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Guest opinion: Leadership in Atherton

Original post made on Feb 7, 2012

I have lived in Atherton for more than 18 years and have been involved with its civic affairs long before I was elected to the City Council. I am responding to last week's editorial in the Almanac, which is counter to what I am seeing as a former mayor and current member of the Council. I feel the need to help people go behind the scenes.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 12:00 AM

Comments (28)

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Posted by Leadership
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Councilman Dobbie is very critical of staff prior to this year. Has he forgotten that in 2006 the council surveyed the residents and found 97% were satisfied with police and town services? Is he referring to the 3% of the survey that was not satisfied as "The Many"?

Dobbie first ran for office in 2008 stating the finances of the town were in great shape and he wanted to continue that trend. At the time he ran against Elizabeth Lewis who campaigned that the town was headed for financial troubles.

Shortly after the election City Manager Gruber and Finance Director Ho showed "backbone" by standing up to council and noting that millions in town's reserves belonged to the Building Dept. They noted that two previous fee increases by council were not justified and needed to be recended and refunded.

Gruber and staff also told the council that the town was headed to financial troubles a few years back. After making numerous spending cuts Gruber advised the council that the only thing left was to cut staff.

The talent, service, backbone, and leadership from staff have been present in Atherton for some time.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 7, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"The Council should possibly have pushed harder to hire a permanent town manager sooner, but without the positive changes accomplished in 2011, I believe it would have been nearly impossible to recruit a highly qualified replacement."

Well stated. And I am confident that the Town will now be able to attract a number of highly qualified candidates.


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Posted by 97% satisfaction too low
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm

97% satisfaction is much too low for the police department. Instead of 3% being dissatisfied, the record shows only THREE individual residents who have EVER complained about the police department: John Bucheit, Kathy McKeithen and Melinda Tevis. The dissatisfaction with the police department is a hoax that has been perpetrated by John and Kathy. Dobbie has fallen for that hoax. It's time for him to retire.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I suggest that we all focus on the present and the future. We now have a superb, experienced and professional Police Chief and changes are being made - most important is the standard of performance established by Ed Flint.


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Posted by Robert D.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 7, 2012 at 9:44 pm

We now have a superb, experienced and professional Police Chief and changes are being made
Really Peter.... Anyone who has ever use Google or any other search engine will easily and factually contradict that.... Ed is a great guy, but he is nothing like you describe him... He has a past, well documented and that needs to be reflected.
As for the City Manager - how many times do we need to say - start new - do not look onto the past - start over, start new and get new blood in the PD and the City


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 7, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I would welcome facts regarding Chief Flint professional conduct - other than references to newspaper reports about the behavior of others.

Subtle smears to be be the forte of those who wish to damage the reputation of others while hiding behind a fence. If you have facts then present them , otherwise please stand quiet.


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Posted by Robert D.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 8, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Well it seems your 'google' button does not work. This is not a smear against Ed, again, I like him; rather a response to Peter's request and certainly to the statement of Jim Dobbie who then had his comments section locked
Take a look, as requested, Web Link
Jim, the Town is not better today then it was several years ago, just because you were Mayor does not mean it is and or was better in 2011.
Peter, your continued defense of Ed, Jim and the 'gang' of Atherton is beyond belief


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 8, 2012 at 4:16 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I asked for facts - here are some:

"I haven't done anything illegal or immoral," he said. "I very much enjoy living and working in Santa Rosa. There is a high level of community support, and I need to resolve these issues to the best of my ability." Chief Ed Flint

"We have problems dealing with rumors, working together as a team, around communication and trust issues and conflict resolution," he said. "We're not perfect, and we have a lot to work on." Chief Ed Flint

"I have never been bashful of criticism," he said. "When it comes to complaints, the chief is at the top of the organization. If there are things that I did, the responsibility rests with me." Chief Ed Flint
**************************
Making a difference

EDITOR: I have had the honor to be a volunteer in policing for the Santa Rosa Police Department for almost eight years. In that time I have known and worked with two police chiefs.

In the last 4½ years, I have had the good fortune of knowing and working with Ed Flint. He is one of the nicest and most honest people I have had the pleasure of knowing and working with. As far as I am concerned, he took a great department and made it better.

There isn't an agency or company out there in which the employees are going to agree 100 percent of the time with the person in command or the head of a company. These people are paid to make the best decisions they can in whatever field they are working

To Ed, my dear friend, I wish you the best in the future. You made a difference for us, and you will make a difference wherever you go. There are many people in the department who care and wish you well. You made a difference, and that is what the Santa Rosa Police Department is all about.

ROZ MORRIS"
******************
Flint admired

EDITOR: I was among those saddened to read of Chief Ed Flint's decision to resign. It was important for our city manager to provide, as he did, a balance of perspective to the chief's service record with our city by citing some of the positive accomplishments of his leadership.

I would add one more: Flint's support for our law enforcement chaplaincy service. The chief's presence at special chaplaincy functions, such as our academy graduations, has always been a much appreciated boost of encouragement. His willingness to speak to the throngs of high school parents and students at the various "Every 15 Minutes" assemblies always helped to underscore the seriousness of drinking and driving.

He spoke from his own experience of having lost two close family members to drunk drivers. His affableness quickly gained an admiration from many within the Santa Rosa Police Department and from many in the community at-large.

His faithful watch over our city is well-deserving of our debt of thanks.

ROD BOWMAN

Pastor, Westview
****************
"When he was hired, Flint had to confront major budget and personnel issues, as well as a rising crime rate and a department in which the most experienced officers had retired or were in the process of doing so.

Sawyer praised Flint for reducing crime and tackling traffic problems in the city. "He was the man at the time, to do the job we needed him to do," Sawyer said."

"He was, to his supporters, a cop's cop, a man who'd done hard work in the trenches of law enforcement and in the military and was unabashed about leading his troops into battle." Santa Rosa Mayor
************
Based on these public statements and on my personal interactions with Chief Flint I will happily continue to give him my full support.

Bob whomever can continue his undocumented smear campaign if he wishes, but his data is sorely lacking.


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Posted by Critical
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 8, 2012 at 4:38 pm

The town's legal expenses were driven by document requests that had to be checked by an attorney. Those requests have gone or ended with lawsuit settlements. Hence the bills go done.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town's legal bills were driven by an attorney who billed on an hourly basis. The costs have gone way down because the new Town Attorney bills on a flat monthly basis.

There is NO way that the FOI requests alone could have cost $20k plus per month of legal fees.


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

The previous attorney's firm had a flat monthly retainer plus charged when those hours were exceeded.

The public records request drove the extra hours. Peter you can request a list of all the public records requests to confirm


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 9, 2012 at 12:39 pm

There is NO way that the FOI requests alone could have cost $20k plus per month of legal fees.


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Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 9, 2012 at 4:35 pm

It took the Town 14 months to respond to a F.O.I.A. records request that I made 4 years ago--the legal limit was 2 weeks. The attitude was "what are you gonna do about it? Sue us?"
Similarly, It took Mr Buckheit over one year to get a copy of his own arrest report which he only received after suing to obtain it by court order.
Peter: My point is that while it is not the paperwork or photocopy bills that run up these legal bills--it is a bunch of drawn out legal advise that proves so expensive when the attorneys are just billing away while they cover up for some administrative incompetence instead efficiently representing either the residents or the Town.
Does the public need its own attorney to protect it's interest from the Towns mistakes? or would it be possible to hire a Town attorney that actually represents the Public interest as at least parallel to the Town's interest.
I think the management and legal council just laugh about most issues over an expense account lunch, and then bill for it.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 9, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Many of your comments relate to the past not the current situation.

" would it be possible to hire a Town attorney that actually represents the Public interest as at least parallel to the Town's interest."
I served on the CITIZENS Committee that selected the new Town Attorney and I think that this is exactly what we sought and what we got.

"I think the management and legal council just laugh about most issues over an expense account lunch, and then bill for it."

I do not believe that such lunches take place or that there would be laughter involved.
I suggest that you go meet OUR new Town Attorney before tossing around any more such wild speculation.


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Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm

My remarks were in no way specific to Mr Conners. Instead I mean to refer to a kind of general culture that has crept in that pits the Town against it's own citizens to the benefit of no one except various Union attorneys protecting incompetent employes, and the Town's ABAG insurance litigator who is only trying to avoid any payouts in order to justify his own billable hours, and whatever other "special council" can pile on to this feeding frenzy at the public trough. For all I know Conners may love some help in correcting some of this.
Lets give it to him if he does.


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Posted by Next Up
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

Ed is onto something. Atherton takes too much of Conners time. There's an item on next weeks council meeting to bump him $3k/month!


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2012 at 12:27 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is from the Staff Report on this item (it is useful to have facts when discussing issues):

"Town entered into an Agreement with Mr. Conners in April, 2011, based on an RFP that
set forth the required services to be provided. The proposal from Mr. Conners was based on 4 hours of office hours weekly, and included services above and beyond the RFP in the monthly retainer. The initial agreement called for a review after 6 months. Attorney has drafted a more exhaustive Agreement for municipal legal services that calls for 14 hours of office hours and meeting attendance monthly, outlines the inclusive nature of the services provided, and reflects more correctly the nature and extent of the services provided. The compensation is suggested to increase from $9800 to $12,800 monthly.
Attorney is responsible for all costs, continuing education and licensure costs, costs of
associates and acting attorney's when needed, and minor litigation matters and
administrative hearings. The Agreement is for an initial 2 year term with extensions
upon mutual agreement included.

Based on budgets over the 4 years prior to Mr. Conners' appointment, the average annual expenditure for legal services was approximately $440,000. The projected actual cost for services this year will result in a saving of over $300,000 over the average and almost $200,000 over the best year during that span. The quality of legal services has not suffered; indeed staff believes it has improved, during this time."
********
So who wants to vote NOT to save $300,000 a year?


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Posted by Expensive Leadership
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2012 at 8:13 am

Peter,

The council approves all legal expenses and creates most of the expenses. Remember is was the council that decided to file a lawsuit to block the Menlo Atherton Performing Arts Center from being built. It was the council that decided to prohibit the moving of the urns and spend $100,000 in legal fees.
It was the council that decided to prohibit three families from moving into their homes and incur those legal fees.
It was the council that passed fee increases that were actually taxes that resulted in legal action.

The previous City Attorneys were not overcharging. The reduction in legal costs is the result of the council starting less legal issues.

Even though the council last all those battles, it still pushes through projects that do not have a majority support of the residents and puts the town at risk for legal expenses. Building a regional library to the park is the next example.

A large number of residents oppose this idea and it could be the majority. Even though Menlo Park has a large library which is never near capacity, the county wants Atherton to build a facility in an area that numerous residents have fought to keep open space.

The majority of residents opposed all the actions of the council that lead to the previous lawsuits. Yet the majority of the council still pushes through policy changes that are opposed by the residents.

The residents of Atherton can not file a lawsuit to block the library in the park. If they could we would be seeing higher legal expenses.




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Posted by Next Up
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2012 at 8:15 am

So who wants to vote NOT to save $336,000 a year?

Here's some history:

$8,500 / month - Hynes (final contract)
$11,000 / month - Furth
$9,800 / month - Conners (current)
$12,800 / month - Conners (proposed)

A staff report from June 2009 describes the retainer: 50 hours of legal services, including 5 hours of employment law advice. It is designed to cover two public meetings a month, weekly office hours, and drafting and review of routine documents and advice on the range of minor issues that arise for a small municipality offering a range of services. The retainer is not designed to cover claims, litigation, or special projects such as major code revision.

By all appearances, the Town is preparing to pay $1,800 / month more than they paid Furth.

The real question remains, what caused the legal costs to skyrocket when Furth ran the show? And, what's changed that will prevent that from happening again?


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Posted by Robert D
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Oh the tales I could tell you on how they spend their legal fees.
I know Peter wants to have full name, rank and serial number to make any point, and as such most people remain silent.
Atherton has run over it cost and its estimate by fighting things they should not and getting themselves into trouble on over-runs like road issues which they should not.
I know by commenting Peter will, as he always does, cite his opinion is the only one that counts and I have yet to see him say "I see your point, maybe I was wrong"...... so when you want to know what the Town has these issues look to those who advise it who have a one-sided view of "my way is right, you are clearly wrong," facts or no facts....
Oh wait, that sounded a little bit like "ends justify the means" which we have discussed.
Reality check: Get in a new City Manager and Chief and get going already.... Great town, just too many obstacles to realize its potential which it used to do/have.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I am always willing to change my position based on well articulated counter arguments and confirmed facts; a recent example is my changing my position in opposition to ALL anonymous posters to recognizing the value and importance of registered anonymous posters.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Jan 31, 2012 at 6:25 pm
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

As noted above, I accept that a very few individuals need anonymity for true protection against retaliation.

I also accept that there are a very few who need anonymity to protect their business interests. All of them post as registered users.
*****
I am unmoved by anonymous postings that claim 'Oh the tales I could tell you on .....' which contribute neither a well articulated counter argument or documented facts.


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Posted by Save $
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2012 at 5:07 am

Peter,

According to Next Up; Conners' contract is 15% more than Furth's contract. I believe that. That should qualify as: "well articulated counter arguments and confirmed facts".

It was council "leadership" that lead to the lawsuits and now they want to blame Hynes and Furth and claim that with Conners Atherton is "saving" $300,000 a year.

The council's drive to spend the reserves in lawsuits is the concern. A headline could be "Atherton goes broke trying to block MA Performing Arts Center."


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 13, 2012 at 6:46 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Conners' contract is 15% more than Furth's contract."

The difference is that Conners contract is all inclusive whereas the previous Town Atorney's were paid a base fee plus hundreds of thousands of dollars of surcharges. The expenditures are documented in the staff report:"Based on budgets over the 4 years prior to Mr. Conners' appointment, the average annual expenditure for legal services was approximately $440,000. The projected actual cost for services this year will result in a saving of over $300,000 over the average and almost $200,000 over the best year during that span. The quality of legal services has not suffered; indeed staff believes it has improved, during this time."

Even if the Council was responsible for running up the meter on previous attorneys Conner's contract has a ceiling that will not be exceeded.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 13, 2012 at 7:11 am

Peter:

how do you figure the Council can't run up the legal expenses? The way I read it, Conner's contract specifically excludes anything over and above the normal day to day stuff like lawsuits. Lawsuits that the Atherton Town Council seem so adept at getting into. I would say it is a safe bet that if they hire a new police chief from within the department there will be more lawsuits to defend.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 13, 2012 at 8:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"how do you figure the Council can't run up the legal expenses?"

Most of the previous excessive legal expenses were made with the advice of counsel; I believe that Conners is neither economically motivated or professionally inclined to encourage such activities in the future. Writing good ordinances to begin with (or advising the Council not to even go there on certain issues) is a super way to avoid lawsuits.


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Posted by Claims
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2012 at 9:21 am

Peter,

You stated that "Most of the previous excessive legal expenses were made with the advice of counsel" Can you back any of that up?

These lawsuits were the result of council's desire to serve there own needs and wants:
1. Lawsuit on MA Performing Arts Center-- driven by neighbor's appeal to council to stop the construction.
2. Lawsuit to block Urns from being moved across town-- Driven by neighbors.
3. Blocking residents from moving into their homes--- driven by council.
4. Lawsuits from former staff on getting rid on staff --- driven by council.
5. Threat of lawsuit on Off Haul Fee and Road Impact Fee increase.-- driven by council's decision to not to follow through with incorect froms,


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 13, 2012 at 9:31 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I simply disagree with "Claims' (whoever that is!!) - in all of the cited cases the Council proceeded with the advise of the then Town Attorney - who had every economic interest in encouraging these actions.

I believe that the current Town Attorney will not hesitate to discourage such expensive and fruitless endeavors.


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Posted by Claims
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2012 at 10:39 am

Peter,

Do you have any evidence to back up "in all of the cited cases the Council proceeded with the advise of the then Town Attorney."? Or is the history of the lawsuits more like?

Marc Hynes and council were set to approve a settlement with Sequioa School District on the Preforming Arts Center when a group of neighbors showed up at the council meeting to protest the settlement. The lawsuit was started by the town after neighbors went to council with concerns that the PAC was going to be rented out for Rap Concerts.

Just recently a group of neighbors organized to sue the school district and bypassed the council on the light on the MA football field.

Moving the Urns was approved by the Planning Commission and then appealed by neighbors to the council to stop the movement. Council agreed with the neighbors and overturned the Planning Commission.

Construction Lawsuits: The Building Deptartment had signed off on the final permits and then someone challenged the permits and council decided to stop the residents from moving into their homes.

The short time Furth's firm had the contract with the city, at least three employees were already in lawsuits with the city. When Furth was city attorney, the council settled those lawsuits. Furth could have made more money advising the council not to settle.

When Hynes was around the council evidentually settled the lawsuits, Hynes could have made more money going to court.

Hynes and Furth are good people- as it Conners.


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