News - January 27, 2010

Atherton council may open info committee to public

by Andrea Gemmet

Will the public be allowed to attend meetings about improving the town of Atherton's communication with the public? Possibly.

In a second reversal on the topic, the Atherton City Council at its Jan. 20 meeting indicated it would likely create a new committee with resident members and make its meetings open to the public and subject to the Brown Act, the state's open meeting law.

At the meeting, Mayor Kathy McKeithen proposed the creation of a Town Communications Committee to write a town policy on public information and work on improving communication with residents. The council unanimously agreed to put it on the agenda of its next meeting on Feb. 17.

The formation of the committee comes in the wake of criticism about the behind-closed-doors appointment of the new police chief and lack of disclosure about a $230,000 sexual-harassment lawsuit settlement with a former police officer. Mike Guerra, the police department's second-in-command, was appointed without the national search and public input process that went into hiring his predecessor, Chief Glen Nielsen.

At a Jan. 11 study session, the council initially agreed to create a committee made up of council members and residents to improve the town's openness and transparency. Upon learning that including residents would trigger the Brown Act, requiring public meetings with posted agendas, the council reversed itself and said membership would be restricted to two council members and no residents.

"The Almanac chastised us pretty hard on this," said Councilman Charles Marsala, referring to a recent editorial. He said he was in favor of Ms. McKeithen's proposal.


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