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Editorial: Atherton tries to get a handle on employee costs

Original post made on Dec 4, 2012

Atherton is moving in the right direction to reduce the town's unfunded liability, with the City Council on Nov. 28 passing a package of compensation adjustments for 10 employees. The only stickler is how quickly the changes should be implemented.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 5, 2012, 12:00 AM

Comments (22)

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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm

1. Wiest should be up to speed to vote on the issue in two weeks at the next council meeting. If not he can abstain. McKeithen's point is unfounded.

2. "Mr. Widmer claims the council has never discussed outsourcing the police department..." Not true, Outsourcing the Police has been discussed for years. Here is the last written story.


News - Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Residents getting nervous over police outsourcing option
by Renee Batti

In what could be a sign of things to come if Atherton's elected officials decide to outsource police services, a number of Atherton residents attended an early morning meeting of the City Council and town's Finance Committee on Nov. 18 to hear a presentation on another city's experiences in turning over police operations to the county Sheriff's Office


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 4, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" outgoing member Ms. McKeithen said, it could take him many months to get up to speed on the town's complicated finances,"

McKeithen consistently underestimates the ability of the citizens to understand the 'great complexities' of our small town's finances. Wiest will do just fine - as did the citizens when they voted NO on putting the library in the park even though McKeithen stated that the library issue was too complex for ordinary people to understand.


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Posted by Down the road
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 4, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Almanac/Employees/Cops: "Yes, everyone knows budget cuts need to be made. But they can't be made now."

Sounds familiar. How's that working out for us so far?


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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 4, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Cuts started along time ago, even coffe is gone.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 4, 2012 at 7:02 pm

"even coffe is gone"

boo hoo. How do the employees manage to do their jobs without free coffee??!! The humanity!


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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 5, 2012 at 7:15 am

No coffee for staff, but $6,000.00 for a party at the end of McKeithen's term. Let them eat cake and drink expresso!!


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Posted by microdobee
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 5, 2012 at 8:05 am

Being a true corporate micromanaging visionary then Mayor Jim Dobbie directed the bottled water, coffee, cups, paper plates etc be removed from the town offices and not funded by the town in the future. This was done some time ago to teach the employees and patrol officers that this cost saving effort was "serious". Fortunately, this draconian measure did not affect toilet paper but he directed that only one-ply be furnished. Janitorial services were cut to three days a week.
While this was another blow to morale the employees did not suffer too long before private individuals took over the coffee and supplies to the patrol officers who staff the APD 24/7. Most coffee places are closed during the night hours. All Mayor Dobbie did was loose respect in this effort to save money. Some time later he and the counicl majority was shutting down the rental program at Holbrook Palmer Park which potentially could bring in $90,000 a year. That program still has not been restarted and it should be given the fact that it will not be the site of a new library building.


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Posted by Staff Memory
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 5, 2012 at 9:53 am

"Ms. McKeithen said, it could take him many months to get up to speed on the town's complicated finances, and thus delay the savings the town hopes to accrue."

Staff remembers how McKeithen's actions for her agendas have has cost the Town millions and now staff has to pay the price.

She wants to furlough staff to save $14,000.00- yet back in 2007 when she worried about a recall she had John Johns spend $14,000.00 sending town computers out to see if staff had written emails about the recall. This violated the town's purchasing policy.

In March 2000 she ran a successful campaign to defeat the Parcel Tax to set the stage for her council campaign later that year. The town lost $1.6M in revenue.

She claimed the Interim City Manager was on a "Witch Hunt" when Johns Johns was terminated, and according to his Sworn Declaration and emails she gave him closed session information to help him obtain a higher settlement with the town.

Now she is worried about saving the town money!!!




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Posted by Venom
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 5, 2012 at 8:00 pm

Staff Memory, thanks for shining a light on the Council's duplicity. I'm sure McKeithen thought she was going "good". She apparently believed the ends justified the means. But, she did an incredible amount of damage.

Why can't Atherton be run like Hillsborough? Their Council seems to have its act together.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Why can't Atherton be run like Hillsborough? Their Council seems to have its act together."

Acting cooperatively in the service of the citizens requires that each council member forget their personal agenda and focus solely on how to work with their colleagues to serve their community. For the Atherton council this would be a new experience - but I am hopefully that they can and will take this fundamental step


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Posted by videofan
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 5, 2012 at 10:01 pm

The past council has successfully brought Atherton from the small town type of goverment to a big city type of system in everything from their politics to their purchasing manual. To bad, once these types of changes happen, its impossible to turn back the clock to the way it was. They wanted the big city spotlight, and got the Almanac news. The Mayor(s) wanted power like Gavin Newsome, but only got to reside as chair of CC meetings (so they micromanaged). Pushed around staff, tryed to build a monument to themselves in the park. I can only hope and pray the next mayor is a Leader we can be proud of, like the old days.


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Posted by Careful what you wish for
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 5, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Police officers in Hillsborough make considerably less than those in Atherton. I don't see them quitting for other jobs, either. I also haven't seen one controversy after another with that police department.


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Posted by Videofan
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 6, 2012 at 2:48 am

That's not what I see;
Web Link


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Posted by fact check
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 6, 2012 at 6:21 am

Police salaries on average are about the same in Hillsborough at least they were in 2010 according to the State Controller. This site includes detailed comparisons for various cites in California and shows benefit packages as well. Atherton appears to be about mid-range for like towns in heavily urban areas.

Web Link


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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 6, 2012 at 10:32 am

Peter,
This post from 2009 is on the Almanac regarding outsourcing and "fear mongering", which brings up a few questions on both the Brown Act and Atherton's Finances. I would like to get your thoughts.

At the end of this post you wrote:
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2009 at 7:30 am
"Let me be clearer on my challenge: What have Fiscally Responsible and Common Sense done to actually help solve the problems which they feel the Town has? How many Council meetings have they attended? How often have they spoken at Council meetings? Have they run for Council? Have they voted for Council members in past elections?"

Earlier "Common Sense" admitted to being on the Atherton Audit Committee and living Lindenwood.

Both Common Sense and Fiscally Responsible had the same views:
1. Outsource the Police
2. Unfunded Pension costs are an issue the council is not addressing
3. Efforts against John Johns were a "witch hunt"
4. Vote No on the Parcel Tax
5. At $750.00 the Parcel Tax does not balance the budget
6. Peter should do his "homework"
7. And use the words "Fear mongering"

Both McKeithen and Widmer have those views and have served on the Audit Committee.

Another poster, Quid Pro, has Jim Dobbie's viewpoints on "developers", the Police, and John Johns.

Here are the questions:
1. If two or three council members discuss anonymously on a Blog an item before the council and one of them also discusses the blog with a third council member, has the Brown Act been violated?
2. If for years a council member and/or Mayor blogs anonymously and favors Outsourcing or knows another council member is blogging support of Outsourcing and then states the council has not discussed Outsourcing; is he misleading? Does a public discussion on a blog between two council members before an item is discussed on a violate the Brown Act?
3. How would it be investigated?

Quoting from this week's Editorial: "The APOA is thought to be concerned that rollbacks taken in this measure could be forced on its members, or worse, leading the council to outsource police services to the county sheriff. Mr. Widmer claims the council has never discussed outsourcing the police department."

Based on this blog discussion and others I believe the APOA was accurate to inform residents Outsourcing is a possibility based on the make up of the council.


Here is post from October 2009:

Atherton: NO on Parcel Tax
Atherton, posted by Fiscally responsible, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Oct 1, 2009 at 9:15 am
It's time for residents of Atherton to have a serious discussion about the upcoming parcel tax.
Let me say in advance that I hope the discussion stays limited to the parcel tax and is high brow to avoid deletion of this very important issue.
In my view, residents of Atherton should send a clear message to the city council by voting NO on the parcel tax because they do not spend our money responsibly.
1. THE CITY COUNCIL IS ARROGANT, AND HAS WASTED MILLIONS OF OUR MONEY MAINLY FIGHTING WITH US. That's right. One lawsuit after another has involved spending a cumulative total in the millions for silly issues such as residents moving an urn from one home to another, trying to crush the former finance director (let's not turn this post into a debate about that; suffice it to say, the former chair of the finance committee, Dr. Sam Goodman, stated he felt the Johns firing was a politically motivated witch hunt), not letting residents move into a new home because at the last minute, the building department decided that permits that had long since been issued were a mistake, and others.
To some residents, it's all a joke. Admittedly, some of these lawsuits are so ridiculous that they degenerate into humor. However, if you happened to be the resident being sued over an urn, or prevented from moving into your home, you would feel very aggrieved. Remember, the first mayor of a city, Pericles, said: "if you don't take an interest in politics, politics will take an interest in you."
By voting NO on the parcel tax, you send a message to the Council that residents must be treated respectfully, and perhaps even more importantly, residents' money must be treated respectfully.
2. THE CITY COUNCIL HAS NOT TOLD RESIDENTS THE TRUTH ABOUT THE COST OF THE POLICE DEPARTMENT. $750 per household is said to cover this expense, in the interest of "safety" and "keeping home values high".
Vague references to a poorly designed survey from a few years ago, where such survey did not actually analyze the pros, cons and costs, are used to ignore dealing with some very real issues:
a) Existing budget constraints have whittled down the police department so far, that we would have more officers on the street FOR LESS MONEY by contracting with Menlo Park or the Sheriff. Why? It's simple. The overhead for maintaining those departments (management, dispatch, systems, etc.) already exists, so the incremental cost for adding officers for Atherton gets distilled into exactly what we need: officers on patrol.
b) The scare tactics about "safety" and "keeping home values high" are simply excuses to maintain the historical police department. We very successfully contract out for fire service.
c) The costs RESIDENTS AREN'T BEING TOLD ABOUT involve unfunded pension liability commitments to these police officers for their 90% pensions after working for 30 years. If the county pension pool takes a hit in the stock market and cannot cover the 90% pension for a given year, WE MUST STEP IN AS TAXPAYERS AND FUND THE DIFFERENCE, YEAR AFTER YEAR. The projections already exist for what this will cost residents, and it's a lot more than $750 per household per year, but this is not being disclosed in the propaganda for the parcel tax but really MUST BE as the fiscally responsible solution is to cut off the bleeding now by outsourcing so these future liabilities are frozen instead of growing by leaps and bounds.
The only way this outsourcing will take place is to deny the parcel tax. The council members are too friendly with the chief, and the officers giving them special services such as personal mail delivery, to deal with this issue in terms of just the basic financial and other facts instead of leading with personal relationships.
IN CONCLUSION, I believe it will take a crisis to get California's budget and government "fixed" to stop the bleeding in our state wide system, and this crisis will happen sooner or later. The state politicians have done a great job of applying band-aids in the interim to make it seem like everything is really still okay. Atherton is doing the same thing although admittedly on a much smaller scale. Deny the parcel tax to force the city council to operate in a fiscally responsible manner. It will do wonders.
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Comments (16)

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Posted by Quid Pro, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Oct 1, 2009 at 8:20 pm
Dear Fiscal thankyou for your well stated remarks, especially the rare acknowledgement about hanging the finance director out to dry….
I have always loved our Police Dept--but over the last few years I have become so regularly disappointed, and in some cases shocked, that I am now actually a little afraid of them.
I say send a message to the council by denying the parcel tax --but for me the message is to stand up to this litigation from the developers or they will never stop bleeding the town dry--why would they? It works every time.
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Posted by Fiscally responsible, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Oct 2, 2009 at 10:00 am
Thank you. Let's get back to the following actual points:
Aside from ignoring the pension costs in the "it's only $750 year" argument for the police (and the Almanac has a good article on that general issue in San Mateo County elsewhere ont he site), let's realize that if we outsourced the police, and saved the $750/year, and saved the very expensive unfunded pension liabilities that will involve costs much higher than $750/year per resident (how about actually disclosing the projections, Mr. Gruber?), Atherton wouldn't need a brand-new expensive building if the police were outsourced. That would save additional millions.
Everyone needs to realize that the Atherton council and city manager know just getting the $750/year is pushing their luck right now, but it isn't enough. The plan? Raise fees on everything for the first time I can remember instead of just saying "we need $850/year now" (or something like that). This ill-advised plan to pass more costs on to residents was put on temporary hold at the last council meeting after a lawsuit was threatened. The Almanac really should report on that particular issue of increased fees and lawsuits over them.
DISCLOSURE, FULL DISCLOSURE of all the costs, present and future, for what Atherton is trying to do, is needed. FULL DISCLOSURE of the cops' pensions and what it will cost us instead of just mantras of "only $750/year" and "97% satisfaction surveys". I encourage the Almanac to report on this disclosure issue as the press is the only way it will actually get in the light of day.
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Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 2, 2009 at 11:50 pm
If you really want to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of local government then get involved. Attend Council and Fire Board meetings, join the Atherton Civic Interest League, serve on a Grand Jury, run for office. But don't sit on the sidelines and simply complain or lobby to defeat a parcel tax which is critical to the continued operation of the Town government. In a democracy we get exactly the kind of government that we deserve.
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Posted by common sense, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 4, 2009 at 10:32 pm
As one who served the Audit Committee I disagree with the notion put forth by Peter Carpenter that the parcel tax is critical to Atherton Town Government.
Mr. Carpenter, it appears, has bought into the kind of fear mongering that has run rampant for years.
In my view the loss of the Parcel Tax would be a healthy wake up call for the Town.
I also disagree with the suggestion that making posts such as that by Fiscally Responsible is unworthy of praise.
I assert that the reverse is true. Fiscally Responsible has written posts that are well reasoned and thoroughly researched.
For that reason I urge Mr. Carpenter to do his own homework, then formulate an informed opinion, instead of parroting the party line.
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Posted by Fiscally responsible, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Oct 4, 2009 at 11:20 pm
I don't want praise. On the other hand, the lack of any coherent rebuttal to my points speaks volumes. Rather than anyone from the Atherton government saying something is inaccurate about my analysis (e.g., stating that there is no unfunded pension liability, $750/year is the true long-term cost of maintaining the police department, etc.), first I am attacked for not being a resident (which was totally untrue), and now am told that if I want to express a divergent view, I should try to join the city council. Well, there are 7000 residents and each of us is entitled to an opinion without being one of the five members of the council (akin to "love it our leave it" slogans).
Again, is anyone prepared to say something is not true about the analysis of the parcel tax and unfunded pension liabilities? As Cicero said, if you have nothing coherent to reply, attack the messenger…
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Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2009 at 7:30 am
Let me be clearer on my challenge: What have Fiscally Responsible and Common Sense done to actually help solve the problems which they feel the Town has? How many Council meetings have they attended? How often have they spoken at Council meetings? Have they run for Council? Have they voted for Council members in past elections?
as I said - In a democracy we get exactly the kind of government that we deserve. Writing comments in the Town Forum is not a particularly effective way to achieve change.
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Posted by Fiscally responsible, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2009 at 10:01 am
You may be correct in that writing comments on this forum is not as effective as running for a seat on the council, but it's certainly better than doing nothing. Over the weekend I received my Athertonian, and this issue is nothing more than a glossy advertisement for the parcel tax. The Town of Atherton should be accurately posting both points of view so residents can make informed decisions. As of now, it's merely propaganda.
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Posted by Anon, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2009 at 5:28 pm
Peter
Please don't imagine or declare that posters on this forum have not had enough civic involvement to participate--In our town -ANY candid disscusion is too rare already- please don't discourage either heated discourse or anonymity--the town needs some way to purge and heel. I look forward to seeing your own regular attendence at council meetings--I don't recall seeing you at more that just a few in the last several years although I don't often stay all the way through myself anymore--I am most of all really glad that you care enough to comment.
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Posted by Fiscally responsible, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Oct 6, 2009 at 10:09 am
More evidence that Peninsula municipalities (other than Atherton) continue to recognize the realities of running police departments in the era of 90% pensions. Why can't Atherton? Is it because our finances are so much better than theirs? Hardly!
Web Link
BURLINGAME — Police Chief Jack Van Etten announced Monday he will retire in December after serving 5½ years as the city's ninth police chief.
As it turns out, he may be the last.
Van Etten, 57, said he will step down after serving 36 years with the department, starting as an officer and rising through the ranks before being sworn in as chief in May 2004. He said he wants to spend more time with his family and may work part-time as a private investigator.
City Manager Jim Nantell said the city will not launch a search to replace him until officials determine whether the city's Police Department will merge with departments from nearby cities to save money. City leaders are discussing whether to create a three-city police department with Millbrae and San Mateo or form a two-city consolidation with Hillsborough.


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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 6, 2012 at 6:10 pm

[Portion removed; don't speculate on other posters' identity]

Thus to answer Peter's questions:
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Oct 5, 2009 at 7:30 am

"Let me be clearer on my challenge: What have Fiscally Responsible and Common Sense done to actually help solve the problems which they feel the Town has?" ANSWER- Campaign to defeat the Parcel Tax to end pension costs.


"How many Council meetings have they attended?" ANSWER - Hundreds or maybe thousands.

"How often have they spoken at Council meetings?" ANSWER- numerous times- every agenda item.

"Have they run for Council?" ANSWER - yes

"Have they voted for Council members in past elections?" ANSWER- yes

[Portion remove](or whoever the posters are) does raise a serious point in unfunded pension costs. Something that needs to be addressed.










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Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 6, 2012 at 10:20 pm

It is fascinating to watch an anonymous poster such as Benchmark try to "out" another anonymous poster, but he or she is incorrect in assuming I am Kathy McKeithen. I didn't remember most of my posts from 2009, but thanks are due to Benchmark for posting them. It seems all of my assertions/predictions were absolutely correct. At the time I stated $750/year was not the true cost for the police department based on the unfunded pension liabilities. No one behind the parcel tax attempted to refute this, nor was this revealed to residents.


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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 7, 2012 at 6:12 am

The question I raise is does the Brown Act apply to four anonymous posters debating an issue on line, if they are all members of the same committee?















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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 7, 2012 at 7:11 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"does the Brown Act apply to four anonymous posters debating an issue on line, if they are all members of the same committee?"

Yes, IF
1 - they constitute a majority of the committee
2 - the committee is covered by the Brown Act (not all committees are covered)
3 - they used the postings to reach a consensus on an item on the committee's agenda

However proving that the anonymous posters were the committee members would be difficult.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Dec 7, 2012 at 7:41 am

The Brown Act is intended to place the deliberations and official actions of our elected officials in plain view for all to see. If these officials are to come to consensus about an issue, the law says they are to do that in a public forum. Entirely.

This means the officials can't "huddle" privately in advance of a public hearing to decide how they are going to vote or handle the issue. The law covers private communications by email, phone, in person and even by "daisy chain" where Official A talks to Official B, then Official B talks to Official C, etc. NOT ALLOWED.

It's really not that complicated.


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Posted by Fiscally responsible
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 7, 2012 at 8:04 am

It's not only hard to prove, it's easy to disprove. I'll "come out" to a neutral party such as the Almanac privately if required. The internet address I'm posting from should be the same as from 2009.

The more interesting legal question to me, at least, is if a former council member fabricates voting materials so he can still vote in an Atherton election when he no longer lives in Atherton (the house he claimed he lived in was actually razed to the ground after being sold months earlier), is that a violation of the law? I do recall a former police chief being prosecuted for this, and wonder if the same rules would apply to a former council member.

"BenchMark", what's your view on that?


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Posted by BenchMark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 7, 2012 at 9:35 am

To Fiscally Responsibile,

I agree with you on that the Parcel Tax revenue does not cover Police Pension costs. However, you can not expect multiple council members, Finance Committee Members, and Audit Committee Members to answer your question on line as it could become a Brown Act Violation.





















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