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?

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