Almanac

News - August 14, 2013

Election 2013: Three in race for Atherton council seat

by Renee Batti

It will be a three-way race for a single seat on the Atherton City Council in November, with Greg Conlon, Rick DeGolia and Diane Sandhu qualifying for the ballot when the filing deadline closed Friday.

All three candidates had applied for appointment to the council last month, when the council had hoped to agree on one of seven applicants for the seat left vacant with Jerry Carlson's July 1 resignation. When council members split down the middle on their choice, they called for an election on Nov. 5.

Mr. Conlon, a longtime member of the town's Audit/Finance Committee and its Rail Committee, ran for the council last November, coming in a close third behind incumbent Elizabeth Lewis and challenger Cary Wiest in the race for two seats.

Mr. DeGolia was appointed to the town's Community Center Advisory Committee in January, and serves as chair of that group's library subcommittee. His current appointments represent his first civic activities in Atherton.

Ms. Sandhu was appointed to the Audit/Finance Committee last September, and was reappointed to a two-year term in June. She also is a newcomer to civic involvement with her current committee work.

Residents John Ruggeiro and Michael Stogner, who also applied for appointment to the seat last month, took out candidate papers but didn't file them.

The winner in the November election will serve out Mr. Carlson's term which ends in December 2014.

The town faces big issues in the near future, with renewal of the parcel tax — supported by the four current council members — on the November ballot, and negotiations with the police union in progress.

Mr. DeGolia and Mr. Conlon say they strongly support renewal of the parcel tax, which raises about $1.8 million to pay for police and public works services for the town.

Ms. Sandhu was somewhat lukewarm in her support of the tax. She says it's "more than likely" needed at this point, but that the town needs to look at other revenue sources in the future.

The police contract is a the hot-button issue, and the police union was an active participant in last November's election, sending mailers to residents with warnings about dire consequences of compensation cuts, and endorsing Ms. Lewis and Mr. Wiest.

In an interview last month, Mr. DeGolia said the town needs to ensure that police compensation is "rational and supportable," and that he supports looking at ways to reduce the town's contributions to pensions and other benefits. He noted that the town has a "very substantial unfunded liability" for post-retirement costs that needs to be considered when looking at the town's overall financial health. (The unfunded liability has been estimated at between $12 million and $30 million.)

Mr. Conlon and Ms. Sandhu said they need more information before commenting on whether the town needs to adjust police officer compensation in the next contract. Mr. Conlon said that he is concerned with the town's unfunded liability, but that the Audit/Finance Committee hasn't specifically studied police compensation. With negotiations in progress, "I don't want to prejudge without the facts," he said.

Ms. Sandhu said the finance committee is taking a harder look at the long-term forecast related to pension costs, and said she's convinced that CalPERS, which oversees the state's public employee pension system, is not providing accurate figures. That makes it difficult to understand the town's true financial picture, she said.

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