made accusations against the police?  Why does she seem to have such a bad rapport with the police, whose union has chosen to videotape most all of the council meetings?  Why do they think that residents should be made aware of what McKeithen is doing?  What does the police force know that residents don’t know?