Public records requests lead to confrontation in Atherton Town Hall Movies, posted by Editor, The Almanac Online, on Aug 23, 2010 at 5:38 pm
Two aggrieved residents and one former employee who successfully sued the town for wrongful termination converged on Atherton Town Hall on Aug. 20 to demand access to public records they say have been illegally withheld by the town. They left without inspecting the documents, but left behind the suggestion that the town will face yet another lawsuit.
Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, August 23, 2010, 4:50 PM
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm
I believe that this 'confrontation' was an essential step towards full compliance with the Public Records Act by the Town of Atherton. As I stated elsewhere on this Forum, change in organizations is hard but I predict that we are already seeing a much more open response by the Town.
What do you mean by "set up." None of us wanted Mr. Gruber to refuse to comply with the law. That was his choice. We didn't induce him to do so. We didn't put the idea into his head. We didn't create a scenario that forced him to do something that he wouldn't ordinarily do. (That is how the word "set up" is legally used.) He not only thought this up on his own, he had a script prepared.
I already told Johns and Buckheit that the next time I go anywhere with those guys, I'm going to comb my hair and ditch the sweatpants. I assure you, not a "set up." The good news is that we are still working towards positive change.
Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Aug 23, 2010 at 7:53 pm
I received a "privacy complaint" from YouTube today. Here is my response (send via e-mail to YouTube and cc: to Kimberly Sweidy, John Johns and Jerry Gruber) and the original complaint:
Dear YouTube Support:
The privacy complaint that you list below is vague in that it reports discrete times of my video (at 0:01 and at 8:34) that mark the beginning and end of the video. Is the complaint about the entire video? What is the exact privacy complaint that is being made? This was a video taken of two individuals (Kimberly Sweidy and John Johns, who are both copied on this e-mail and who both consent to having being videotaped) and Jerry Gruber (who is the Town Manager of the Town of Atherton, and was videotaped in a public building performing his official public duties, also with his consent; he is also copied on this e-mail so he may challenge this characterization, though I am not sure how).
In short, if you provide the original complaint to me, I may better be able to respond to your request, and also understand how to edit the video to achieve the result you are mandating.
***** ORIGINAL MESSAGE:
This is to notify you that we have received a privacy complaint from an
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 23, 2010 at 8:34 pm
Dear YouTube Support,
Hello. My name is Kimberly Sweidy. I am the private individual (woman) in the video. I gave my consent to being taped. I have given my consent to have the video posted on YouTube. I am not asserting any privacy issues.
Further, I am an attorney licensed to practice law in the state of California. As such, it is my opinion that under the laws of the State of California, public employees who are not undercover agents have no right of privacy when performing their official functions. The other identifiable individuals in the video (other than myself and Mr. Johns) are public employees.
As Mr. Buckheit indicated, your "privacy complaint" is vague and ambiguous, therefore, we have no idea how to comply with your request.
Posted by Hmmm - To Ms. Sweidy, a resident of another community, on Aug 23, 2010 at 8:56 pm
I can only imagine what you & your husband have had to deal with in your nightmare. I wish you the best of luck in resolving this & having the home you want. You have good reason to not be thinking about your appearance ;-) - & you looked just fine! Take care.
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 23, 2010 at 9:12 pm
That was very kind. Thank you. I am going to sign off for the evening with those warm sentiments in my heart. Because tomorrow, I'm off to Oakland to have my deposition taken (for the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth days) in our construction defect litigation. I really needed those words of encouragement. Again, thank you.
Posted by One Outside Observer, a resident of another community, on Aug 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm
The three private citizens each deny complaining to You Tube about a violation of their "privacy" rights. By process of elimination we learn that it was Jerry Gruber who whined, on so-called "privacy" grounds, to YouTube about this the posting of this video.
Yet, the telegenic Mr. Gruber is a public servant and was taped in the course of publicly meeting with three citizens across the counter in the reception area of Atherton Town Hall during broad daylight. Thus, Mr. Gruber has zero basis to object.
If Mr. Gruber holds out any hope of continuing to collect his inflated salary, to rack up grossly disproportionate benefits under the public employee pension system that is bringing California to the brink of bankruptcy, and--last but not least--to reside in some of the finest government housing this side of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, then each and every day when he heads to Town Hall he comb his hair and be ready to smile pretty while looking directly into the cameras. If he'd rather not do so, he is free to submit his resignation and enter "private" life where he would be welcome to make his living the "old fashioned way"--by earning it. As his peers from Bell, California will undoubtedly confirm, in the long-run, Mr. Gruber cannot have it both ways!!!!
Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community, on Aug 23, 2010 at 11:11 pm
I beg to differ with Rubber Meets the Road on how the question to candidates should be phrased.
The way Rubber Meets the Road phrases the question, it seems to put at issue whether or not it was fair to film Jerry Gruber's reaction and then publishing it on You Tube.
Clearly some are concerned at the possibility of a "set up". However what I believe is a more pressing question is whether or not public records should be withheld from public inspection under the guise of such records being stored in "outdated software".
Posted by Sissy, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Aug 23, 2010 at 11:23 pm
Even if it were a setup so what? Look at the video. It shows what a joke Atherton public servants are. They are a joke and Gruber is the biggest clown of the whole bunch. Pathetic. Why wait for his resignation? He should be fired for all kinds of reasons including that he can't even read the script written for him by his ridiculous lawyer without botching it.
Posted by Makeup Artist, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 8:25 am
As a compromise, would YouTube be satisfied if Buckheit altered the video in response to Jerry Gruber's complaint? Could he put a blurry gray ball over Jerry's face and change the audio so his voice sounds like he inhaled helium from a balloon? Don't news outlets do that for mafia informants? Or could they superimpose a wig on Jerry while also adding a set of fake Groucho Marx glasses and big nose? Remember nothing is too ludicrous in Atherton.
Posted by Michael Frazee, a resident of the Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 1:35 pm
They all deserve one another.
Ken Iisaka (real name?) doesn't get it at all. The fool is functioning as a public employee. Taking his name off won't solve any privacy issue. Thank God there is only one town manager in Atherton. Everybody will know who is uttering nonsense and stonewalling the citizens. What about the citizens? The guy in the baseball cap makes my skin crawl. The woman with the "Larry from the Three Stooges hair" is worse. She makes me want to peel my skin off. She is in a construction lawsuit. Oh wow. She probably got fleeced by a gang of contractors. Her problem is that any jury will hate her so the contractors will get away whatever they did to her.
Posted by Ken Iisaka, a resident of another community, on Aug 24, 2010 at 1:54 pm
Yes, it's my real name, and as far as I know, there are only two Ken Iisakas in the world, and only one in the United States. I have been following these threads, as a number of my dear friends have been affected by the ineptitude and the corruption in Atherton and in San Mateo County.
While I agree that having Jerry Gruber's name in the title doesn't violate his privacy as a public servant performing public functions, it just might be enough to keep the video available on YouTube without further arguments.
Posted by hilarious, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm
That video in hands down the greatest video ever. It shows first hand the corrupt behaviour by town employees. Anyone who has ever built a home, and I have, know they have a right to copies of EVERY THING! I am so glas this was documented by video and audio and hope they sue the stuffings out of the town.
Posted by Frankie, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm
I agree with most of what you said.
The exception is that you don't recognize that the town has already had the "stuffing" sued out of it again and again. Still, nobody at the town has yet learned even the first lesson from that experience. There are too many layers of insulation. The City Attorney has been wrong, wrong, wrong on dozens of matters. An untrained monkey could have given better legal advice than the City Attorney has rendered on the Johns matter, on the Buckheit matter, and on a long list of other legal castastrophes in which Atherton has embroiled itself.
A private party would have fired the lawyer and filed a malpractice suit long ago. But that is not the way it works at Atherton town hall. As pointed out above in this thread, the dolts running the town, both the narcissists on the town council and the numbskulls on the staff, allowed John Johns to ratchet his settlement demand up by 20X, before finally waking up to realize that the Johns lawsuit wasn't going away without a monetary payment to Johns. If the settlement dollars from the Johns case and the others were sourced from the personal bank accounts of the aforementioned narcissists and numbskulls, I promise you that their attitudes would have been different. Instead, these irresponsible "stewards" of town hall have the luxury of passing the cost of their mistakes on to the Atherton taxpayer, without feeling any regret whatsoever about mishandling these matters. Enough is enough. Vote in a new council in November and fire the city staff the next day.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm
Frankie makes an excellent point. After getting the stuffing sued out of you a few times, you start to wonder about the competence of your town's leadership.
During the mid-1990's, Woodside's Town Council had the same imperial attitude that is on display in Atherton today. The rules didn't apply to them. They angered lots of residents and staff. There were lots of scandals. There were lots of lawsuits.
Eventually, the citizenry got sick of it and tossed them all out.
Posted by Bank of Atherton, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm
"Frankie" has brought up the most important point of the entire debate. Narcissists on the City Council have made a point to hire incompetants for Atherton staff with the sole criteria that they are willing to "play ball" with the Council in exchange for a grand and indeserved salary paid for by the citizens. Likewise, while felonous mischief occured over the years and all the perps were allowed to walk away, the only ones left holding the bag were those paying their taxes in Atherton. Yes, if the Council and complicit employees had to pay those "damages" it would have ended very diferently. It's no wonder capable Atherton citizens are uninterested in running for office in this town. Why should anyone dirty their hands? They're too busy running their own successful lives. If ever that were going to change it would have happened this election-time around. Instead, we're stuck with the likes of Lewis and Carlson. Thank goodness Marsala finally fled. There definiltely needs to be some firing going on at City Hall and it should start at the top and work on down to all these compliant facilitators. This video shows the disgrace that we have running our town. He can't even talk on his feet. Of course not - he has no honest answers. This was his little self-scripted 5th amendment clause. His name should be spelled with a "double b" to better describe his grasping for remuneration. What a terrible shame!
Posted by Just Saying ..., a resident of another community, on Aug 24, 2010 at 7:40 pm
“The uncomfortable truth is that if we are to solve the difficult problems we face as a [Town], we must act affirmatively and with courage and clarity to reclaim civility in the public square. Civility is quite simply the glue that holds us together and allows us as citizens of a representative democracy to dialogue with each other.”
The most destructive confrontation process, escalation, arises when accidental or intentional provocations beget greater counter-provocations in an intensifying cycle that transforms a substantive debate characterized by honest problem solving into one in which mutual hatred becomes the primary motive. De-escalation and escalation avoidance strategies are needed to limit this problem.
Honor Legitimate Uses of Legal, Political, and Other Types of Power.
Public policy disputes involve issues which people feel very strongly about. Given this, disputing parties can be expected to use all of the powers available to them in an attempt to prevail. In our political system this means that people are entitled to use the legal and political system to advance their interests. We should respect this right and not attempt to require that the parties renounce their power options as a precondition for discussion.
Retirement & Health Care: FULL cost paid by city: Health care est. ~$20k+/yr, Retirement %?/yr
Original Relocation Expenses: $20,000
Original Remodeling Allowance: $200,000
Loan Option From City to Buy a House In Atherton: $400,000
"Mr. Gruber's new contract [10% raise as of Oct 2009 & retroactive to Jan 2009] with the town was negotiated by a council subcommittee composed of Elizabeth Lewis and Jim Dobbie, and was reviewed by Atherton's labor counsel before being brought to the full council for approval." - Web Link
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 24, 2010 at 8:39 pm
"The guy in the baseball cap makes my skin crawl. The woman with the "Larry from the Three Stooges hair" is worse. She makes me want to peel my skin off. She is in a construction lawsuit. Oh wow. She probably got fleeced by a gang of contractors. Her problem is that any jury will hate her so the contractors will get away whatever they did to her."
What would possess you to write this? This is not a rhetorical question. Did you suffer a blow to the head? Should we call 911 on your behalf because someone is holding you at gunpoint and forcing you to write vile postings? What you wrote about Mr. Johns and me is your opinion. What is a fact is that every decent person reading this has now glimpsed your deepest soul. And we're all reaching for the vomit bucket. I sincerely hope that tomorrow is a better day for you. Because anyone who would think this, let alone post it, must be suffering on some deep, metaphysical level that none of us can truly grasp.
Posted by Dumb Taxpayer, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 25, 2010 at 9:00 am
From what I heard the Town is lucky that John Johns settled so cheap. I understood that with all the details John Johns might have won millions against the town if he just stuck it out. More than one council member was scared to death that John Johns was going to go after council members in addition to the Town. That would be personal exposure of the kind that would make them think twice as stated above. Is the only way for these careless city officials to feel the pain to throw them out of office or can they be sued along with the Town.
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 25, 2010 at 2:26 pm
email sent to Town Council, Town Manager, Town Attorney today:
"It has come to my attention that the Town has video cameras and taping devices installed at locations where the Town staff has contact with the public. I urge you to either immediately cease the use of these devices and to destroy all of the accumulated recordings OR to immediately and publicly disclose their presence and the policies regarding 1) who has access to the recorded information, 2) for what specific purposes 3) how long and where are the recordings retained and 5) if an individual member of the public can request to NOT have their interactions with the Town staff recorded and still have access to the appropriate Town staff.
If these recording devices remain in operation I will then submit a public records requests for copies of the recordings for every time that I was personally recorded while visiting my Town Hall and meeting with Town employees - including receiving counter service and US Postal services.
Posted by Central Menlo, a resident of the Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park neighborhood, on Aug 25, 2010 at 3:36 pm
This, from a friend & former city manager (another city):
"The clip is pretty extreme, and I don't know both sides, but I have had similar people come into City Hall using the public records request with the intent of disrupting business and making people look bad. There are records that are not public, but don't know why Gruver wouldn't give the women her building permits, other than it does take staff that may not have been available."
I expect that security cameras are in place for just that, security (and there may be a reasonable expectation that policies of use would be made public). In the same line, it may be unreasonable to request, or expect to receive copies of recordings, for the sake of getting copies. This, or multiple requests for files could be unproductive, other than to be a nuisance to city staff (this may be counter to efforts to make changes for the public good).
Posted by videofan, a resident of the Atherton: Lloyden Park neighborhood, on Aug 25, 2010 at 6:46 pm
Funnier yet, lets see the tapes for the last year of mr johns employment! Mr ethics himself. Ive herd from town employees he was the come in late, and leave early kind of employee. spent a couple hours swimming with my buddies at the menlo masters for lunch EVERY DAY to boot! Im retired, but I always wondered about that. Yea, id like to see a copy of the last year, including the way he alegedly threatened the chief (right, that id like to see). His last day included. How about it PD? This video stuffs got me ALL fired up. Show us the film.
Posted by Vidiot, a resident of another community, on Aug 25, 2010 at 8:48 pm
I note references above to the effect that the Town's facilities are equipped with video surveillance cameras.
If I submit a public records request to Jerry Gruber, will I be entitled to receive footage taken inside the Atherton police station? This summer I am working diligently on improving my golf game. I am seeking an effective training video, and I understand that the particular Atherton policeman who was proven to have stolen a citizen's golf clubs has a pretty nice swing!
After all, it may be true that Atherton is corrupt from top to bottom, but as citizens it's up to us to find ways to make the best of a bad situation, folks!
Posted by Vidiot, a resident of another community, on Aug 26, 2010 at 1:32 am
Eureka. You accurately perceive that my selected name, Vidiot, is derived from the word "idiot" modified by the addition of the initial letter "v" in recognition of the topic of this thread, namely, video.
With that confirmation, please allow me to reciprocate by parsing the terminology you chose in contributing to this thread.
First, I note your use of the term "handle." In my experience, the use of the term "handle" in such a context is commonplace among those who "carry a badge" but is quite rare among the general citizenry. Accordingly, I wonder whether the reason my comment hit such a raw nerve is that you are in fact associated with the Atherton Police Department, which, as we know, supported its own PGA (in this case, not "Professional Golfers Association" but, at least with respect to the subject incident, "Perpetrators of Grand-Theft Auto").
Incidentally, in using the term "discourse" were you making a subliminal reference to "dis" golf course or was the reference really to "dat" golf course across town?
Posted by Videofan, a resident of the Menlo Park: Belle Haven neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 6:15 am
Im not saying any stuff with the chief was true, i just said let see the film of hostil work environmnet. We can judge. Who are you to question my focus?
I'd like to have a job working for you! Free ipods, cameras and work whenever i want as longs as job gets done. While my staff is slaving at the office, looking for guidance. My employees usually fnd other work when their assignments are done even managers.
Ithink thats a shoddy excuse for bad work ethic. Cant believe anyone cant see that and even defend it.
Posted by Incredible Restraint, a resident of another community, on Aug 26, 2010 at 6:02 pm
Talking about law enforcement, I think Mr. Gruber showed incredible restraint by not calling in Atherton Police Officers to arrest these three for disturbing the operations of a public office. Apparently Johns was already told what was required for this records request and came in anyway with his demands. These three got off lucky and now have the nerve to complain? An arrest would have maybe taught them a well needed lesson.
Posted by yuck, a resident of the Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:45 pm
I just watched the video and was disgusted how these atherton residents were treating this public official. I'm not saying I agree with the public official's stance, but how the residents were acting just looked horrible.
Shame on them. There are better and nicer ways to work within the system to get what you want without intentionally harassing a public servant.
It really looked like sour grapes from some bitter ex employees.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 8:55 pm
Perhaps you don't like their attitude and that is your right.
But the law says that you can walk into any government office during regular business hours and request copies of public documents. No appointment is needed and the least you should expect from the official on the other side of the counter is a straight answer.
You don't have to be a resident, a citizen or even polite and you don't need a court order. In this case, Mr. Gruber was being deliberately evasive and unresponsive to reasonable questions. He was also answering a question they did not answer.
I'm sure it was frustrating for everyone, but unfortunately, the law does not afford Mr. Gruber the discretion to pick and choose who gets Atherton's public documents. Not even someone who will use those documents to sue you.
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 9:24 pm
Did you go through a time warp and take the wrong plane and accidentally land in Atherton, California, United States of America rather than the old Soviet Union?
Are you seriously suggesting that I needed to be arrested for exercising my rights under the laws of California and the United States Constitution? Do you really believe that I need to be "taught a lesson?" So moral bankrupts such as yourself are the reason that my two companions, Johns and Buckheit, wrongfully suffered police infringement of their rights in the past. (That's why they travel with a video camera.) And my two companions won their cases against the Town of Atherton. The Town of Atherton (and apparently you) learned nothing from that costly exercise in the tyrannical misuse of power. And you are so IQ-challenged that you are suggesting they try the same thing with me. I have a suggestion. Yahoo! my name: Kimberly Sweidy. And then tell me if you still think arresting me is a good idea you coward (without the guts to use your real name). Even the Town of Atherton is not that stupid.
Posted by Really?, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 10:18 pm
Need to comments on two remarks above.
INCREDIBLE RESTRAINT thinks Gruber should have called the cops into the situation. If that happened there would be 10,000 hits on YOUTUBE now and the three would be heros. Not calling in the cops was the only thing Gruber did that was smart.
POGO says UNFORTUNATELY the law doesn't allow Gruber to decide who gets public documents. Are you kidding? Letting somebody like Gruber play favorites would be a disaster.
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm
Wed, Aug-18-2010 10:57 AM I sent the following email to Ms. DellaSanta, Mr. Gruber and Mayor McKeithen. The reference to my hair is in response to Mr. Johns's comment in the email chain (not published), "I will become as ornery as Ms. Kimberly Sweidy on a 'bad hair day.'"
This request is made under the California Public Records Act. I need all the information on all the permits associated with my project. I have quite a mess to clean up with them, as most of them never received final signoff.
As Mr. Johns seems to have more expertise with your permit tracking system than anyone else, I think it's a good idea for me to visit Town Hall when he is there to assist me.
Mr. Johns has never seen me or my hair; therefore, he does not realize that pretty much every day is a "bad hair day" for me. Personally, I will not become unruly (though my hair will be the unruly mop of dark curls that it always is). I do not expect to be fired or arrested. I certainly do not expect to have falsified charges brought against me. I understand that the Town's moral compass does not prevent such actions. I trust that the negative publicity that would ensue as a result of such actions are enough to dissuade you from this course.
While I will not become unruly, I am adamant about receiving your full cooperation in obtaining the information I need about my property.
Posted by Getting to "Yes", a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Aug 26, 2010 at 11:24 pm
I am surprised by all the fuss.
I visited Town Hall today. I was greeted by Mr. Gruber. I informed him that as a member of the public I was there to access Town computers and to train Town employees in how to utilize outdated software.
Mr. Gruber leafed through a tall stack of papers for approximately five minutes, but apparently didn't find whatever he was looking for. Then he said cheerfully, "That sounds A-Okay to me, please go right ahead."
And that kind of intellect, coupled with a congenial nature, is the answer to these many inquires about why we taxpayers compensate the man as handsomely as we do.
Posted by POGO, a resident of the Woodside: other neighborhood, on Aug 27, 2010 at 7:25 am
Ms. Sweidy -
Good luck with your visit to Town Hall today.
Do not be surprised if Mr. Gruber doesn't arrange to have a few of Atherton's men in blue around to intimidate you. You don't impress me as someone who can be intimidated, but don't lose your cool.
And I would also suggest you have someone videotape your meeting to document your exchange. I think videotape will act to keep everyone on their best behavior. Finally, perhaps your public records request should pre-emptively include a request for the Town's videotape of today's meeting?
Posted by Incredible Restraint, a resident of another community, on Aug 27, 2010 at 10:26 am
I advocated criminal behavior? For suggesting Johns and Buckheit be arrested for committing a crime? Almanac readers should know that the Almanac has come full circle: the perps (Buckheit and Johns) are the victims, and the cops are the perps. Wow. How much money did Buckheit give you to come to that conclusion?
Posted by Kimberly Sweidy, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, on Aug 27, 2010 at 3:03 pm
My above post was sent the Wednesday BEFORE the Friday request that is now on YouTube. I wanted to give everyone a "heads up" that I was coming with Johns, out of courtesy. Mr. Gruber knew we were coming, that's why he had the speech prepared. Regrettably, I feel very left out because he didn't have a special nonsensical, non-responsive script prepared for me.
I believe that humor goes a long way in preemptively avoiding wrongful arrests.
And no, I am not easily intimidated. Thanks for noticing.