Atherton: Grand Jury says leave detective work to city manager

Atherton City Council members should stop playing private eye and leave personnel investigations in the hands of the city manager, says the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury.

The report, issued this month, says there is evidence that "at least one council member undertook independent investigative activities" into the conduct of the town's finance director, John Johns. Mr. Johns was fired in October following a private attorney's investigation into complaints against him by members of town staff.

"Allowing a member of the council to initiate an investigation and to publicize those actions undermines the public's perception of the integrity or, perhaps, competence of the office of the town manager," the report says, adding that such behavior is contrary to the intent of the town's municipal code. "The council as a whole should discourage members from acting as independent investigators, and encourage all members to work through the city manager."

The grand jury report does not name anyone, although council members Charles Marsala and Kathy McKeithen both have been active in the turmoil surrounding Mr. Johns.

Mr. Marsala, who has a large dossier of e-mails and other documents on the former town finance director that he acquired through California Public Records Act requests, said he couldn't be certain whether the grand jury report was referring to him. He told The Almanac that he always worked through the city manager when seeking information about Mr. Johns.

Ms. McKeithen is out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Marsala said that when he asked for information about suspected overcharges made by the town's building department, Mr. Johns stonewalled for two months.

"Finally, I had to do Freedom of Information requests to get the report," he said.

This month's grand jury report is the latest in a series of reports critical of Atherton's town government over the past two years. Last July, a report criticized then-city manager Jim Robinson for a lack of supervision; not keeping council members informed of significant matters; and failing to intervene in serious employee misconduct.

The latest interim report, released in April, took council members to task for making "strident public statements" that exacerbated the town's problems stemming from a controversial series of audit reports and personnel investigations.

"When the grand jury attacked the city manager in its previous report, I made public comments supporting (Mr. Robinson), and I also made public comments supporting (interim city manager) Wende Protzman," Mr. Marsala said. "Ms. Protzman made the right decision to fire Mr. Johns and I publicly supported that decision with facts while she was being criticized by members of the Audit Committee."

The current city manager, Jerry Gruber, said he feels he has the council's support in how he's running the town's affairs.

The civil grand jury is a watchdog group that investigates city and county governments, issues reports and makes recommendations.

Civil grand juries work in secret — anyone who has been interviewed by a grand jury is not allowed to discuss it, and the reports are the only publicly available information that results from their investigations.


Like this comment
Posted by J. Allister
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2008 at 4:13 pm

What a joke. The Grand Jury has to stupidity to make such a statement and have not nor have any of them looked into Sheriff Munks for his Las Vegas set my self on fire tour. I am sure these are probably the senior citizens who rub shoulders with Munks at his fund raisers.

When you investigate Munks and make such statements regarding investigations, you need to be investigated. Who investigates the Grand Jury?

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Coming soon: Fire Oak & Barley in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 5 comments | 3,101 views

The Saddle Room – A True Friend of Kids
By Laura Stec | 2 comments | 1,947 views

Meditation Before Medication for Better Mental Health
By Chandrama Anderson | 11 comments | 1,868 views

The Four E's--Pope Francis and the Middle Class
By Steve Levy | 2 comments | 823 views

My College Mindset is Intrinsically Motivated
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 669 views