Update: Councilman asked for $500,000 loan, says Atherton resident who is suing town


Atherton Councilman Charles Marsala is accused of asking for a large personal loan from a man who is suing Atherton in federal court.

His accuser is Jon Buckheit, an Atherton resident who is advocating the creation of a police oversight board. When the oversight board idea was tabled at the March 17 City Council meeting, he protested the vote during a public comment. "Charles, when you came to me asking to borrow money, you had a very different view than you do today," Mr. Buckheit said.

Mr. Marsala told The Almanac after the meeting that he could not comment. "I spoke with the city attorney and I've been advised not to talk about it because we're in litigation with (Mr. Buckheit)," he said. "I'm comfortable with my vote on Wednesday night. I voted with the majority of the council … and I explained my reasons."

Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac that in late September 2009, Mr. Marsala asked him for a $500,000 "hard money" loan against his Atherton house. Mr. Buckheit said the size of the loan request gave him pause, but that he considered an arrangement that would make him one of several investors in the loan to Mr. Marsala.

"It didn't pan out," Mr. Buckheit said.

Mr. Buckheit forwarded three e-mails regarding the loan to The Almanac, dated Sept. 25-30. Two, which appear to be from Mr. Marsala's personal e-mail address, inquire about the loan's status. "Jon, I do not need all the money at once. $200,000 to start and knowing a remainer (sic) is available works," said one dated Sept. 25. The second e-mail, dated Sept. 28, said, "Any updates?"

In the third e-mail, dated Sept. 30, Mr. Buckheit responds, saying: "I spoke with the remaining hard money broker. She won't touch it because it's not fully documentable."

Mr. Buckheit's e-mail finishes by saying: "Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. I would need to do these loans through a broker since I don't have a license."

In October, Mr. Buckheit filed a lawsuit against the town and two of its police officers over the handling of a domestic dispute at his house in 2008. Mr. Buckheit was arrested on domestic violence charges, but never charged. He was later exonerated by a San Mateo County Superior Court judge and granted a declaration of factual innocence. Shortly thereafter, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the town of Atherton in federal court in San Francisco.

Mr. Buckheit said before he was asked for the loan, he contacted Mr. Marsala, whom he knew casually, about his situation with the police department. Mr. Marsala was sympathetic, and said he would try to help, Mr. Buckheit said.

The vote to table any further discussion of creating a police oversight committee was 4-1, with Mayor Kathy McKeithen opposed. At the meeting, Mr. Marsala said he was concerned that a small town like Atherton would have trouble finding enough citizens willing to serve on an oversight committee, and that leaks of confidential information regarding police officers could be a problem.

"I can't prove he changed his vote, but I don't think you go to a resident with a big problem and ask for a half-million dollars," Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 22, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The alleged loan request by a Council member to an individual who was in a serious legal dispute with the Town would be a serious conflict of interest and ethical lapse. There comes a point when I believe that the citizens can no longer rely on its elected officials to act in the best interest of the community.

Since it is clear that the San Mateo District Attorney has no inclination to hold local officials accountable, I believe the time has come to ask the California Attorney General to review this and other allegations against the Town and its elected officials, and to consider taking the Town into legal receivership.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 9:48 pm

I hope you are not just talking about James P. Fox but also Steve Wagstaffe our next District Attorney because he is running unopposed...and he runs the DA's Office now, when you say.

"Since it is clear that the San Mateo District Attorney has no inclination to hold local officials accountable"

Welcome to San Mateo County

Like this comment
Posted by True Blue
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 22, 2010 at 10:02 pm

By the time the last chapter of this story has been played out,
the entire S.M. county may have may been largely repaired.
So I wouldn't be laughing too hard now at Atherton anyone!...........It is probably going to get really ugly for a while, and then- you will all end up to be grateful to our broken little Town for saving yours.

Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Mar 22, 2010 at 10:51 pm

I am deeply impressed by Mr. Carpenter's call for the Attorney General to investigate this matter. No doubt others will be as well and will echo his call.

It goes without saying that Mr. Carpenter is not some disgruntled anonymous poster. It also goes without saying that he has an impressive resume, one that is illustrative of a long and distinguished career in both public service and private industry.

Mr. Carpenter has called for restraint on this forum. Time and time again he has spoken out against a lynch mob mentality, a mentality that regrettably takes over ocasionally.

Mr. Carpenter has reminded us on numerous occasions that we should give our appointed and elected officials the benefit of the doubt.

For these reasons, Mr. Carpenter's words have gravitas.

It is clear that Mr. Carpenter is not kidding. He deserves to be taken seriously.

Like this comment
Posted by Gratitude
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 22, 2010 at 11:08 pm

John Buckheit has done so much for this town, more than most people can realize. Maybe he can take it into receivership and clean it up within a year. Kathy McKeithen has also tried her best. We owe everything to these two people.

Like this comment
Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 22, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Does this mean we can all stop holding our breath while waiting for Jerry Gruber's learning curve to kick in?

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Posted by Friend
a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2010 at 10:31 am

I think we should now call the Almanac the “All McKeithen”. I don’t understand why, when the Daily Post is headlining that Ms. McKeithen’s supporter, Jim Dobbie Campaign manager, and Atherton General Plan member CAROL SMITH is now living in Los Altos Hills, the “All McKeithen-Almanac” has not covered the story.

After Ms. McKeithen ordered John Johns to make up some charges against a member of the building department (to bolster her re-election campaign), he was fired and sued the town - naming the police. Now Johns works for Jon Buckheit who is also suing the town naming the police. Do you see any commonality?

Ms. McKeithen is the only council member to support Buckheit’s request for a Police Oversight Committee. Either one of those could help Buckheit and Johns’ case of settlement against the Town.

Ms. McKeithen, Mr. Buckheit and Mr. Johns are now working together on the “Wickett” elder abuse case, and, this too, the Almanac has refused to cover – WHY??

Is Ms. McKeithen doing this for revenge on the police department because they seached her house back in 2001??

How many millions will the Town have to pay to payoff Ms. McKeithen’s friends – Johns and Buckheit??

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Posted by Louise
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

Dear friends of Charles--I have been waiting for this spin to appear--we have all seen it before enough times to know this drill by heart.
I suppose trying to create multiple distractions for this magic show is really about all you can do at this point--
looks like the party is almost over-bet the neighbors will be thrilled.

Like this comment
Posted by Gimme a break
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 23, 2010 at 12:16 pm

To "Friend": The Almanac did report on the Carol Smith story. She bought a house in Los Altos Hills, had remodeling going on for a month or so while she continued to live in Atherton, and resigned from the plan committee last week. SHE DIDN'T ATTEND ANY COMMITTEE MEETINGS during any of this "contested" time (unlike Charles Marsala attending council meetings when he didn't live in Atherton). Big story? Doesn't seem like it to me.

McKeithen helping an elderly person in Atherton who was in grave medical condition is a mark against her? Ok, but not in my book. Same for Buckheit. That is a matter that involves personal information about individuals that have nothing to do with this, but Buckheit and McKeithen have really done yeoman duty in that. You're way off base, and a rat trapped in a corner.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 25, 2010 at 10:55 am

It has now been two weeks since this allegation was made and there has still been no action bt the Town Council.

Here is the Town Code on calling regular and special meetings:

2.04.010 Regular meetings.

The city council of the town shall hold a regular meeting at least once each month at a time and day specified by resolution. Meetings shall be held in the Town Hall, 94 Ashfield Road, in the town, or at such larger meeting place located within the corporate limits of the town, as determined by the city council. Notification of any change in the meeting date, time or place shall be by public notice published once in a newspaper of general circulation in the town at least seven days prior to the meeting; and posted on the town’s four official bulletin boards and posted on the council chamber doors at the time of the meeting. Special meetings may be called at any time by the mayor, or by three members of the city council, or by a petition bearing a minimum of one hundred signatures of adult residents of the town. (Ord. 382, 1980: Ord. 344 Ch. 1(e) § 1, 1976)

I understand that at least two Council members want a special meeting and at least two two have 'refused' to attend such a meeting.

It seems that it is time to call in the Attorney General since the Council is unwilling or unable to deal with this issue and the San Mateo County District Attorney has no interest in holding elected officials accountable.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:49 am

I have now been accused by one Council member of 'fanning the flames' by calling for action on the allegation of a loan solicitation by a Council member from an individual who was and still is in litigation with the Town.

This allegation was made more than two weeks ago and yet all we have heard since then is SILENCE. I make no judgment as to the validity of the accusation but I feel strongly that such an allegation deserves a prompt hearing

Hopeful my and others' fanning of the flame will ignite the fires of democracy and accountability.

As of 11:40 AM on 25 March no agenda has been posted for a Special meeting.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:51 am

I am pleased to report that the following was posted at 11:48 today:

From: "Theresa DellaSanta" <>
Date: March 25, 2010 11:48:46 AM PDT
To: "Theresa DellaSanta" <>
Subject: March 26 Special Agenda

Attached is an Agenda for a special meeting being held tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2010 at 11:55 am

My e-mail to President of the Board of Supervisors Rich Gordon.

Dear Rich,

This is an Official Investigation Request. Your authority is Gov. Code 25303

Could you please look into this the Town of Atherton is suffering.

Please pay attention to Peter Carpenter's statement about San Mateo County's District Attorney.

Web Link

Thank you

Michael G. Stogner

Like this comment
Posted by True Blue
a resident of Atherton: other
on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:08 pm

Thank you for this post Mr. Carpenter.
I was hoping that someone already had called in the A.G. by now.
Clearly-as a town we are not able to function properly at all-let alone any hope of being able to self correct.
Could you call in the AG for us?--Either as a prominent citizen-or as the president of the ACIL?? If not, can you suggest who might be the most appropriate person to initiate contact?
Not even the Grand Jury was able to help us after multiple efforts, you are correct about the SMC DA's office being the sorry end of a closed loop, and we absolutely need to be seeking help from somewhere above- at least at the state level...

Like this comment
Posted by John P. Johns, CPA
a resident of another community
on Mar 25, 2010 at 12:22 pm

Mr. Carpenter is a credit to the community he lives in and to the Atherton Civil Interest League.

Like this comment
Posted by Tom M
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Mar 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Charles Marsala is a good man and has worked tirelessly for the Town of Atherton. It seems like some folks have gone to the media to create a story about a home equity loan. I say this because the Town Attorney has already reviewed the isssue. Has small-town dirty politics come to Atherton? I thought we were above this type of chicanery!

Like this comment
Posted by Suzie
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Mar 31, 2010 at 9:58 am

Mr. Stogner, I hope you really have sent a message to Supervisor Gordon requesting an official investigation into Charles's activities. To be believable it must be outside of San Mateo as both Peter Carpenter and another post mentions.

If Charles were to resign, I'd say we should leave it alone but that does not appear to be happening.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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