Atherton councilwoman: Let's end the rancor Atherton, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Aug 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm
An attempt to gather Atherton City Council members together for a refresher course on the council's Code of Conduct appears heading for a debate -- civil, it is hoped -- on free-speech rights and spending priorities.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, August 11, 2010, 11:53 AM
Posted by Fresh Air, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 1:17 pm
I really hope the Council takes up Ms Lewis' call for some civility and an adherence to the Code of Conduct. Mayor McKeithen's hedge about it being subjective her typical lack of responsibility for fostering much of the rancor on the Council.
(That should raise a howl amongst her posse here on the TS Forum!)
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Aug 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm
In the first place it is a long shot to refer to Ms. Furth as "Staff". Ms. Furth is employed by her Law Firm. NOT the Town of Atherton. According to Ms. Lewis the Town Council cannot discuss any discontent with a contract employee. So if the Town has the roads paved and the contractor does a rotten job, the Town Council can't express its negative views in a public meeting. WHAT ROT
But more importantly, it is entirely disingenuous of Ms. Lewis and her crew to extol Ms. Furth's virtues at a public meeting knowing the Mayor's opinion on the matter and then expect the Mayor not to respond....
Posted by the law applies to all, a resident of another community, on Aug 11, 2010 at 2:04 pm
The meetings will become more civil when those who abuse their positions of power and those who are hired or promoted for their willingness to look the other way rather than their qualifications are all fired or voted out of office. Atherton will be amazed at how civil the dialogue will become in the bat of an eye once this urgent housecleaning is over. Methinks Ms. Lewis doth protest too much.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 2:36 pm
I'm with Fresh Air in a sense. I think having the refresher courses/workshops, and adhering to codes of conduct is a fine idea, and wish I had thought of it myself. Hats off to Ms. Lewis for coming up with a creative way to bridge some gaps.
While we're at it, I've thought of a few more chapters in the refresher course that could add some value as well. I may think of more, and will add them here as they come to mind:
1. Refresher Course in Falsifying Police Reports. A Town Council has some choices available to it when a police officer admits on a witness stand, under oath, that a police report has been falsified. Permitting the city attorney to issue a press release supporting the cops is one way to deal with it. Another would be to take some decisive corrective action. This course will explore the tradeoffs involved, with a particular emphasis on the proper way to accept donations from the police unions and appear as if you're holding their feet to the fire at the same time.
2. Refresher Course in Soliciting Loans from Residents. I don't want to belabor this point. You get the idea.
3. Refresher Course in the Brown Act. Jerry Carlson recently admitted that he violated the Brown Act. This course will explore when it's okay to violate the Brown Act, and when it's not. A lot depends on who is on the council at the time, and who does the violation. When in doubt, ask Wynne Furth.
4. Refresher Course in Conflicts of Interest. Many of the traditional notions of conflicts of interest are primitive and can be rationalized in an enlightened community such as Atherton. Accepting donations from groups you are supposed to negotiate with and manage is perfectly okay. Deciding whether Atherton spends taxpayer money filing lawsuits over rail issues that affect your house in a very particular way can be left up to the city attorney. Make sure you don't criticize her in public (or, for that matter, in private) if you want to take advantage of that particular form of enlightenment.
5. Refresher Course in the Building Department/Code. This course will explore which building codes apply to which Atherton residents, which can be excused for special people, and what to do if the building inspector costs a resident millions of dollars by not doing a proper inspection of her house (hint: stonewalling is always the best way to go about it). Remember, residents in Atherton are extremely privileged to have real estate developers make millions of dollars in profit for each home they construct. If we don't give them additional incentives, they may pack up and take their services elsewhere.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm
The problem is not the lack of a Code of Ethics or not having a copy of Robert's Rules of Order. And the problem will not be solved by any amount of training. The problem is that our Town Council has become an uncivil group of individuals.
They were elected to lead our Town but they have allowed personal differences and animosities to significantly interfere with that obligation. I make no judgment as to who is 'right' and who is 'wrong'. All that is needed is for the five of them to come to each meeting and each interaction with one another with a new commitment to, first and foremost, serve the citizens who elected them even if that means biting their tongue and extending an olive branch to those with whom they disagree. They can and should have policy disagreements but it is their responsibility to resolve those differences and to do so in a civil manner.
Posted by standard M.O., a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 4:44 pm
My observation over the last many years is exactly the same as Mr. Johns has described above; That Marsala over the long term and Ms Lewis as of late, have both employed the theory that the best defense is a preemptive offense.
In dogs this is referred to as "fear aggression"-- or a kind of bluster that spins well.
At the last regular council meeting, I particularly enjoyed watching Ms Lewis take credit for the idea of expanding the citizen membership of the finance committee, after she was assured that her candidate, Mr Wise had been included and that Mr. Buckheit (with actual credentials) had generously withdrawn his name after the pronounced intent by Lewis and Carlson to exclude him was made obvious, in order to let the committee be finalized and set their first scheduled meeting date. I was there, and it was in fact the mayor's suggestion, NOT Ms Lewis', to expand the membership. It is possible that this was meant to include all the available talent on offer. Mr. Buckheit does have 2 PHDs in math and statistics.
I did not attend the last special council meeting, but I did hear from 2 of the 4 that did attend that there was particular rancor and multiply interruptions on the part of Ms Lewis which made it painfully difficult for the mayor to lead the meeting.
My guess from the description of events is that Ms Lewis, in anticipation of critisism of her own behavior, has made a preemptive issue of the "code of conduct workshop, in order to deflect responsibilty for her own behavior.
Posted by Fresh Air, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 6:42 pm
Vote them all out!
Let's start fresh, with residents eager to serve their community. But before we do that, let's make sure that they are not in the real estate business, are not new to the community, regularly go to council meetings, and don't live near the railroad tracks. Preferably from Lindenwood with ties to the ACIL.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 6:50 pm
Ms. Lewis chutzpa is astounding. Her of all people calling for more decorum. She, who assaulted a citizen in front of witnesses then denied it. She, who is repeatedly rude to constituents and others. What a joke and just more evidence of Ms. Lewis' arrogance.
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 7:39 pm
In addition to her many other faults/shortcomings (which are public knowledge), Ms. Lewis is yet another advocate for a prevailing value system in this misguided/lost community of people attempting to steer without a moral rudder: It's okay to lie, cheat and steal, as long as one never shows emotion and never raises one's voice. In other words, as long as one is "nice."
It's as though these people all watched Stepford Wives (the classic original, not the remake,), and thought it was a recommendation, not an admonition.
I have no problem with civility. It is, after all, quite civil. But it is not a virtue. And attempts to elevate its importance above the virtues of honesty, integrity and rationality (to name a few) serve only one purpose --- to diminish the importance of actual virtue. Ms. Lewis has every reason to want to diminish the importance of actual virtues: the Mayor practices them and Ms. Lewis does not.
"I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." Barry Goldwater
Posted by Land of the Lost, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Aug 11, 2010 at 10:57 pm
Are you kidding me? We have a home grown (well almost) Athertonian who might end up being our State Governor!
Laws and Law Enforcement in Atherton, an island of independent thought and practice based on "He/She who ends up with the most toys wins!" , are meant to be defined depending on the circumstances and the depth of the participants pockets.
God Bless America!
Civil discourse and behavior in our Town's governing bodies?
Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 1:16 am
The following is the text of a message I sent to Ms. Lewis.
I invite your comments.
Dear Ms. Lewis
Thank you for reciting the following passage from Atherton's code of conduct.
The recent discussions of the city attorney's contract, during which Mayor McKeithen was particularly critical of current contract attorney Wynne Furth, were a major impetus for Ms. Lewis' push to review the code, she said. Code of Conduct policy statement 100.11 states that council members "should not publicly criticize the city manager or staff, but shall discuss any concerns about (them) in a closed session..."
To the point above, I would like to call your attention to Councilman Marsala's violation of the Code of Conduct policy statement you refer to.
As you can see from the link below, Mr. Marsala saw fit to publicly criticize me with an apparent attempt to prejudice the outcome of a personnel investigation that was initiated upon me at the end of August 2007.
If your words have any meaning, if your are sincere in your drive for civility I would ask that you, at the earliest opportunity call for Councilman Marsala to be sanctioned by a resolution of the City Council for having criticized me so publicly and so severely at such a sensitive time during my employment with the Town.
Posted by Chrissy Spanoghe, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 9:52 am
It seems so obvious to me that not only is Ms. Lewis attempting to prepare her preemptive offense, as suggested by Standard M.O., but clearly trying to suggest an action that would on the surface seem positive and good-intentioned to Atherton Voters. She and her candidates, she may hope, will be seen as forward-thinking and resolution-minded in time for the elections...
I hope that the 'Stepford' Athertonians can unplug and see this action for what it truly is.
Posted by Mayor Kathy McKeithen, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 1:40 pm
People who know me know that I am a private person who tries to respect other people's privacy as well. But being a so-called political figure has frequently limited my privacy and certainly has made it difficult for me not to respond when it appears that I may not care enough about the town I chose to represent.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I wish to relate a true story. Many months ago I spoke with a number of residents about my concerns for the Town over the simple lack of civility during council meetings. I was advised by a close friend of the other councilmember involved in these less-than-cordial exchanges to meet with a certain religious advisor of this councilmember. I did and he was wonderful and receptive to a joint meeting; but nothing followed.
Weeks later someone who has previously worked as a counselor and was a friend of this councilmember offered his services. As a business leader and friend of this councilmember as well as someone who I respected, I readily consented to a meeting.
As the meeting seemed to be making progress, the counselor saw a friend and went to chat. The councilmember turned to me and uttered several of the meanest, ugliest words about me that I have ever heard spoken. I was left speechless.
It is not that I do not believe the rancor within the council is bad for the Town. It is not that I have not tried to end it.
But the issue has become one of trust to actually want to make a change for the well-being of the Town we each say we love -- and for that I believe we each must look within. I have tried to do so since this incident. I have given up being on a Committee I desire in order to end the fray; I have at times limited my first amendment rights in an attempt to lessen the tension.
If you need further proof I would only ask that you listen to the tape of the August 2, 2010 meeting -- I have a copy I can provide free of charge or you can acquire one for $.75 from the City Clerk.
Posted by common sense, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 5:57 pm
Oh my goodness, it is time for McKeithen and Johns to be civil. It is as though they are trying to rewrite the history of rancor they have created in Atherton. I don't think we will get civility back until McKeithen is off the council and Johns moves out of state and leaves our poor city alone. Just because they write long diatribes does not make them truthful or accurate. I, for one, am so tired of their rantings!
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 6:21 pm
"Oh my goodness, it is time for McKeithen and Johns to be civil."
You have got to be joking........I defy you to find any post by either the Mayor or John Johns that has been less than civil. I have no doubt that the City Manager and the Town Council may find Mr. Johns annoying, but certainly not rude or disrespectful....
As far as Ms McKeithen is concerned, there are few people that earn the right to be referred to as "The Honorable", but she certainly has........
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 7:08 pm
Peter....or Mr. Johns.....
Lord knows I have no right to ask anything from either of you......But PLEASE will one of you, in writing, seek an opinion from the Town of Atherton as to whether or not Ms. Furth is considered as "Staff".....
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 7:14 pm
The issue of whether or not Council Members may comment on staff's performance in public is a red herring.
Those same Council Members who are so shocked by Mayor McKeithen's rebuttal to their singing praises for Ms. Furth, didn't seem to have a problem weighing in on Mr. Johns performance - in public - a couple of years ago.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 7:32 pm
The Town's Code of Conduct appears to answer the question "is the Town Attorney a staff member" in two ways.
1 - It states "Town staff members, except for the City Attorney, work for the City Manager". In my opinion that infers that the Town Attorney is a staff member.
2 - The prohibition on criticizing staff states "Council members shall not publicly criticize the City Manager or staff, but shall discuss any concerns about the City Manager or staff in a closed session of the City Council".
The Brown Act provides the following regarding any such closed session and who is an employee:
"The Brown Act authorizes a closed session “to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee or to hear complaints or charges brought against the employee.” The purpose of this exception – commonly referred to as the “personnel exception” is to avoid undue publicity or embarrassment for an employee or applicant for
employment and to allow full and candid discussion by the legislative body; thus, it is restricted to discussing individuals, not general personnel policies. The body must possess the power to appoint, evaluate, or dismiss the employee to hold a closed session under this exception.
An employee must be given at least 24 hours notice of any closed session convened to hear specific complaints or charges against him or her. This occurs when the legislative body is reviewing evidence, which could include live testimony, and adjudicating conflicting testimony offered as evidence. The employee has the right to have the specific complaints and charges discussed in a public session rather than closed session. If the employee is not given notice, any disciplinary action is null and void."
"For purposes of the personnel exception, “employee” specifically includes an officer or an independent contractor who functions as an officer or an employee. Examples of the former include a city manager,
district general manager or superintendent. An example of the latter is a legal counsel or engineer hired on contract to act as local agency attorney or chief engineer."
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 7:42 pm
I would add that under the Brown Act ALL closed sessions are permitted for a very few things but closed sessions are NEVER required. I believe that local agencies use the permitted excepts much too often and we would all be better served by most of the closed session items being done in open session. For example, why not have the evaluation of the Town Attorney's performance be done in public including taking public comments?
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 7:51 pm
"Town staff members, except for the City Attorney, work for the City Manager".
In my opinion that infers that the Town Attorney is a staff member.
Peter, please help me out with this..I am not trying to be smart a***. If Ms. Furth is a member of the Towns staff presumably there will be some record of payment directly to her...I doubt it......
I am listed in the phone book. It does not make me an employee of ATT...
Again I am not trying to be clever. I believe the accusation that Ms. McKeithen violated the Towns code is absolute rubbish......And while I may not have Mr. Buckheits resources, I am would certainly like to prove it.....
I am not sure why this particular allegation against the Mayor offends me, but it certainly does........
When Ms. Furth cannot attend the Council, she sends another attorney from her law firm. Does that sound like a member of "Staff" to you......
No one in the "Real" world could do such a thing and have them considered to be member of "Staff".
No, the fact is that the Town Attorney is not a member of staff, rather the employee of a company contracted to provide services to the town.....Just like many others, probably in the hundreds...And the Town Council cannot criticize their work in a public meeting....
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 8:04 pm
For purposes of the personnel exception, “employee” specifically includes an officer or an independent contractor who functions as an officer or an employee. I believe that most local jurisdiction contract with a law firm, i.e. independent contractor, to provide the local jurisdiction's attorney. The contracts typically provide for one or more individuals to perform that function. Whomever they send to a particular meeting serves as the local jurisdiction's attorney.
IF, repeat IF, a Council member criticized the Town Attorney in public that might well be a violation of the Town's Code of Conduct however there is no penalty provision in the Code of Conduct. Frankly, I think that this prohibition is NOT in the best interest of the Town as it leads to sweeping any and all personnel shortcoming under the rug.
Posted by Interested, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 8:15 pm
For purposes of the personnel exception, “employee” specifically includes an officer or an independent contractor who functions as an officer or an employee. I believe that most local jurisdiction contract with a law firm, i.e. independent contractor, to provide the local jurisdiction's attorney.
Thank you Peter...Of course Ms. Furth acts neither as an "Officer" or "Employee" of the Town......or am I incorrect?
Is she subject to election?......Then not a Officer
Is she required to follow the directives of the City Manager?....Then not an employee?
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Aug 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm
You're bringing up a reasonable point but I think a lot of this has to do with the City or Town's policies.
Many larger cities have "in-house" legal counsel - an attorney or group of attorneys who work directly for that city. Smaller towns, with less frequent legal demands, often contract with an attorney or law firm to provide those same services. In that case, a single attorney at the firm is designated "Town Attorney" and that person, in the case of Atherton (as I understand it), reports to the Town Council. When the designated Town Attorney is not available, another attorney in their firm may substitute for the absent Town Attorney in an "acting" capacity.
This is not an unusual arrangement for small towns and it is not confined to legal services. Often building and planning functions are outsourced to private contractors. Their determinations and decisions are just as binding as those of an employee of the town.
By the way, the fees that a town pays for outside legal services can do directly to the attorney OR the law firm. It all depends on the contract.
Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Aug 12, 2010 at 11:31 pm
I will as you have requested write a request for opinion to Wynn Furth.
The issue is somewhat nuanced as Peter Carpenter has indicated in his lengthy and well thought out post.
Elizabeth Lewis' complaint over McKeithen's criticism of Furth in public is, however a red herring.
Furth put forth a proposal to be discussed in open session to continue to work as City Attorney.
I dare say Ms. McKeithen was well within her rights. By having the chutzpa and "lack of situational awareness" to submit a proposal when the Council had not asked for one, Ms. Furth got the public lashing she so richly deserved.
Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of the Menlo Park: other neighborhood, on Aug 15, 2010 at 6:31 pm
Interesting that what inside scoop had to say remains on the board and what I said in response has been completley removed. The Almanac strikes again. Editor, why don't you grow a pair when it comes to critisism or Elizabeth Lewis, REAL criticism? I called it the way a saw it and my opinion is based upon facts.
Posted by Harpooner, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Aug 18, 2010 at 9:57 pm
[portion deleted] Elizabeth Lewis rises to new heights of hypocrisy in calling for less combative meetings of Atherton’s presently dysfunctional Town Council—a hostility for which she herself is largely responsible. Lewis is the most negative and disruptive influence on Atherton’s governing bodies since high-end home builder Colin Whiteside 20 years ago continually badgered his fellow Planning Commissioners to loosen Atherton’s all-too-necessary restrictions on house size. So relentlessly did Whiteside press his self-serving agenda that finally he was removed from the Commission. The same axe needs to fall on Lewis, [portion deleted]. For the good of our town she needs to leave office; should Lewis resist, a recall campaign needs to be mounted to remove her from the Town Council.
There is a lesson here for all of us who want the best for our beleaguered little town in these tough economic times: get smart; cease appointing or electing real-estate professionals and their unprincipled stooges to public office. This will require persistence and widespread participation in the face of big real-estate money; remember, Elizabeth Lewis spent fifty thousand dollars to buy her uncompensated seat on Atherton’s Town Council.