http://almanacnews.com/print/story/print/2012/10/10/atherton-police-association-tactics-under-fire-in-election


Almanac

News - October 10, 2012

Atherton police association tactics under fire in election

by Renee Batti

A number of residents and City Council members are criticizing a pre-election mail and telephone campaign by the Atherton Police Officers Association that they say is spreading false and misleading information to residents.

An APOA flier that reached mailboxes in late summer, warning residents that "you are in danger of losing your Atherton police," prompted Mayor Bill Widmer and Councilman Jim Dobbie to dispute, in a public letter to council colleagues, several key points of the "scaremongering" mailer. The council voted unanimously last month to place discussion of the mailer on the Oct. 17 council agenda.

The APOA, the employee group of the town's police officers and sergeants, also announced in a recorded message left recently on residents' telephones that it has endorsed incumbent Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest for the two open council seats.

The wording of the message, recorded by APOA president and police officer David Metzger, has caused some residents to cry foul, saying that the association implied that the two other candidates — Greg Conlon and Denise Kupperman — would support outsourcing police services.

"They don't directly say that we would outsource, but the (implication) is pretty strong," Mr. Conlon said.

The prepared statement delivered by Mr. Metzger said that Atherton police officers "are working hard to maintain the level of service you currently receive, as well as the safety and security of the town of Atherton.

"However, your police department could eventually be outsourced to the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department, depending on the current and future actions of your City Council. With this in mind, (the association is) supporting ... Elizabeth Lewis for re-election and ... Cary Wiest for election."

Although a few residents have publicly advocated outsourcing police services, the idea has proven to be a hot potato, and it appears that a large majority of residents oppose it. Which posed a problem for candidate Kupperman.

"It was of concern" for several residents at an event held late last month in support of her candidacy, Ms. Kupperman said. She had to explain to those raising questions that she has never advocated outsourcing police services, she added.

When she heard of the phone message, she said, she went to the police station to speak with Mr. Metzger and tell him that his call "includes a misstatement of my position." He responded that "there was no implied message," she said. But the message, she insisted, "was suggestive — not explicit but implicit."

"That's how I interpret it and how a number of residents interpreted it."

Ms. Kupperman said she wasn't seeking the APOA endorsement, and that the association had a right to endorse whomever it chose to. "But they don't have a right to misrepresent my position," she said.

Mr. Metzger was not available for comment.

Although the APOA traditionally endorses candidates in council races, the double-punch approach this campaign season has made some residents nervous. Mayor Bill Widmer said he has heard from "a number of residents who have said they're afraid to put out signs (for candidates Kupperman or Conlon) for fear there could be retribution."

Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, whose term ends in December, said in a statement sent to the Almanac that within minutes of receiving the APOA's "robocall" herself, she received calls from several residents worried that if they endorsed candidates other than the APOA's choices, they might "receive differential treatment from the police," or might be "targeted." She said the call constituted "intimidation."

The association didn't conduct interviews before making endorsements, but sent out a questionnaire to all candidates. Both Ms. Kupperman and Mr. Conlon said their answers in no way suggested that they support outsourcing police services.

"I said I was definitely against it ... unless we're going into bankruptcy," Mr. Conlon said, adding that he made it clear he didn't think bankruptcy is in the town's future.

Incumbent Elizabeth Lewis posted the questionnaire and her responses on her website. "I do not believe Atherton should outsource its police department to the county at this time," she said in response to a question asking if she would "ever consider" such a move.

But she said she prefers to never say never "because life is long and circumstances change."

"If at some future date, the economic conditions of the town are such that there is no other choice but to join forces with other departments to avoid bankruptcy, as an elected official I would have to make that hard fiscal decision considering what would be best for the town's solvency."

The mailer

Although the APOA flier included no endorsements, its message was dramatic — and to some, alarming.

After stating that the council "has revealed its intention to severely cut police officer pay and benefits forcing most to look for work elsewhere," the mailer claimed that "the council will most likely outsource policing to another agency."

APOA vice president and police dispatcher John Mattes defended the assertion: If the town significantly reduces benefits, "you're going to have people who are looking to leave."

The town won't be able to find qualified candidates if compensation is inferior to that of other agencies, so the town will be forced to outsource services, he said.

The flier criticized the manner in which parcel tax revenues have been spent — not enough police department spending, it implied. It also said that the department received a mere 0.2 percent funding increase, "which does not even cover inflation, much less the funds needed for proper staffing in the ... department."

Mayor Widmer said town staff is fact-checking all claims in the flier to give council members accurate information when they discuss the mailer this month. But in the colleagues letter he and Mr. Dobbie issued, they noted that police salary increases were nearly 3.9 percent for officers and about 1 percent for sergeants.

"We believe the mailer is a scaremongering attempt with misrepresented data by the APOA to attempt to assist in their upcoming contract negotiations (the contract expires next year) and to sway voters to support 'their' candidates," they wrote. "We believe the residents need to know the facts."

Mr. Widmer said in an interview that the flier "talks all about trust. But trust goes both ways. I don't think they should be putting words in people's mouths and leading people to believe that their safety is jeopardized."

Personally, he said, he values "the work that the police department does here. There's no question in my mind about their integrity and trustworthiness, etc. My comments are with regards to these tactics."

Comments

Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:25 pm

What is the False information? Widmer has stated and posted this week on the Almanac site that he wants the Parcel Tax which raises $1.6M and helps cover police costs to sunset. He has not stated a plan to make up the lost revenue.

In November 2010, just after Widmer was elected to the council, ther was a council meeting to discuss Police Outsourcing. Is there anything incorrect with those statements?










Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 9, 2012 at 2:48 pm

Police services takes more than 50% of the Town's total budget and Atherton has the most expensive police services (in many cases by a factor of 2 and even 3) than any other local agency.

It is irresponsible that all of the council members and council candidates refuse to look at this situation and to consider alternatives.

It is frightening how the APOA has intimidated the council, council candidates and the citizens. We have many superb police officers but their union leadership is simply corrupt and self serving.


Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm

There is nothing false in the letter as the Mayor claims.

Peter you are right. It has been irresponsible of the current council not to put this on an agenda. At Carlson's request in was on an agenda 2 years ago, but nothing since then.

The Mayor should have put Outsourcing on a council agenda and explained his logic and let other council members explain their logic to residents months ago.

The Mayor's plan per his video released this week is to let the Parcel Tax expire. He did not say if he plans to make up the lost revenue of $1.6M per year. Without that revenue either the police accept big cuts or the council outsources. Is that the Mayor's plan.

Given that the council outsourced Public Works and Building last year. Good chance they have discussed the police issue since the council meeting two years ago.

Just like the library issue. I read there were 100 meetings in 2 years on the library. But yet it took a petition of 250 signatures to get it on a council agenda item.

Peter, you should do the petition again. This time on Outsourcing, since Mayor Widmer has not.




Posted by Democratic Process, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Peter states: "Police services takes more than 50% of the Town's total budget and Atherton has the most expensive police services (in many cases by a factor of 2 and even 3) than any other local agency.
Peter, it is very common and norml for police and public safety costs to take up this portion of small town budgets throughout the country. Added to this is the demand for services and the large number of schools, vehicles and non-residents coming to the town during the day. I know you will give us the array of Woodside and Portola Valley costs etc charged by the Sheriff but policing and requirements in Atherton are far different. The Sheriff has stated he cannot deliver the services Atherton residents demand In past years residents have voted to fund these costs through the parcel tax which average $750 per lot.
It does no good to use the same arguments about rotten union leaders, pensions, salaries compare to private industry etc. It should be the decision of the Atherton residents. It is not up to Mayor Widmer who is using his office (probably not approved by the town attorney) to declare he wants the parcel tax to lapse. This is not his decision or the Council as a group but should be part of the democratic process to be asked. At the same time a vote should be held on whether the Police Department should be outsourced. It is terrible wrong for Mayor Widmer to decide that funding will run out for the police and use that as a reason for outsourcing after a period of failed contract negotiations.
There are many similarities to the Library in the Park decision made without voter approval.


Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 4:18 pm

When the Mayor wanted to send a warning letter to the Athertonians, he accused them on "Innaccurate Statements". In today's Almanac, Mayor Widmer accused both the Save our Park group and the Police of Innaccurate Statements.

This plan seems to work for the Mayor.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I do understand why people who had bad experiences with the police might resort to coming to these blogs to speak out against them.

I do understand why people who have had extraordinary interactions with the police (as in an officer saving someone's life) coming to these blogs or meetings (or organizing initiatives) to support them. But how many can these be?

I don't really get why an Atherton resident would or could develop such strong feelings about police officers to organize rallies, initiatives, demands to pay whatever they want, etc…even if their normal interaction with the police officers is positive. What is normal interaction? A handful of times a year?

Something is fishy. Perhaps the anonymous posters are the police officers themselves, their union reps, or their parents. I do know one officer's family lives in Atherton.

You have to ask yourself is this normal, that an election should be decreed to rise or fall on whether police officers are happy. I don 't think this would fly anywhere else in the world.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 9, 2012 at 5:04 pm

"The Sheriff has stated he cannot deliver the services Atherton residents demand "

This is a total fabrication. The Sheriff has always been very willing to negotiate with any San Mateo County community.

"Peter, it is very common and norml for police and public safety costs to take up this portion of small town budgets throughout the country."

There is no basis for this allegation - facts please.


Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 5:05 pm

The results of the election should be based on candidates being truthful as to where they stand on the issues. We see this on the national level as well.

However at no time during the 2010 campaign did any candidate discuss their positions or intent to change Atherton to a General Law city to increase taxes easier, move the library to the park, outsource most departments, etc.

This is about more than the police.


Posted by Michael G Stogner, a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm

Democratic Process says,

"The Sheriff has stated he cannot deliver the services Atherton residents demand"

I don't think this is a true statement, but if it were, could you give an example of a demanded service the Sheriff of San Mateo County refuses to deliver?


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Michael:

I doubt the Sheriff will be willing to have his deputies pick up mail, water lawns, take in garbage cans and numerous other "duties" the citizens of Atherton have there "police" doing. Those are not the duties of professional police officers. They're the duties of security guards. Which seems to be what the citizens of Atherton continue to want to pay police wages for.


Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 9, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I just came from the Town Council candidates' forum. Not one of the four candidates has the guts to challenge the police union and none of them understand that going into negotiations with the union having sworn not to even consider outsourcing is the worst possible bargaining position.


Posted by Mission accomplished, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 9, 2012 at 9:17 pm

The intimidation tactics worked.


Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2012 at 7:35 am

The reality is prior to the endorsement all candidates had their positions not to Outsource. No one was intimidated.

The Police used their First Admendment right and made an endorsement. Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie don't like it and are going to great lengths to maintain the council control they have with a 3-2 majority.


Posted by Reality, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2012 at 7:58 am

The real reality is that if Maltbie gave a presentation on police outsourcing TWO YEARS AGO in November 2010 and the APOA thought that was being hidden from residents, it would have done something TWO YEARS AGO.

The robo-call TWO WEEKS AGO was a blatant bullying, intimidation, and a successful attempt to rig an election by frightening Atherton residents and candidates by police officers who are sworn to serve and protect this community, not to run it.


Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:37 am

Two years ago the APOA did do something, word went out and fifteen residents turned out even though the meeting was called for at 8am with short notice.

The response was that at the time both Dobbie and Widmer were quoted as saying any outsourcing should be a ballot item. They backed down.

Well in July Widmer announced some items he wanted on a ballot and he left the police issue off his list.

However as Widmer disclosed in his video last week. He now wants to "Sunset" the Parcel Tax, which is critical to the police budget.

Eighty-percent of the residents supported the Parcel Tax four years ago.

What Atherton resident is frieghten?

The nurses union and highway patrol supported Jerry Brown. Should Atherton residents that supported Meg Whitman be worried about medical treatment and driving on the interstate?


Posted by Reality, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2012 at 9:43 am

Unlike the Atherton cops, the highway patrol and nurses have no ability to track who supported Brown vs. Whitman, and you know it. Here it is much more direct and personal, and that's the big difference. The Atherton cops drive around town. They look at the signs. In fact, they now have their own sign that says "Atherton Police endorse Cary Wiest and Elizabeth Lewis." Who would put this sign out rather than the signs of the candidates they support unless they want to curry favor with these cops? The cops know who are supporting Denise or Greg and these people are afraid to. It's not something Kathy McKeithen or Bill Widmer made up. This election is tainted.

As for Widmer, he's doing the right thing. If cops won't negotiate reasonably, we will look at all alternatives to be fiscally responsible. You want to grant the cops the right to come to a negotiating table knowing they have nothing to lose. That's nuts. It's irresponsible, and something is really wrong with any Atherton resident (alleged) who could possibly support that, other than one or two I have in mind who are the father of an Atherton cop or someone who has received special treatment from them for years.


Posted by Nothing False, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2012 at 3:56 pm

Can you point out where I said I want to grant the cops the right to come to the table with nothing to loose? I did not say that.

In November 2010 Widmer and Dobbie have said before they would outsource they would have the residents vote on the issue.

Widmer now says the contract expires next year. Why didn't he put another Measure on the Ballot asking if residents want to Outsource the police? Otherwise Widmer goes to the table without that option. Right?

Widmer has also said he wants to the table without Parcel Tax funds for the full contract, since the Parcel Tax ends in 2013 and he wants to sunset it. How much of a pay reduction is that? 15%??? 10% 20%

Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie are backing Kupperman and Conlon. Do Kupperman and Conlon support the plan to Sunset the Parcel Tax and to give the Police a reduction number or else? This is a major issue for Atherton.

I think candidates should campaign by stating what they are going to do. Hi I am (insert name here, I support Mayor Widmer's plan, I want to sunset the Parcel Tax and tell the police take a xxx% pay cut or we outsource because we no longer have the funds. Please vote for me.