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!

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

11. Why is the Library Project such a fiasco?

Here are the broad-based complaints that I’ve heard about the Library Project:

A.  The Library Committee spent town tax funds to deliberately attempt to foist its predilection on the community.

B.  The process used by the Library Committee was unclear, the purpose and meaning of meetings was not communicated, and their decision-making method was both hidden and flawed and could not have reflected the preferences of the community.

C.  The Library Committee refused to actually engage the public in decision-making, rather they put on three presentations and called that “engagement.”

D. Library Committee members (in particular McKeithen, GInny Niles and Denise Kupperman) misled the public about the purpose of the steering committee—representing that it was chartered to make the decision itself after studying the issues, whereas the actual charter was to engage the public in making the decisions. McKeithen accused the public of not being capable of understanding the “complexity” of the issues for deciding where the library should go.

E.  The Library Committee was effectively “hijacked” by Friends of the Library, who just cared about doing what they and the library professionals wanted and the committee was neither bipartisan, impartial nor did it care to elicit the best solution for Atherton, based upon a broader array of community needs and priorities (such as for open space for children’s field sports).

F.  The Library Committee worked in a clandestine manner to plan the library to move ahead, offered only 2 cursory community workshops in the dead of summer, and had already begun a parallel process for moving ahead with CEQA clearance even prior to any approvals, as if they were assured of approval (which would be a Brown Act violation).

G.  The Library Committee utilized a myriad of devices (types and timing of notices and meetings) to minimize attention to the project, and maximize uncertainty and inconvenience to residents to participate, and then turned around and blamed the community for failing to show up.

H.  The Town Council members McKeithen and Dobbie and their Library Committee supporters, rather than hear what residents’ concerns were and address them, took the hardened approach of doing whatever it took to defend their flawed process.  They voted not to allow further discussion on the council agenda, they minimized additional opportunities for people to express their concerns, including surveys, they personally attacked individuals and committees with legitimate complaints about the process, and lastly, they started to seek underhanded ways to push the EIR process to move faster, while churning up a whole host of other issues (like disbanding the General Plan, threatening the tennis courts, opening up the issue of moving to a Charter City, accusing the Athertonians group of name infringement, all of which were attempts to confuse and diffuse attention on the Library.

Other complaints about the Library process?

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

23. What’s with all this hugely amassed library money?

Everyone solving mysteries has heard the expression “Follow the money.”  In the case of the proposed Atherton library, there clearly is something up with all that amassed library riches.  I am not suggesting that there is any indication of thievery, bribery or embezzlement going on. Rather, there are just a lot of strange facets to the facts, as we have been told them.  I am wondering if anyone has any answers to these questions:

A.  How much of Atherton’s total tax revenue is allocated for Library purposes?

B.  What percent of the town’s total income is that?

C. What has it cost us to run our Library historically?

D. Who is responsible for watching how Library funds are spent?

E. If there is so much money available, why would those deciding how to spend Atherton’s money not approve the $300,000 in seismic upgrading that (in 2009) was deemed necessary to make the existing building safe—but instead allow the space to continue to be used in an unsafe condition?

F.  Does the Library pay “rent” of any kind for its use of one of the town’s new in-town locations? If not, why not?  What about paying for the wear and tear? Electricity? Heat?  Who decides which is yes and which is no?

G. If the Library funds have to be used “only” for library purposes and they don’t pay Atherton rent on even the use of the existing facility, why would it be acceptable for those funds be used for “construction” of a new facility? Construction is not a library service.

H.  Who is authorized to make those decisions and how are those decisions made on behalf of Atherton and its residents?  Why don’t Atherton residents get to decide these questions and use their judgement?

I.  If the Library went into the park, and, for example, the Dames ran out of money to pay for the high costs of watering the lawns around the library, would the library pick up those costs to keep the park beautiful? How about adding flowers in the borders, more trees, a couple of lovely outside seating areas?  Seems like there is plenty of landscaping activity anticipated by the project EIR.

J. If demand for Atherton’s new library were so high, that it was clear that more parking spaces were needed in the park and McKeithen and Dobbie succeed in grabbing the tennis courts to use for Library Parking overflow, could the Library funds be used to pave over the tennis courts and lay new roads throughout the park?

K.  If the Library funds can be used to pave or beautify broad swaths of area surrounding it in the park, why couldn’t this work in the Town Center?

L.  If the Library funds can be used to build luxurious-sized “Community meeting rooms” that are large enough for the council to meet in and the Town Council wants to meet there—but the Library wants to hold “Movie Night” for ten-year olds—who gets to use the space?

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?