28. Will the smell linger?

With the recent decision by Kathy McKeithen not to run for her fourth term on the Atherton City Council, many residents have heaved a big sigh of relief. We may not be expecting town politics to ever be genteel but now, at least, we don’t need to fear McKeithen’s blurted “I think” accusations against her political opponents, ranting from her seat on the council about what she thinks they’ve done (with or without any factual basis) after public comments, when the accused is not in a position to speak and defend themselves because of the end of “public comments.”  It was a cute trick, if a little over-used.

Those decorum-defying episodes kept many people from ever wanting to step foot in the council chambers and were not for the weak of heart. Yet, some of us wonder if, with McKeithen off the council, it will ever be safe to take a deep breath here in Atherton.  Even at the height of her power on the council, McKeithen did not limit her tirades and attacks to her public official persona.  Many suspect that she spent late nights keeping sharp by putting people in their places through an array of anonymous personas who made appearances on the Almanac Town Square blog.  In such cases, readers got a strong whiff of McKeithen thru her typical-sounding rant, without the actual sighting.

Take this Almanac article concerning the Council’s controversial 3-2 Vote “Preferring” the park site.  Read down about 25 comments from folks all distressed about the council’s vote, to where you find a commenter writing as “Smell A Rat.”  Here’s what they write:

Posted by Smell a Rat – Use Common Sense, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2011 at 9:17 am  I would suggest that many of you who wrote would be better off spending some time educating yourself as to the facts rather perpetuating misinformation and setting forth narrow-minded views.As to Park & Rec’s comment – the 300 signatures requested that a Master Plan be done, not a survey of whether the library should go into the Park. One might reasonably ask, if a Master Plan is so important, why didn’t Ms. Fisher (former Mayor – isn’t every council member?), a member of the Town Center task forces looking into the building of a new Town Center for years, require that a Master Plan be done as part of that much larger project? Why only now when a library might be going into the Park and the library committee has already stated on its own that it believes the Park Master Plan needs to be updated?To Davena Gentry – Holbrook Palmer Park was given to the Town to be a high class Public Recreational Park. At the time the gift was being considered, the number one use envisioned by the residents of Atherton was a LIBRARY. Just where do wedding and corporate events fit into public recreation?To Atherton Voter – “The new building in the Park is a new community center with abundant meeting rooms…. why are libraries closing across the country as digital books become the norm?” There is no indication that the new library would have anything more than one small meeting room, and perhaps not even that if the community did not want it as determined in the design and size phase. As for libraries closing – why are local private schools expending millions to build state-of-the-art libraries and new libraries drawing record attendance? Your facts are simply wrong. Do the research.By law, and as the recipient of federal monies, Atherton cannot restrict use of the Park to Atherton residents. And why should we? Perhaps Menlo Park and Redwood City should consider charging us a fee? Maybe Burgess should be off-limits to Atherton residents and Little League teams? If we intend to close off the gate to Felton Gables because they won’t let school children pass over private property (and as was suggested even restrict their right to build gates that back up to the Park on their own land) why not have guards posted to keep out any non-Atherton residents? Remember they tried that along Connecticut beaches? Illegal, let alone unconscionable.To Wedding Planner – “Someone pays the town $3,000 or more to use the facilities for a few hours and the council thinks this is not profitable? How?” How? Because there is such a thing as EXPENSES. Look at the materials from the October 19, 2011 council meeting (they are on-line) that relate to continuing to rent out the park. Look at the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS of taxpayers’ money which has gone into subsidizing these mostly non-Atherton parties just the last few years. It is precisely these costly events (with no guarantee that changes can be put into place to make them profitable) that have contributed to “hard pressed [financially] Atherton”. And what about the wear and tear referred to in a recent article? The town received $1,050 this summer for a corporate event for 500-800 people. Our park effectively could not be used by residents at the time, suffered foot-traffic (at a minimum), and with overhead included probably ended up costing the residents money — but wait — maybe the residents like paying for parties to which they aren’t invited more than they like having non-residents borrow books.What a bunch of close-minded, selfish people we have become. As for the petitions, incredibly biased surveys (complete with prejudicial and misleading cover letter) and the new Town Center, I refer you to my comment posted there. For years I have read on these blogs about Atherton’s negative press. The lawsuits are nothing – they happen in the best of communities for no fault of their own. What we should be ashamed of is so much of what has been written here – the” keep everyone else out” attitude, the failure to think in terms of a community. In supposing we are somehow better than others, we have truly come off worse.


Posted by atherton voter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 25, 2011 at 9:47 am[Post removed. The quote is from an anonymous poster. Please don’t attribute to a named person.]


Enough people recognize McKeithen’s style that the commenter after this quote seems to have called her by name—yet the Almanac deleted that, probably at her request.

Here’s a tiny bit of analysis:  This writer uses some very interesting techniques to argue his/her points.  In this instance, despite over 25 comments posted prior to this one which argued against putting the library in the park, this writer has an “I know better than you” arrogant tone.  She sites tons of facts—but not all are correct.  For the parents among us, also note the bullying way the writer picks out others to address directly, in a sequence of attacks. This is a frequent McKeithen technique.  Note the multiple condescending insults, the open-ended, insinuating, colorful questions and slick transitions, diverting attention from the substantive issue to her own distracting issue or accusation (even though not really relevant) while failing to address the underlying concern. Note the direction to see her own prior comments (giving herself away, really.)  Finally, notice how the closing lament is for how bad and heartless all of us have become (and the author includes herself), because we dare question using our park for a library.  This lament has a similar format to the one that McKeithen used in her signed Letter entitled: Has Atherton lost its soul over library issue? where she writes:

I realize that we have become a town of beautiful gated homes but are at risk of losing our soul.

Just a final observation about the sense of impunity and arrogance that could be read into the language of “Rat” (as other commenters called this author) when she writes:

One might reasonably ask, if a Master Plan is so important, why didn’t Ms. Fisher (former Mayor – isn’t every council member?), a member of the Town Center task forces looking into the building of a new Town Center for years, require that a Master Plan be done as part of that much larger project?

The little toss-out — former Mayor – isn’t every council member? — seems to be a gratuitous jab aimed at the councilmember that McKeithen herself—in concert with Widmer and Dobbie—kept from becoming Vice Mayor in the ordinary course of council business earlier that year. A little masked gloating, perhaps?

For those of you who are gluttons for punishment, read this Editorial by one of the Almanac Editors (who chooses not to be named), which piece could easily have come directly from McKeithen’s own typewriter.   Then read down to the comments posted by Thank you, copied below:


Posted by Thank you, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 7:55 amA big Thank you to the Almanac for seeing through the machinations of Didi Fisher, Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis. The money for the library must stay with and for the library, not a town center, police station, etc. The residents of this community are indeed fortunate that over a multi-year process, the public and their elected representatives came up with an outstanding plan to build a fabulous library in the park. I continue to disagree with Peter Carpenter. There is no precedent for taking 3-2 votes to the citizens because of “deadlock.” That’s simply grandstanding.
Posted by Thank you, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Dec 29, 2011 at 9:11 am>>> It seems that the use of library funds use,in spite of clear statements to the contrary, are going to be used to build a new town center. Nothing could be further from the truth as they cannot be used except for library purposes. That should not be difficult to understand, “Thank you”Just a red herring. Marsala cooked up a Ponzi scheme a few years ago to have the library buy a decrepit building from the Town, which would then turn around and build a glorious new police station with that money. There are some very sneaky and horrible schemes that have been cooked up to pilfer the library money while still making it seem like it’s still for the library. That just won’t work, and won’t be allowed.

In the first comment, Thank you seems to be thanking the Almanac Editors for “seeing through the machinations of Didi Fisher, Jerry Carlson and Elizabeth Lewis” — ie for publishing her letter as an “editorial.”  (Somehow I doubt the editors of the Almanac are following that closely what is going on in Atherton or that they would, if they were talking to anyone but McKeithen, insult good people like this).  Then a little self-serving back-patting (how fortunate the town has been), combined with the standard distortion of the facts of the ALBSC’s faulty and barely one-year long process (propaganda used many times by ALBSC members), and, to finish off, throwing in of an insult of another’s “grandstanding” (of which no one is more guilty of than McKeithen herself—another common occurence).

In the second comment, Thank you uses McKeithen’s trademark “headline-grabbing,” if utterly unsubstantiated vocabulary (i.e. red herring, Ponzi scheme, decrepit, very sneaky, horrible schemes, cooked up, pilfer, etc. to demonize the intentions of others (without any facts presented).  Thank you finishes off with a wonderful authoritarian flourish, worthy of someone who thinks they control the whole town!

The question that will be answered only in the coming months and years, even after this election is behind us, is will McKeithen’s toxic influence linger, like a stench, over Atherton politics even when she’s no longer visibly on the council?

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.