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.

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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.

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!

8. Who is out to get whom?

Many people have been puzzled and disturbed by the bizarre behavior demonstrated by Ms. McKeithen at the January council meeting, where she used her time on the dias to issue vague accusations and insinuations that she was under attack by others.  The Almanac report did not do justice to the incoherence of her mutterings at the council meeting, although Rene Batti called it a “stunning message.”  Rather Ms. Batti opted to change what most everyone there experienced as “mad ramblings” and followed up with an interview to get more clarity from Ms. McKeithen on her incoherent statements, at which point McKeithen accused Council member Lewis by name.  Our inquiries about this incident found several hypotheses for this behavior.

First theory: McKeithen really loves pointing her finger at others, especially to accuse them of things that she knows she is guilty of herself and was totally primed to accuse someone of something but wasn’t able to lay her hands on anything remotely plausible, so she just came out with her strange and over-blown accusations of whatever was on her own mind (or perhaps that she herself had been doing).  This seems to be largely therapeutic for her.

Another theory that was articulated:  McKeithen is increasingly expressing the conviction that people are out to get her.  This kind of paranoia is not an uncommon syndrome among elderly people.  (Furthermore, given how many people she has attacked and sent packing for one reason or another, there is no saying how far off her belief may be!)

The third speculation:  At the beginning of that meeting, Widmer was selected as mayor, having been Vice Mayor.  He then had to announce his selection for his Vice Mayor.  It was clear as he articulated his dilemma, that he saw his choices as being between “effectiveness” and “fairness.”  So let’s review:  Prior to Widmer, Dobbie and been Mayor, prior to him, McKeithen had been Mayor, prior to that it was Marsala and Carlson.  That left only Elizabeth Lewis, who had been on the council for three years and had never been mayor.  The prior year, she should have been selected as Vice Mayor but, in a rather odd and frankly troubling set of votes (starting with Widmer launching an “abstain” attack on Lewis, thereby blocking from the nomination of Lewis as offered by Jerry Carlson) her nomination failed because of Widmer.  Then, as if planned, Widmer himself (a newbie councilmember of a mere 5 minutes old) was quickly nominated in her place as Vice Mayor by McKeithen and Dobbie, and Widmer supported that vote. Well, perhaps Kathy thought that by showing her friend Widmer so much favoritism and nominating him to be Vice Mayor ahead of Lewis (a three-year veteran of the council whose turn it was was), that Widmer would reciprocate to throw his support to her, i.e. the “effective” choice.  As it turned out, Widmer chose Lewis and did the fair thing, and eschewed McKeithen (or whoever McKeithen had been pressuring him to select). At any rate, his choice drove McKeithen to distraction and she was so full of rage at that moment that she just had to vent by finding some way to attack Council member Lewis and everyone else who she saw as being out to get her, even with no basis in reality.

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?