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Atherton LLP ??

Original post made by Ed on Oct 5, 2010

Attention: P.C. and Pogo
At the A.C.I.L. Candidate's Forum last week all four potential council members touted their own business acumen and their own experience in running private sector enterprises as the reason they should each be elected. All four men thought the town should be run more like a company with more corporate style governance, and described their vision of the residents as the share holders, the council as the board of directors, and the city manager as the C.E.O.
It all sounded fairly logical and certainly more efficient than the mismanaged country club that the town has become, but I have some big questions about how this "business"model might actually apply.
Anyone who attended the Charles Marsala ethics hearing will remember city attorney Furth's elaborate explanation for why she would not release her findings report to the public. Stating with some conviction that she would not release the report because "like any other business" her "sole obligation" was to follow the wishes of the council majority (who determines her continued employment). "Sole obligation"? I was sort of hoping some one was in charge using their expensive legal expertise to keep the town viable ethically--not just defensively to keep themselves employed and because Carlson and Lewis wanted to protect their hold onto the majority vote by keeping Charles around.
How will the next city attorney or the next city manager hired by the next council, ever properly serve the PUBLIC INTEREST through actual leadership, with even more of a corporate culture model than we have now. How will the "shareholders" know what the product even is or how to recognize any profit.
There must be some difference in what model works for Business and what works for Governance and maybe we should be exploring this question vigorously right now before end up in the same mess again.

Comments (43)

Posted by Rebecca, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm

As I recall, Jim Dobbie, Bill Widmer and Jerry Carlson all referred to the CEO/Board model. However, Cary Wiest talked about the Town Manager being given the power to manage and not be micromanaged, he did not use the private sector model.

Posted by Business is good, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 5, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Running the town more like a business would be good. Fiscal responsibility is what we need.

Furth's transgressions are not a result of applying a business model. They're a result of cronyism, and not understanding, in business parlance, who the true customer is. The answer is the residents, nor Marsala or any other special interests.

A well run business, accountable to the right shareholders/customers (us) would be a lot better model than the current one.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 6, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I still wish somebody would explain how we might find a city attorney who can be motivated to use the law to actually regulate process and town function--not "demure" behind the law to avoid employment conflict with any "board of directors majority. It seems like a structural problem to me, separate from quality.
But while I am waiting, and since generally the topic is "How to insure that the the business model might apply well to governance?"Here is a related question that was submitted at the candidates forum but not selected by the LWV moderators for discussion.

"Both the challenges and results of all Atherton litigation are always to either reaffirm the Town's core values, or to let them evolve in some direction.
Some litigation expense outcomes are paid out of the Town's own resources, but separately, other litigation outcomes are covered by the Town's Litigation Insurance Policy for which large premiums are paid, with insurance attorney hovering near by.
Do any of the candidates feel that the the Town's ability to self regulate is constrained in any way, by the very independent self interests of our insurance company. Presumably insurance reps are also using their own "business model"."

The insurance people must have enormous influence over a divided council--what might be efficient for their business could very easily vary from what might benefit Atherton.
Two dogs, two tails, both wagging=tailspin?

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 6, 2010 at 6:43 pm

There are two well-established models for local governance - the "strong" city manager and the "strong" city council. The best fit for the strong city council model (ie, Mayor) is in large cities like San Jose and San Francisco where being an elected official is a full-time job and has full-time compensation. In smaller cities, elected officials usually have a "real" job that supports them. Given the demands of a smaller town, showing up at town council meeting once or twice a month is often an elected official's only official duty.

Most of the cities and towns on the Peninsula have a "strong" city manager who runs the city. Except for the city attorney - who reports to the Council, the manager hires and fires, controls finances and runs the town. This model seems to work just fine for San Carlos, Woodside, Redwood City and other nearby towns.

The key factor to success is (a) having a pro as your manager, (b) the council deferring business decisions to the manager, and (c) the council "butting out" of decisions that are the domain of their manager. If the council doesn't like the manager's decisions, like the board of directors in the private sector, the manager should be fired.

With regard to the City Manager, Ms. Furth clearly does not understand her responsibility is FIRST to the citizens of Atherton. Ms. Furth's convenient invocation of the Brown Act to prevent some matters from being aired in public is one example, her refusal to make her findings about Mr. Carlson's ethical breach is another.

Perhaps a new Town Council will see things differently and get this wonderful town back on track.

Posted by just a thought, a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2010 at 6:52 pm

How about a permanent Citizen's Police Review Board with the assigned power of hiring the Town Attorney? Maybe give them some fiduciary supervisory powers over the Attorney's Office as well. Then the Town Attorney would be less likely to be available to protect Town Officials from revelation of the truth of their actions.

One would have to change the Charter and by-laws.

I'm coming to believe that many problems in government stem from an absence of checks and balances. Unrestrained power not held culpable to standards of conduct, inevitably causes violations, harm and injustice. The only effective choice is to alter the structure and mechanisms of the government.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 6, 2010 at 7:20 pm

What Atherton needs is an honest, ethical Town Council who understands that the Town Attorney is not there to cover up their personal misdeeds.

Posted by Stranger Danger, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 6, 2010 at 7:24 pm

Isn't it odd that the majority of this thread is by people who claim they live out of Town? There is obviously an agenda in play and it's not that of the Atherton residents!

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 6, 2010 at 9:03 pm

Deranger Stranger: I happen to know the real identity and street of every contributor so far except for Pogo who's opinion I value highly, and yours which has added no value at all. Please try to stay on point, instead of discouraging participation.
I want as many people as possible from anywhere thinking about these questions. My secret agenda is that I'm hoping for answers. Aren't you?
J.A.T.- I owe you a penny for your thoughts - run me a tab?
More brainstorming from any one on checks and balances? Some one will think we are discussing money.
I'm actually very worried-I don't see the system working well on any level. County, state,town...
Except the Judiciary!!
For Atherton-I'm thinking "Loyah Jurga" over sight, from retired judges, but with no ties to ABAG attorneys or facebook friends at the County. Very Jaded and a little cranky might be desirable skills.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 7, 2010 at 7:31 am

Isn't it interesting that strangerdanger doesn't seem to understand the definition of a "majority." At the time of his post half of the posts were from Atherton residents and the other half from non-residents. Hardly a "majority."

Those of us from other communities are on the outside looking in at a very disfunctional city government. It is distressing to some of us to see such open malfeasance. The town needs more than just a police oversight committee. It needs a city oversight committee. You have corruption in more than just your police department. A strong, competent city manager willing to tell the "gang of three" to stuff it would go a long way to making things better in Atherton. I don't have much confidence that will happen given the gang of three's involvement in the selection of a new city manager.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 7, 2010 at 5:25 pm

It was useful for Pogo to describe the way the city manager form of government is supposed to function for the readers of this thread that are not familiar with the numerous Grand Jury reports on Atherton that have attempted to spell this out.
And Menlo Voter is absolutely correct in stating that the old "gang of three" has has been a complete obstacle to the system operating as designed.
But I believe the council majority will shift with this election and for the better.
This doesn't cheer me up as much as it should because there will still be four council members that remain from the old culture of waring chaos. It will be huge adjustment for all of them to feel that they can finally lay down their arms, and one they will not enjoy any relief from until after a new management team has been well established. Mr. Carlson won't have control of his swing vote anymore and will be able to more usefully focus on HSR with only one eye on the chambers weather vane. Ms Lewis will be lonely often.
While have I a good deal of faith in this important shift of the majority (to Dobbie McKiethen, and Widmere), it is worth all of our attention to consider the enormous importance of the selection they will make of the new management team. Council Majorities can easily change-and in theory have ONLY the the power to select the ACTUAL management authority. I'm starting to look forward to living in a world where I don't have to think about council member dramas anymore because none of them will really matter that much-the council members may eventually find this more enjoyable as well. This is why paying close attention to the new council's management selection process is and should be the thing that matters most.
So please all residents- it is perfectly appropriate at this exact moment, for all of us to be actively "micro managing" our council, by helping them to articulate their choice of City Attorney and Manager. Think it through in private, talk about it out loud, say wildly controversial things, ask dumb questions, any thing to get a dialog going that might help the council get these selection right this time. What's really wrong with Atherton is that the residents have taken their governance for granted.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 7, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Ed makes an excellent point - like good service in a restaurant, you don't want to notice your government because it is so poor.

Clearly, the Town Council plays the largest role in the way a Town Manager is able to manage operations. But let's not ignore the role the Town Manager plays, too.

The best candidates not only have qualifications and experience, they exude the self-confidence, integrity and professionalism that sends an unmistakeable message that they are in control. A Town Manager must always understand that decisions are made in the best interests of citizens, not individual Council Members.

He was a competent manager, but I don't think Mr. Gruber understood that you are GIVEN authority but you TAKE power.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2010 at 2:01 am

For Richard Hines and Tom Gibboney:
For over a decade now the Almanac has chronicled Atherton's turbulent efforts to achieve some sort of functional equilibrium. All of it in one of the smallest, least complicated, best educated communities on this earth. I do not see how any larger, more complicated experiment in civil governance can ever aspire to any measure of success if Atherton continues to fail.
For several years now, news stories have broken on the Almanac's Town Forum only to be deleted or ignored until the Almanac solicits or receives and finally prints, a carefully crafted press release written by what ever wizard of Oz the town has employed to obfuscate events.
Is the Almanac satisfied that it has used the full capacity of the fourth estate, to foster good governance in Atherton. Do you feel frustrated or restricted in your ability to fulfill this role?
Are you too short of resources or just tired of our endless little drama. Wouldn't now be a perfect time to make every effort to try help resolve Atherton's problems so that you can concentrate on Menlo Park and our more regional issues that require attention?
You have before you the perfect issue to pursue, festering for more than a decade now, to help unravel so many other knots-one right at the heart of the matter.
Has the press come to be restricted by the unchecked power of the police? Is Atherton so dysfunctional that the police dept has simply filled the void creating even more imbalance.
Ten years ago a fellow editor of yours questioned the authority of local police practice and has been relentlessly pursued ever since. A system of Checks and Balances would be better served if the Almanac would start doing more of this pursuing, rather than only the local police. You have had at least ten years to contemplate this question. The Police are clearly worried about Keeping this man silent. If you aren't going to be the ones to offer him a job, then would you please,at least try to get an interview? There is no one even available right now to send you a press release. They are all busy working on their resumes

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2010 at 12:08 pm

P.S. to editors:
On the subject "topic locked to members only", "topic shut" and the complete disappearance of of some posts and entire threads without even any evidence of editorial review or explanation, the concern could be raised about how many people might have the technological control to monitor your forum.
Why is it sometimes necessary to be a "registered member" on topics when all posts now require a tracking code anyway. Is one list for your purposes and the other for someone else? Do you really need two tracking systems to monitor a small town forum? Are there two bread crumb trails here to encourage participants more inclined to self censure? Everyone would feel better if we could be assured that the Almanac was free from outside pressure and had sole control of this forum. I would prefer to be occasionally mad at you than to have to worry about a liberated press. The policy just needs to be clarified as it evolves so we are all on the same page. Thankyou

EDITOR'S NOTE. We have staff check Town Square posts to the extent we can for information and for conformance with the terms of use. We take down posts that show disrespect, call names, accuse an individual of wrongdoing. Town Square is not the place to accuse someone of wrongdoing, or to speculate about what somebody might have done or probably did. If you have relevant information, give it to the news media and the authorities. We don't always agree on what should stay up and come down. It's a judgment call. We may lock a thread that looks like it could be a problem and we can't watch it for awhile, and we might limit a thread to registered users when we think that might calm down the problem posters. You are free to express your opinion, but you can't say anything you want on this website. You are free to operate your website in the way you want, of course. Sorry for any inconsistent treatment, but Town Square is but one of many things we try to do with a very small staff. -- Richard Hine

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 10, 2010 at 12:38 pm

There does appear to be an overly heavy hand on the part of the Almanac's editors.

It's not necessary.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

"There does appear to be an overly heavy hand on the part of the Almanac's editors."

and I keep asking why with no answer of any substance from the editors.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 10, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Maybe we should all take more than the legal limit of Sudifed and call these guys in the morning. I have never met Mr. Bothum but the rePRESSion question has been giving me a throbbing headache for years. We may all end up turning to our medicine cabinets for relief, maybe the editors are in front of their's now, and reflecting in the mirror. Give them a chance to gather their wits--this is very big moment for them.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 11, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Dear editors:
Thank you for the "Editors Comment" attached to an earlier post on this thread written on your Sunday off and response to my questions about policy on "vanished" input on the Bothan case. It occurs to me that with your publication schedule it could easily be a full week from this coming tuesday before you address this issue in any detail. Also as I have mentioned already, any tradition of reliance on press releases from Atherton are likely to frustrate the emergence of this story because no one is really "minding the store" down at town hall other than the APD. The article you finally published last spring about Mr Bothan's unusual choice to do jail time rather than subject himself to APD supervision, appeared only in section two of the Almanac which is a partial basis for my concern over your attention to this story.
It is my understanding that the standing Supreme Court finding states that "the press shall serve the governed-not the governors" -so you should not hesitate to pursue leads simply because they are not served up by a dysfunctional authority.
Because you are short of staff perhaps it would be most efficient to offer Mr. Bothan space for a guest opinion in your paper so that he might tell his own story for you.
You have done this favor for APD officers in the past--Almanac December 22 1999 written by APD reserve officer Sherman Hall. I still have a copy in case you have lost yours.
The officer wrote at length complaining about vicious local press criticism (from other papers) of his beloved dept.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2010 at 12:39 pm


I also have a copy of the Sherman Hall Op-Ed from December 22, 1999.

It would nice to see it re-printed at this time.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 11, 2010 at 1:11 pm

"If you have relevant information, give it to the news media and the authorities. "


what would be the point? In this case the "authorities" are the problem and you, the "news media" ignore most of it and hide some of it.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 11, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock...........

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

Could we concentrate on the emergency at hand--there is a meeting in four hours to select an emergency manager.
With everyone so radicalized surrounding an election in two weeks it will take some doing to come up with someone respected by all.
I have described my Loyah Jurga concept earlier in this thread as it related to a possible Citizens Police Commission. I suggest we draw from a similar pool for this task, some one of our respected village elders to keep us afloat for this next several weeks.
I'm thinking Dick Moore--Phil LIively--Herm Christianson--any of these would be excellent choices.
Anybody have any thoughts on this?

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 12:27 pm

OK then what about Marion Oster if she might accept the appointment. Come on everybody there is only two and a half hours left on this now.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 1:47 pm

One hour left--Pogo's name has been added to the short list--anybody else?

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:04 pm

I'd purchase the Jackling Estate before I'd voluntarily work for the Atherton Town Council.

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Perhaps, Peter Carpenter?

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Well Duh! But he is out in cyberspace right now and they are looking for an immediate fill in for couple of short weeks.
The concept of remote control management from outer space does have it's appeal.
Pogo for City Manager stays on the list

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Ed - I am actually in the UK.

To the point, I believe that the Town needs a totally new professional perspective and that NONE of the current actors/posters/residents can bring the objectivity which is needed to the management of the Town's affairs.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:44 pm

This may well be true-but that's for the permanent Manager
We need the emergency guy and the interim manager to get through first

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 16, 2010 at 2:50 pm

The Interim Manager has to break the cycle of craziness and none of the usual suspects can do that. As I have suggested before the best best is a retired City Manager from outside the area. The Town can provide housing and the search for a permanent manager would be able to proceed without drama.

Posted by Jees Oh Pete, a resident of another community
on Oct 16, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Just who are the "usual suspects Peter"?

Do the "ususal suspects" include the five members of the City Council whom you have tiresly chided for not getting along?

Or as I suspect are you referring to the current and former civil servants who have tried to do their best for Atherton.

You say the best candidate is a former city manager from outside the area.

Do you really think the key to Atherton's problems in the short term or long term will be solved by hiring a glorified babysitter at an inflated hourly wage?

Will the City Council suddenly start behaving at the sight of a graybeard?

There are people who have stood up to the City Council before only to be driven out of town with their reputations in shambles. Does Ralph Freedman ring a bell?

That guy was driven out of town and then ridiculed.

Do us all a favor Peter, especially those of us who are longstanding public servants who have and who continue to give the Town our all.

Don't discount us as the "usual suspects".

As far as I am concerned the only suspects worthy of suspicion are the goons who sit up on the podium once a month primping, preening and pontificating.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 16, 2010 at 4:47 pm

4:30 ish
Some partial meeting take away:
Some council members may have been trying to bribe Wilkerson with outrageous pay increases to retain control of her in anticipation of a shifted council majority.
Also the reason there is no WAMP edition this week, is because Colleen has joined their staff and they are revamping...
No news yet on who will guest star as "transitional interim manager"

Posted by , a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 16, 2010 at 6:22 pm

[Post removed for using someone else's name.]

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 17, 2010 at 1:05 am

Shame on you for stealing my name - this is one of the many unfortunate consequences of permitting unregistered posting. As noted above, I am currently in the UK and hence sleeping while you are misreading and mis-stating what I posted.

I stated "To the point, I believe that the Town needs a totally new professional perspective and that NONE of the current actors/posters/residents can bring the objectivity which is needed to the management of the Town's affairs." The usual suspects are therefore "the current actors/posters/residents". I made no reference to individuals or to public servants - that was your erroneous and inappropriate conclusion.

[ Editor's note: This post refers to a post that was removed for using someone else's name. That post asked: Would you kindly list the "ususual suspects" Those who you believe are unfit to serve the Town? ]

Posted by Ricardo Sandoval, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 17, 2010 at 8:29 am

[Post removed. Please avoid attacking other posters.]

Posted by Richard Hine, managing editor of The Almanac
on Oct 17, 2010 at 8:54 am

Richard Hine is a registered user.

I'm closing this thread because it seems to have devolved into personal attacks.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 22, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Here is another question about checks and balances, structural problems that might effect the system, and why Atherton might have such trouble using process to regulate governance back into balance:

Is it appropriate for the litigation insurance attorney that has been assigned to Atherton by ABAG, to both live in Atherton himself, and have his spouse serving on the ACIL Board. Could this senario not concentrate multiple conflicts and enormous influence into the hands of someone who might be inclined to sweep as much as possible under the rug to avoid pay out for claims? Could this explain why nothing get corrected.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 23, 2010 at 1:01 am

Ed asks :"have his spouse serving on the ACIL Board".

The person in Ed's question has always exercised scrupulous attention to not participate in any ACIL discussion of Atherton legal issues nor to offer an opinion on those issues.

Posted by Peter North, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 23, 2010 at 9:30 am

The ACIL is useless, a paper tiger.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Peter Thank you for your reassurance about no conflict of interest with the ACIL Board members influencing litigation outcomes. With one board member at the center of the Officer Clark Yee arrest and another married to the towns insurance attorney this is certainly an important question to clarify.
How about the broader question posed above being brought forward for consideration. Does the insurance company that represents the town not have a major interest in helping to bury Atherton's problems so that it doesn't have to pay out money for them? And does the town have an interest in helping them to bury these problems so that our rates don't go up?
Has the the business of the town shifted from representing the residents to a self perpetuating machine that obfuscates the problems it creates and is nothing more than a pension factory. What is the actual product of Atherton LLP.

Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 23, 2010 at 3:24 pm

I think Peter and Ed's comments bring up an important philosophical issue.

John Johns applies for the Town Manager job. He is told he has "too much baggage" to be considered.

I try to get involved with volunteer work with the Town of Atherton as well. I'm told pretty much the same thing.

The wife of the insurance defense attorney is on the ACIL board but can separate issues in her own mind. Ok.

The police officers I'm suing, if asked can they help me in an emergency, or refrain from retaliating against me for a very adversarial situation, presumably will reply, "definitely - we are professionals and can separate these issues in our own mind and through our actions".

Why the double standard? Is baggage just a one-way street?

Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Oct 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Jon Buckheit is correct. As I have said before, the conflict of interest cannot be determined by the conflicted person. All of us believe we can be objective. It is for that reason, that conflicts must be viewed through the eyes of the loser.

I have noted this example before. Suppose you were involved in a lawsuit and the judge hearing your case was related to your adversary. The judge could assure you that he could be objective. And if you won, you would probably agree. But if you lost, you would blame it on the relationship. As I said, you eliminate conflicts so the loser believes they got a fair shake - that's the standard.

Just because an attorney is meticulous about his associations isn't enough. There are an awful lot of defense attorneys in the area - Atherton should pick one that isn't quite so conflicted. (Although I think this conflict works against Atherton's interests, not in favor of it.)

To Ed: It's not exactly newsworthy that an insurance company is motivated to reduce its payouts. Like any business - including yours, I suspect - we make money by maximizing income and minimizing expense. If the insurance company has too many payouts, they'll raise their premiums, drop the insured or both.

Posted by Georgia Pine, a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 23, 2010 at 4:20 pm

There will be more lawsuits.

One of the lesser known aspects about the Johns case was that he spoke out against sexual harassment to try and protect one of his subordinates from a well known predator who is still on Atherton's payroll.

By dismissing Johns as "baggage" instead of giving him the consideraitn he deserved. McKeithen made his case a slamm dunk.

Refusing to rehire a former employee for a position he is qualified for is discriminatin.

It looks like the husband of an ACIL Director will have more work.

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 23, 2010 at 5:42 pm

Pogo: my point was that here in "Tree City" no can see the forest.

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

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