Viewpoint - April 14, 2010

Guest opinion: Mayor sees more in Marsala probe

by Kathy McKeithen

Something profoundly disturbing occurred last Wednesday night. It appeared that the town I love and have served loyally for 10 years cared more about sweeping an unfortunate incident "under the rug" — while labeling the inquiry a "witch hunt" to frighten off questions — than looking at it from the perspective of what it just might be — a possible unlawful act tainting important City Council decisions.

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


Posted by lunatic, a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Kathy's guest opinion is reminds me of what had to have been the strangest moment of many strange moments during last wedensday's meeting.

This was when Valerie Gardner of the environmental programs committee chastised those in attendance over how much more carbon dioxide per household residents in Atheton release as compared to those in Palo Alto.

Apparently Ms. Gardner thought Ms. McKeithen should be working to save the planet, rather than saving Atherton from corruption.

I think Ms. Gardner has sat through too many screenings of Al Gore's documentary, quite frankly. Ms. McKeithen cannot save the planet, nor can all of Atherton. However with a little bit of help from her neighbors, Ms. McKeithen can save Atherton.

In reflecting upon Ms. Gardner's speech, my only thought was that if Ms. Gardner is so concerned about the environment, she should demolish her mini-mansion just off of Atherton Avenue and replace it with one of those 1,800 square foot eichlers that our environmentally friendly Palo Altans inhabit.

The problem with Athertonians such as Ms. Gardner is that they talk the talk but do not walk the walk.

With all due respet to you Ms. Gardner you do not earn any points in my book as an environmentalist by trading in your BMW X5 for a brand new Toyota Highlander Hybrid to celebrate Earth Day. This is the kind of chic environmentalism that I have no tolerance for. Better you put on your waterproof cold weather gear and attack some japanese whaling vessel in the Bearing Sea in the month of November. Then I would be impressed.

I was at last Wedensday's meeting. Like Kathy I heard alot of talk about transparency all the while these very same people urged the City Council to sweep this unseemly matter under the rug. This observation is yet another example of Athertonians talking the talk but not walking the walk. Worse yet, this is shameless duplicity.

Oh, and forgive me if I don't use my real name in posting this message. It is just that I recall the signs Ms. Gardner had on her lawn protesting against her neighbor who had the gall to try and protect her property rights.

I fear being retaliated against. I know how vindictive some of my fellow Athertonians can be.

Just ask Kathy. She's caught an awful lot of grief for the "sin" of trying hold one of her colleagues accountable for his unethical behavior.

I say, cut the diversionary tactics, stop calling this a witch hunt. See Ms. McKeithen's actions for what they truly are, a corageous effort by an honest politician to get to the heart of the matter.

If only people like Jerry Carlson would close ranks with her, all of our lives would be improved because we could once again trust our elected officials.

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