The November 28th Council Meeting provided an unusual insight into the closed meeting workings of the Council. At issue was the resolution before the Council on the compensation/benefit policy for ten town employees who are not represented by a collective bargaining union. The resolution was apparently revealed to the employees after their previous offers were rejected on November 19th, published on November 21st (the day before Thanksgiving) for vote on November 28th It was unanimously approved in closed session by the five Council Members. Aside from the resolution being defectively drawn, it was a very fast procedure after being presented to employees and, importantly as well, the town residents in less than a week.
In the discussions that preceded the vote it was clear the coalition of Widmer-Dobbie-McKeithen (aka WMD) were desperate to ram this through as this was McKeithens last meeting. Apparently Council Members Lewis and Carlson in response to public and employee outcry were having second thoughts. They then voted "yes" for the measure which will enable them to bring it back for reconsideration at the next council meeting in December.
Kathy McKeithen went on to say in her remarks that the resolution was actually aimed at the APOA and the pending contract negotiations with them this spring. They were the "elephant in the room" and in a typical McKeithen technique were vilified in spite of a reassuring and conciliatory statement by the head of the APOA that they were eager to work with the town on a fair and equitable contract. He also cautioned that the resolution affected three of the Police Department right now. The Police Chief, Lieutenant and training officer are not part of the union and that was the reason the APOA was so concerned now. He also cautioned that the Council needed to be careful with town employees as well as sworn officers in the APD as they risked losing experienced and trained employees to other agencies if not competitive.
The theme is saving money by council representatives as they claim there is an unsustainable financial condition with unfunded pension liabilities, too generous medical benefits, and a compensation misalignment with other towns and, more importantly, the private sector. The financial assumptions they make are not absolutely clear or detailed. As several past Mayors and speakers pointed out and the need for emergency action was not warranted in the face of an improved tax base and other revenue.
It is worth noting the WMD coalition was responsible for the Library in the Park project and that turned out to be a systemic lack of understanding and unwillingness to listen to the Atherton residents. The characteristics of this resolution and the speed of bringing it to a vote without adequate and meaningful public input are the same as their library project. The same claim that it has been thoroughly studied for many months and adequately vetted is reminiscent of the council library vote in which the council commenced work in the Park. There were then clear signs then of resident displeasure that ended up being close to 70% of the voters.
What is at stake in reality is the Town Council setting policy that will impact the future of governance for years to come. It will affect the future of the Atherton Police Department, the Town Center project and future library building. It even might test the need to question the need to maintain a town government for services easily managed by the county government.
Atherton residents should be asked a number of important questions right now about what they want in the way of town services and whether they are willing to pay for them. As Mr. Janz pointed out by letter in the meeting the Parcel Tax was created at the time of Proposition 13 has remained the same level for all these years in spite of inflationary costs. It is time to ask if the residents would pay more to fund our government or accept the winnowing away at the quality and possible turnover of town employees. They should be asked if they want to outsource the police department or accept a reduction in services provided.
However this is done by survey or vote is unimportant but the important thing is for the Council to ask us. A full explanation of town finances both spending and revenue projections is required as well as the continued remedy and possible increase of the Parcel Tax is needed.
Please ask us!