Atherton council accepts settlement on 3-2 vote


Atherton residents had a new finance director on Monday, April 19, but it's a safe bet they didn't know it. As part of the lawsuit settlement between John Johns and the town, Mr. Johns was reinstated as the head of the finance department, and soon after resigned -- basking in the satisfaction that he has won $225,000 and a letter of commendation from the town.

Mr. Johns, the former finance director of Atherton who sued the town over his October 2007 firing, signed the settlement agreement on April 9. His signed "irrevocable resignation from employment with the Town of Atherton" was effective 5 p.m. April 19. The agreement was approved by a 3-2 vote of the council at a March 29 closed session meeting, according to the town.

Mayor Kathy McKeithen and council members Jim Dobbie and Jerry Carlson voted for the settlement, with council members Charles Marsala and Elizabeth Lewis opposed.

Under the agreement, Mr. Johns also forfeits the right to sue the town, council members, current and former employees, and contractors, according to a statement issued by the town on April 19.

"The settlement allows the Town to limit its exposure to hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional future litigation costs (including a possible award of attorney's fees to Mr. Johns if he prevailed on certain causes of action), should the case have been litigated through discovery and trial," the written statement said.

Mr. Johns has maintained that he was targeted for blowing the whistle on fiscal improprieties in Atherton's building and other departments, and filed his wrongful termination lawsuit in 2008.

Mr. Johns said the town pressed for a settlement provision prohibiting him from speaking publicly "on my experiences," but he wouldn't agree to it. Since the agreement was reached, Mr. Johns has issued numerous highly charged statements, both in a public meeting and on Town Square, The Almanac's online forum.

Another town watcher who has spoken publicly in recent weeks on his experiences with the town, Jon Buckheit of Atherton, laments the loss to the town resulting in Mr. Johns' firing. Mr. Buckheit hired Mr. Johns as a forensic accountant to sort out financial matters for the elderly Atherton woman for whom he is conservator.

"It's Atherton's loss that they kicked him out," Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac. "He's done a tremendous job ... working for me.

"I've also run a software company in Silicon Valley for many years, and I know what I'm talking about."

Mr. Buckheit is suing the town in federal court over police conduct related to his 2008 arrest for alleged domestic violence. Charges were never filed against Mr. Buckheit, and he recently won a court declaration of factual innocence in the case.

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Like this comment
Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 19, 2010 at 7:39 pm

After hiring and managing some great financial executives over a ten+ year career as a CEO, I can say that John Johns ranks up with the best of them. I am glad this sad story now has a happy ending and John, the fact you were able to persevere through not only being fired, but through efforts to try to prevent you from ever working anywhere else again (in my opinion, these efforts amounting to a travesty) , says a lot about you. As I told Ms. Batti, not having you working for Atherton is definitely our collective loss.

Like this comment
Posted by Melinda Tevis
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 19, 2010 at 9:47 pm

Mr. Johns:
I heard a story today- about a 5 million dollar home recently built in Los Altos, with the binding stipulation that an historic building on the property would remain intact. The building was supposedly relocated out of view, (but with out permission), however, it had in fact, been completely demolished. The agreement with the town was defiantly ignored.
Los Altos Administrators decided that they didn't want, and I quote, "TO END UP LIKE ATHERTON!"- and have ordered the newly built home torn down. Deal Off! This is a town that knows what a slippery slope looks like--that had the courage of it's own convictions, and is fiscally practical enough to understand why upholding the rules is the most economically efficient choice in the long run for everyone.
By the way --I heard also that they are keeping their Road Impact fee firmly and fearlessly in have many other towns.
Mr. Johns--I wish you had not settled your case--but gone all the way to trial.
I don't believe Atherton learned anything from bankrupting itself both morally and financially through out this 3 year experience, of trying to ruin you. I know that for you this suit was never about money-that you loved this town and your job-that you were too proud of the reserves you created for Atherton, to want to be responsible for having them diminished on your behalf. But there has been so much lost, for nothing gained.
The hand full of builder/owners, who turned up in your audit, have managed to make silly puppets of the Towns Administrators most of whom seem still, not to understand how they have allowed themselves to be plainly used. You were attacked personally because the audit was irrefutable-even to the naked eye. There was no way to discredit the audit-so they discredited you instead, for the purpose of distraction.
Maybe you finally decided that Atherton is just a hopeless cause and to give up on us entirely--but it makes me sad, knowing how much was lost.
At least you may have helped to save some of our neighboring towns from a fate like ours.
Their hero, if not ours.

Like this comment
Posted by fairytale kingdom
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 20, 2010 at 12:53 pm

Please note everyone:
The Almanac article states that the Johns settlement "comes with a full release of all claims against former towns employees, council members, and CONTRACTORS".
Please read: for Town Employees--Bob Brennen, Wende Prostman, Lois English........
for Council Members--CHARLES MARSALA, and twins Jerry and Allen Carlson
and for the CONTRACTORS--the 3 or 4 builders who's projects were featured examples included in the Bld. Dept. audit---P.P.G. for Ackley, Chesler for the Kings, and Benzacar for his own spec.......I believe that there were only four specific projects cited in the entire audit.
Why?? you might ask, -- is your town government spending your money (700,000...) to protect the only few people who actually make money off your town's disfunction?
Could it be that this town actually belongs to them, and not the residents as you might have presumed?
Maybe these development interests should be assuming the towns administrative costs directly, since it functions mainly for their benefit.
Shouldn't we Just drop the pretense!?
Let Mr. Ackley or Mr. Chesler pay for our police dept. and for the city attorney salaries directly and skip the "Town Council" as the puppet middlemen entirely.
With this efficiency, -we may not need any management, or to have need of a finance director at all. " Direct Pay "

Like this comment
Posted by Argee Snow
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 21, 2010 at 9:19 am

If there are criminal aspects of the "fiscal improprieties in Atherton's building and other departments", then should not these be pursued? The fragile ethical fabric of local government seems severely damaged in Atherton.

It seems there is a conflict of interest with the agreement between the town and Mr. Johns. That is, the agreement protects the individuals from lawsuits and these same individuals are negotiating this agreement and voting to approve it. That seems to have all the factors that make up a conflict of interest and probably would invalidate the agreement.

Should not these fiscal improprieties in Atherton's building and other departments be researched and then the problems and improprieties be corrected and damages remedied? While Mr. Johns' personal situation might be remedied, what steps have been taken - or should be taken - to fix the original issues with the town?

Are there any that will pool their resources to correct these improprieties and make a better town? Maybe several of the town management and police administrators should be replaced with people of higher moral and ethical values.

Like this comment
Posted by John P Johns, CPA
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Dear Argee Snow

The answer to your question is yes. There are criminal aspects to the fiscal improprieties in Atherton's building and other departments that I discovered while working as Atherton's Finance Director.

Additionally, that criminal behavior does involve members of the City Council. I do believe that, as you have hypothesized, the fear of such conduct being revealed as a result of my litigation was a driving factor in the Town comming to terms with me.

I am a CPA, not an attorney. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to comment on any possibility that the agreement the Town entered into could be invalidated as you have asked.

However I will say that I insisted that the agreement I entered into with the Town does not restrict my ability to speek freely about my experience. Since having signed this agreement I have done so and will continue to do so.

I have publicly called for an investigation by the California Attorney General into what I believe has been criminal conduct on the part of two members of the Atherton City Council as well as highly placed current and former members of the Atherton Police Department.

I welcome any efforts on the part of Athertonians to repair that moral fabric that has been so badly damaged in recent years.

Like this comment
Posted by Michael Stogner
a resident of another community
on Apr 22, 2010 at 8:25 am

Public notice: Steve Wagstaffe of the District Attorney's Office and our next District Attorney is fully aware of the criminal aspects that Mr. John Johns is reporting. He has known about this for a long time.

This is just one example of abuse of discretion on Steve Wagstaffe's watch.

The Board of Supervisors of San Mateo County are aware of Mr. John Johns criminal complaint.

Like this comment
Posted by DThomas
a resident of another community
on May 27, 2010 at 4:04 pm

With the changing of the guard OR just recasting the entire Board of who is ambitious as hell, is leaving for logical reasons, but is aiming higher (won't make it)
There is so much corruption and greed in ALL of the areas of San Mateo County.
I only trust Steve Jobs to do things honestly and I wish he would get politically involved.

Like this comment
Posted by Curious
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Aug 1, 2017 at 3:29 pm

Anyone know where John Johns is these days?

Like this comment
Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Aug 4, 2017 at 2:34 pm

Davis, California

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

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