News - September 29, 2010

Atherton mayor: Manager's departure is opportunity for 'fresh start'

• City Manager Jerry Gruber to take post in Cambria.

by Renee Batti

The resignation of Atherton City Manager Jerry Gruber, effective Oct. 22, was not a result of City Council pressure, but will allow the town to bring in someone with fresh eyes to focus on the town's troubles, Mayor Kathy McKeithen said last week.

"I'm sad to see Jerry go," Ms. McKeithen told The Almanac after Mr. Gruber announced on Sept. 23 that he would be taking a job with the Cambria Community Services District. "But at the same time, it may be a good opportunity to bring someone in for a short period to evaluate" how the town is being run and what improvements might be made, she said.

Mr. Gruber, who came on board as city manager in early 2008, said his new title will be utilities manager and that he was hired in the expectation that he will replace the district's current general manager in June 2012.

A written announcement from Town Hall said Mr. Gruber has owned a home in the Cambria area, just south of San Simeon, since 2005.

"It's been fun here," he said. "It really has. I'm a better person for all that I've experienced here in Atherton. I feel like I'm leaving on a really positive note. ... I think we're in better shape fiscally and organizationally than when I came here in 2008."

In the two days after the announcement was made, Mayor McKeithen received offers from two well-known figures in town to serve as interim manager: former finance director John Johns and resident Jon Buckheit. Both men have sued the town — Mr. Johns, successfully, for wrongful termination.

Mr. Buckheit's lawsuit in federal court is still pending; the suit was filed in the wake of his arrest after he called the police to report a domestic violence incident in his home. Charges were never filed, and he won a judgment of factual innocence in court during a hearing at which an Atherton police officer involved in the arrest testified that the police report had been altered without his permission.

Mr. Buckheit said he offered his services for one year only, for a salary of $1. But, he acknowledged, the council was likely to cite his lawsuit against the town in not considering him.

Mr. Johns said he offered to work for $1 a month "for a reasonable amount of time pending the selection of a new city manager."


Mr. Gruber will be leaving behind several headaches for whoever takes his place.

• The town has been making deep cuts to its expenses to get them in line with income.

• The town is dealing with one lawsuit after another, recently settling two, with former employees, for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

• Employee morale is extremely low, according to a number of people close to Town Hall.

• Internecine feuding nettles the City Council.

• The building official recently retired after coming under intense criticism by some residents, including a couple likely to sue the town for "gross negligence" on the part of the building department.

• The city attorney is under fire for what the mayor says are issues with the attorney's transparency and attitude.

What's next?

The City Council will discuss how to proceed with filling Mr. Gruber's office at a special meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, in the Town Council Chambers at 94 Ashfield Road.

Mayor McKeithen said the council will also address the question of naming an interim manager. As for Mr. Johns' and Mr. Buckheit's proposals, she wasn't enthused.

"People have even said that I should be city manager," she said, "and I say absolutely not."

The town, she said, needs a manager "who has no baggage. ... All of us have too much baggage. And the propensity is always to bring even a little piece of that baggage forward.

"We need a fresh start," she said. Someone with no history with the town "will make all the difference in the world to the people of Atherton, and to the staff."

Regarding Mr. Gruber, the mayor said: "When we hired Jerry, I was delighted ... and he's been a delightful person. He helped us through a tough period, and it was tough on him, too. I wish him well."

Dave Boyce contributed to this report.


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