Too many present at the council meeting appeared to believe that avoiding an investigation of council member Charles Marsala's honesty and the facts was an expedient and necessary tradeoff for the protection of the town's bottom line budget woes or environmental concerns.
A cursory legal analysis which relied principally on evidence and statements supplied by Mr. Marsala under review was viewed as all the vindication needed by at least two council members. A friend's testament that the council member who might have engaged in unlawful conduct was otherwise "a good guy" was an adequate substitute for facts. A statement by the council member himself that he harbored no ill feelings against the person who raised the issue of the potential unlawful loan request or that some people did not like him, and the frequent favorite "it's political" (as if someone forced him to ask for the loan) was all the proof deemed necessary of no wrongdoing.
My questions to call attention to what I viewed as the numerous procedural deficiencies of the legal summaries encompassed by the staff report raised strong objections from a council member. All substantive questions regarding the legal analysis — e.g. was a loan subsequently received, perhaps from another adverse party? Why was a text message sent by the council member to the plaintiff immediately after a closed session stating that progress was being made? — were ignored.
Suddenly, the word "transparency" was missing from everyone vocabulary to be replaced by Council member Elizabeth Lewis' question "why didn't the mayor ask these questions in private?" Did no one ever wonder what ever happened to the public's right to know — particularly when the issues had been raised by the public? Is transparency merely a word of convenience?
No one can say at this point if council member Marsala is guilty or innocent of any illegal conduct regarding solicitation of a $500,000 loan from a party who had previously and subsequently filed lawsuits against Atherton or any other action. Did Mr. Marsala solicit a bribe? Did he violate the Political Reform Act by accepting a gift of lodging in excess of $420 from a single person in a year? Did he sell his influence then or later? The questions are relatively simple. The council allows the answers to be obscured or refuses to address the real issues. It is this routine approach to a problem which often complicates matters and gives the town a bad name.
We will likely never learn the answers to these questions because the Atherton Town Council has chosen not to know. It appears safer that way. After all, we need to deal with the town's budget and our carbon footprint. Given these weighty issues, the unfortunate prevailing sentiment seems to be why should honesty matter?
Kathy McKeithen is a longtime council member and current mayor of Atherton