http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/02/01/editorial-atherton-struggles-without-leaders


Almanac

Viewpoint - February 1, 2012

Editorial: Atherton struggles without leaders

In what appears to be a complete meltdown in communications between the City Council and an interim city manager, Atherton has tapped a deputy city clerk to manage the town while it scrambles to initiate a search for a permanent manager.

This remarkable chain of events began in December 2010, when Interim City Manager John Danielson was hired and told to make finding a permanent city manager one of his two top priorities. The other was reducing an $800,000-plus shortfall in the town's budget.

To close the gap, it was agreed that the cost of employees was the problem, and a decision was made to lay off or force out 13 union staff members from the building and public works departments and replace them with contract employees.

Now the town has shrunk to only 29 employees, 21 of whom are either police officers or work in the police department. Only eight other staff members remain to address the city's needs.

And on Jan. 19, council members were informed of a ruling by the California Public Employees Retirement System that Mr. Danielson, who was paid $15,000 a month for part-time work and collects a pension from CalPERS, could not extend his stay beyond 12 months if he wants to retain his status as a retiree.

A hastily prepared stopgap plan was subsequently devised to pay Mr. Danielson $14,000 a month (downsized to $12,000 just before a special council meeting on Friday) to work as a consultant with only two jobs: to help find a permanent city manager and to advise the new acting city manager as needed. Although the contract states it is for up to three months, it could easily be extended if the town wishes. Meanwhile, Mr. Danielson continues to live rent-free in a house provided by the town.

How could this happen? How could five members of the City Council not know that Mr. Danielson was not conducting a search for his replacement? How could council members not know that Mr. Danielson was permitted to work only 960 hours, up to one year, with no exceptions? When will permanent department managers arrive to fill the positions vacated last year and now held by interim employees?

Is there another city on the Peninsula that is so poorly managed? Today, Atherton's workforce is understaffed and now without an experienced leader at the top. And its finance, public works, and police departments are headed by interim employees.

In our view, the city's troubles began when the council and Mr. Danielson thought the budget problems could be alleviated by wholesale layoffs. Other options to raise revenue and union offers to rewrite contracts were ignored, and now the town is operating with many contract employees who have nothing invested in serving the community. Their loyalty is to their company, not the town.

As a town that has virtually no commercial activity and collects no sales tax, Atherton existed for years on property tax revenue and by assessing an annual parcel tax that is approved by voters every five years. But as costs for wages and pensions have increased, Atherton came up short.

Now Atherton has no city manager, and the prospects of finding a truly talented person who could turn the town around are diminishing by the hour as Atherton becomes a textbook example of how to ruin what was once a quiet community that took pride in its employees and quality of service.

Atherton residents deserve better treatment. But they also have to realize that to go back to the old days may require more than a hotshot city manager and a roster of contract employees. The current plan amounts to a discount store operation. Is that what residents really want? There is a chance the town can recover with a talented city manager, but only if he or she is given the ability to bring in quality staff members who care about what they do.

It is time for the council to decide which kind of Atherton they want: the discount model or a first-class operation the whole town can be proud of.

Comments

Posted by FAIL, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm

The Almanac has hit the nail on the head. Brilliant piece.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The Editorial is simply wrong.

The Town is in much better shape as a result of Danielson's effort and year on the job. In many ways he has laid the ground work for hiring a permanent manager who can start with a stabilized situation rather than a having to do all of the house cleaning and repair work that Danielson has done. If a new manager had been brought in six months ago she/he would have had to use a lot of their institutional capital to accomplish what Danielson did while serving as interim manager.

The first step in moving forward is to clean up whatever mess there is - Danielson and the Council have done that. In addition, the Town now has a superb Town Attorney and a superb Interim Police Chief and is much closer to having a balanced budget.

Well done Town Council.


Posted by exactly, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 31, 2012 at 4:23 pm

The Almanac editorial reflects accurately what is probably the low point in Town governance. The Members of the Town Council should never have allowed conditions to reach this stage even if Danielson is the most brilliant interim there is. The new City Attorney is not looking very good either, and it doubtful that the Council will do anything constructive since they are totally dysfunctional as a group. Dobbie, McKeithen are the main problems and until they are gone do not expect much.


Posted by Priority, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 31, 2012 at 4:56 pm

The council knows what it is doing: Keep rotating city managers and city attorneys for fresh blood with no memory of previous town problems. In the last 12 years all city managers (3) or interim city managers (3) or city attorneys (3) or Police Chiefs (3) or Building Officials (3) or Public Works Directors (2) or Finance Directors (3) have left with a cloud over their head.

Meanwhile council keeps dealing with lawsuits, refunds, and special elections. Years ago when one staff member left he remarked the kaos was never going to end.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2012 at 5:13 pm

"all city managers (3) or interim city managers (3)..... have left with a cloud over their head."

What exactly is the alleged cloud over Danielson's head?


Posted by exactly, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 31, 2012 at 5:42 pm

Peter asks "What exactly is the alleged cloud over Danielson's head?"
I would suggest one big cloud: he was hired to find a permanent town manager as one of his main tasks but instead liked the gig and moved into the Town's house in the park. He then positioned himself to stay on when everyone knew this was unlikely to work (with CalPers) so he could double dip. Of course the cloud was enabled by the Council.
The point is that the citizens of Atherton have not been well served by this gambit, and we have been duped by the Council into believing he was going to do a replacement search and leave after his defined contract.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm

Exactly has his/her interpretation of the facts. My interpretation of the same facts is that Danielson did exactly as the council directed and concentrated on cleaning up the mess.
The council, not Danielson, requested an exception from CalPERS. Danielson agreed to remain until the response was received from CalPERS.

I believe that the citizens of Atherton have been very well served by Danielson.


Posted by Priority, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 31, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Peter,

Actually most of the staff that left were good people. The clouds were brought on by negative comments of council members. Some council members have been very critical of the city attorneys, city managers, police chiefs, etc....


Posted by Haha, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 1, 2012 at 7:46 am

The cloud on Jerry Gruber was brought on by a council member? That guy was not too bright, and I'm being very diplomatic.

The cloud on Mike Guerra and Glen Nielson and Bob Brennen was brought on by a council member? No, by the bad behavior in the police department that they either encouraged or ignored.

The cloud on Wynne Furth was brought on by a council member? No, by her own exonerations of three council members who were voting to get her the $700,000 to $800,000 she was milking from the town by encouraging lawsuits to fester.


Posted by Haha, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 1, 2012 at 7:48 am

Peter and exactly are both right. Danielson was a good manager (and a superb one when compared to what Atherton has had to suffer with), but unfortunately could never work in Atherton for more than a a year. A search should have started long ago. There's no excuse for this.


Posted by john, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2012 at 8:08 pm

And still there is hide nor hair of the illustrious report that our council commissioned for the better of the town, that incidentally
was used to replace many caring employees with contractors that don't seem to know what they are doing. Still does anybody ask what the connection is with Interwest and Danielson . It does seem a little odd that where Danialson goes Interwest follows.But he is doing a great job right Peter?






Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 2, 2012 at 8:47 pm

"But he is doing a great job right Peter?"

Absolutely. Just look at the facts - new Town Attorney, great Interim Police Chief, closer to a balanced budget and a superb situation for a new permanent Town Manager. What else would you like??


Posted by john, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 2, 2012 at 9:23 pm

Peter
I didn't realize you knew so much about the towns financial state.I think its a little to early to tell. Maybe somebody needs to keep a close eye on the contractors.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 2, 2012 at 9:42 pm

It is all a matter of public record - see item 10 in this url:

Web Link


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Feb 3, 2012 at 9:40 am

I found it impossible to tie the logic used in the editorial together. Atherton is not a city, it is a town. As the article stated, it has no industrial base and collects no sales tax. The "haircut" that has recently taken place was necessary; there are less expensive ways to deliver services than were in place. That isn't a "discount operation", its sound management.


Posted by john, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 3, 2012 at 10:14 am

Really,check the cost of what those contractors are costing you in real money not what they tell you. Also ,for a town that is so concerned with what city employees cost. Why is it that all of the contractors are retired city employees that are double dipping on our tax dollars.That seems to be ok with all of you, just as long as it benefits your individual agenda's.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 3, 2012 at 2:52 pm

The notion that 'double dipping' is bad is wrong in simply wrong (except for the fact that prohibiting double dipping increases job opportunities for the unemployed). It makes no economic sense or management sense not to employ highly experienced people who do not require pension contributions.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 3, 2012 at 2:53 pm

corrected typo:


The notion that 'double dipping' is bad is simply wrong (except for the fact that prohibiting double dipping increases job opportunities for the unemployed).

It makes no economic sense or management sense not to employ highly experienced people who do not require pension contributions.


Posted by Norman, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 4, 2012 at 3:00 pm

"Their loyalty is to their company, not the town." Ah, so naive. Their loyalty, as it is always, is to their salary and their pension benefits no matter who is singing the checks.


Posted by Interested, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Norman......

I agree. Not that my boss ever tried to give me a singing check....Kinda hard to cash


Posted by John P Johns, CPA, a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I have applied for my old job back. I have yet to hear back from the Town on the status of my application.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 5, 2012 at 9:25 am

Mr. Johns:

I suggest you not hld your breath waiting.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Mr. Johns,

Have you retired yet? Can you work for us full time?


Posted by John P Johns, CPA, a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I've let the interim City Manager know that I'm available full-time or part time. I'm available to help out in finance or in the City Manager's office, wherever the City's needs are most pressing.

I don't require a residence nor do I charge for travel. I have accomodations available locally.