Atherton poised to settle Johns lawsuit

Settlement includes letter of recommendation for former finance director, fired in 2007

The town of Atherton and former finance director John Johns are poised to sign an agreement awarding him about $225,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed over his firing by the town in October 2007.

Mr. Johns today confirmed rumors that have been buzzing through the town's rumor mill that the settlement agreement includes a provision that the town would rehire Mr. Johns, who would then resign. The town would also write him a letter of recommendation, he confirmed.

Mr. Johns was fired after being put on administrative leave for two months while a private attorney hired by the town conducted an investigation into complaints against him. The hostile workplace charges were not substantiated, but the investigator's report painted Mr. Johns as a bully who may have improperly done outside work while on the town's time.

Mr. Johns maintains that he was targeted for blowing the whistle on fiscal improprieties in Atherton's building and other departments. He has called the report from the investigation flawed and inaccurate.

In July 2008, following an investigation, the San Mateo County District Attorney's office declined to prosecute Mr. Johns on allegations that he used town computers or time that should have been spent working for the town to pursue outside jobs, actions that could constitute a theft or misuse of public funds.

Regarding the as-yet unsigned settlement agreement, Mr. Johns said in an e-mail that he is "grateful for the official recognition by the town for the good work that I did. I am in private practice now. The skills I acquired and the lessons I learned as Atherton's finance director have proven invaluable to me in this new life."

He also praised friends, supporters -- even his wife -- for standing by him throughout a painful ordeal. Among those he named is Mayor Kathy McKeithen, who, he said, "exercised moral courage, who risked her own political career by issuing a sworn declaration in support of my challenge to the validity of the investigative report" on him.

The settlement is the second large pay-out to a former employee the town has made in the last four and a half months. In November, the town signed a $230,000 settlement agreement with former police officer Pilar Ortiz-Buckley, who sued Atherton for sexual harassment by a town employee and for alleged retaliation for her complaining about the employee's alleged behavior.

Mr. Johns served as the town's top financial officer from November 2001 until he was fired in October 2007 by Atherton's interim city manager, Wende Protzman.

His public profile rose during the 2006 audits of the Atherton Building Department and the concurrent investigation by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury.

Staff writer Andrea Gemmet contributed to this report.

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Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Mr. Johns said in an e-mail that he is "grateful for the official recognition by the town for the good work that I did. I am in private practice now. The skills I acquired and the lessons I learned as Atherton's finance director have proven invaluable to me in this new life."

What a class act !!

John - THANK YOU for your service to our community.

Like this comment
Posted by Ranch Gal
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 2, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Yes I think Mr. Johns got a raw deal from our beloved town and wish we could have paid him more. $225K isn't enough. And that poor female police officer who was the subject of lewd acts and remarks for so long. [Portion removed; disrespectful language]

Wishing you, Mr. Johns, much success in your future career and life. You deserve it.

As a long time (1957) resident here, I have been ashamed of our "town politics" and police wrong doing for many years. I was the subject of it many years ago.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Stogner
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Wishing you the very best John Johns

Like this comment
Posted by Pam
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm

John, I agree with Ranch Gal and all the rest. You got a raw deal.

Like this comment
Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 2, 2010 at 4:04 pm

John -- congratulations on your settlement and best of luck to you. Everyone I have spoken with in Atherton who actually worked with you on financial issues has had only the highest praise for the service you performed for Atherton. It's our loss that you're no longer working for us, and perhaps one day you can return!

Like this comment
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 2, 2010 at 5:05 pm

Congratulations John. When you hired me to check the valuations of the construction projects submitted to the Town, I thought it was very creative and wondered why other agencies had never done it. Construction valuations are used as the basis for permit fees and are often underestimated. You did a great job for the Town and were mistreated, probably because you were too good.

Like this comment
Posted by deep end
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm

Thank you Sam,
This is a wonderful acknowledgement of John Johns from Lane 2+
and much appreciated by some- still too exhausted from just watching the whole ordeal, to figure out what to even think or feel or it really over.....?
Try to get him back in the pool where he may actually be safe from Atherton.

Like this comment
Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm

How great a contribution Mr. Johns made in pursuing what amounts to uncovering the real crime that goes on along with most cities in the County where improprieties have been sanctioned by the building department, who look the other way when they are reported, ignored, or reported as not being true in spite of photographic and eye witness confirmations.
The outlandish amount of misuse of power within the building department of San Mateo County is scandalous.I am talking about looking the other way when building permits for millions in work on parcels are not reported and when they are, they send out inspectors who "miss" what the complaints are about. Yes, folks, there is a lot of corruption in the higher positions and some of those guilty of permitting such things are rising in positions with larger pay even when they are known to be "political climbers" who grandstand.
Mr. Johns has been contacted since his honest and auditing capabilities. He is one in a million in these times.

Like this comment
Posted by Chicken Feed
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2010 at 7:23 pm

One possibility is these statements are all planted by John Johns or from his friends or others who are fighting Atherton.

The other possibility is that these people are correct and John Johns really did get a raw deal and was abused by Atherton and individuals in Atherton government.

Boy if that last possibility is true then its too bad he shortchanged himself. Around Atherton $225,000 is chicken feed.

Even worse most of it probably went to his lawyer. Should have stood pat until he got a million dollars and a $500,000 loan from all 5 council members.

Like this comment
Posted by a nobody
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 3, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Thank you for this insightful comment Mr. Gordon.
What is surprising is that most of the building abuse is by the wealthy who can most easily afford to pay the fees and permit costs--and since absolutely no one needs 12,000 sq. ft. to live in----
it is all really about showing off how special and well connected they all are, as measured by how much they can get away with for bragging rights--there is not even much attempt to hide any of it since it has become a matter of actual status and pride to get away with ignoring the rules that the rest of us nobodies have to play by.
They came down on Mr. Johns like a ton of bricks for challenging this notion of Divine Right.

Like this comment
Posted by just a thought
a resident of another community
on Apr 4, 2010 at 12:05 am

Ah, the notion of Divine Right is half right.

Mr. Johns was just about the second part of it.

Funny how ill the fit was 'tween him and the town, and it is fitting that he will be gone.

But the notion you mention remains and for the moment it has won the day, and it shall continue to do so until those who disagree take action and prove that they are in the majority of the electorate.

This is fitting, and the legacy of all of you.


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