A video of an Aug. 20 meeting in Atherton Town Hall between the city manager and three unhappy members of the public seeking public records remains on YouTube despite a privacy complaint by a town staff member and YouTube's threat to remove it.
The 8.5-minute video was posted by Atherton resident Jon Buckheit, who recorded the sometimes testy exchange between City Manager Jerry Gruber and a trio of aggrieved members of the public: himself, resident Kimberly Sweidy, and former finance director John Johns. All three have sued or are on the verge of suing Atherton for a range of complaints.
On Monday afternoon, Aug. 23, Mr. Buckheit received a message from the YouTube Support group notifying him that YouTube had "received a privacy complaint from an individual regarding your content."
"We would like to give you an opportunity to remove or edit your video so that it no longer potentially violates the privacy of the individuals involved," the message said.
As it turned out, the complaint was filed by staff member Melanie Brabenec, who works in the front office of Town Hall. Ms. Brabenec would not comment for this article. Mr. Gruber did not return a phone call and an e-mail request for comment.
Facing a 48-hour deadline for resolving the matter, Mr. Buckheit began an e-mail exchange with Mr. Gruber: "I look forward to a productive dialog on this issue that can resolve the possible conflict of rights that was created by the YouTube privacy complaint," Mr. Buckheit wrote midday on Aug. 24.
Mr. Gruber's response an hour and a half later revealed who filed the complaint, but subsequent requests by Mr. Buckheit for more information went unanswered. In addition to asking for more information, Mr. Buckheit offered a course of action: "If (Ms. Brabenec) would like to withdraw the privacy complaint ... I will waive any possible claims I may have against her or the town of Atherton ... ."
Early this afternoon (Aug. 25), Mr. Buckheit began an e-mail to Mr. Gruber: "The silence on your part in response to my reasonable requests for clarification has been deafening." And in conclusion: "Are you willing to respond to these messages at this point, or are you going to force another matter to litigation that didn't need to go there?"
Because the video remains online (as of 7 p.m. today), the question may remain unanswered. But if YouTube removes it because of the complaint, "I plan to, as a first step, give (Mr. Gruber) one more chance to respond and take corrective action."
He said the removal of the video would be a violation of his free speech rights to publish a recording of public employees performing public duties in a public space.
The video was made after Mr. Buckheit, Ms. Sweidy and Mr. Johns went to the building department on Aug. 20 to inspect documents that had been requested previously through written public records act requests; they were told by staff they needed to take their requests to the administrative office, and once there, Mr. Buckheit began videotaping.
The California Public Records Act requires public agencies to make non-confidential records available for inspection during the agency's business hours, but the trio was denied access to the documents they were asking to inspect.
"This whole thing has been a farce," Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac. "The town of Atherton has had this strategy of putting their heads in the sand and hoping (problems) go away."
But, he added, avoiding problems has resulted in even more of them, including litigation against the town. "They've got to change -- they've got to respond to people."
The video is at Atherton meeting