Ms. McKeithen, her husband Smith, and residents Sandy Crittenden, Jon Buckheit, Cat Westover and Jim Massey wrote, signed and delivered to Town Hall an argument they hoped would be included in the voter's guide for the Nov. 5 election. But there was a problem: The argument was delivered on Aug. 22, a week after the deadline. It was rejected by City Clerk Theresa DellaSanta, who cited California Elections Code Section 9285.
The deadline to submit arguments for or against the measure was Aug. 16, which was met by all four members of the City Council, who wrote an argument in favor of renewing the tax. The opponents submitted their argument on Aug. 22. Confusion apparently arose over a second deadline of Aug. 22, which was limited to rebuttals to arguments already submitted by the earlier deadline. Ms. DellaSanta said only those who had submitted arguments by the Aug. 16 deadline were entitled to submit rebuttals.
Ms. DellaSanta said she had no choice but to reject the argument against the measure. "It's the only way to remain impartial," she told the Almanac.
In an email to the opponents, she wrote: "I take my responsibilities as the Elections Official seriously with the highest degree of impartiality possible. Accordingly, the only way to remain truly impartial is to enforce the rules, procedures, and deadlines that were set for this election. These are the same procedures I have used in all previous elections in Atherton."
Ms. DellaSanta said in an interview that she double-checked her understanding of the law with the county and with city clerks of several neighboring jurisdictions, all of whom agreed with her ruling.
The argument against
The development is likely to intensify unhappiness among some residents over the town's relatively high compensation of its police officers, and the police union's heavy involvement in the November election of two council members. The union endorsed the two successful candidates, now-Mayor Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest, last fall — only months before negotiations for a new police contract were to begin.
The tax of $750 per year for most parcels with homes expires in June. Because Atherton has no commercial tax base, it relies heavily on the $1.8 million it raises through the annual tax. Revenue from the tax is shared by police services, which receives 60 percent, and public works projects.
The submitted statement argued that the current council hasn't been "a faithful steward of taxpayer money," and is therefore "not entitled to ask for passage of a parcel tax at this time."
The rejected ballot argument noted that police services account for more than half of Atherton's operational budget, but that the council "has refused to consider or discuss outsourcing to save tax money. Whether one is for or against police outsourcing, there is no excuse for Atherton overpaying for police services."
The opponents also cited Ms. Lewis' and Mr. Wiest's acceptance of police union endorsements "and election funding" (the union paid for signs and other materials, but made no direct candidate contributions), and said the union involvement "raises concerns about (the two endorsed council members') objectivity in the current police contract negotiations."
Neither Kathy nor Smith McKeithen could be reached for comment for this article.
Mr. Buckheit told the Almanac that the opponents' attempt to submit the ballot argument stemmed from concern that the town was "putting the cart before the horse" in putting the measure on the November ballot. The tax, he noted, doesn't expire until next year, and by waiting until spring to ask voters to renew it, the town would have more time to demonstrate to voters that the money will be spent responsibly.
"I would happily pay the parcel tax as long as there wasn't the notion that the town is paying too much for police services just because residents can afford it," he said.