Atherton scrambling to fix records access


On the heels of an Aug. 20 showdown in Town Hall over access to public records, Atherton officials are scrambling to fix the problem they've identified as the root of the town's difficulties in producing building department records of housing permits, inspections and other documents.

The problem, City Manager Jerry Gruber said, is that not all data was migrated from old software to the software installed in 2007. "Unfortunately, we made the assumption the migration was complete" when the town switched to the new record-keeping software, he told The Almanac.

"We're doing everything we can at the staff level to resolve this," he said, adding that he will also approach the City Council for funding approval to hire an expert to complete the data migration so that "we'll be able to pull reports really easily."

At the same time, Mr. Gruber is taking a conciliatory approach with the two people who confronted him on Aug. 20, demanding to see public records they had requested via state Public Records Act letters. The records were not made available that day to resident Kimberly Sweidy and former town employee John Johns.

Mr. Johns, who successfully sued the town over wrongful termination, threatened to take legal action to force the town to produce the records if it didn't do so by Aug. 27.

Mr. Johns said on Sept. 3 that he had not taken the legal step after receiving assurances from the town that real efforts were being made to retrieve the records he was seeking. In an Aug. 26 e-mail to Mr. Johns, Mr. Gruber wrote: "I would like to express my regret for the frustration you are experiencing. ... (T)he town is committed to working with you to provide any disclosable public records you request."

On Sept. 1, Deputy City Clerk Theresa DellaSanta sent Mr. Johns a sample page of data the staff had retrieved through an involved process, and said she would prepare a disk with all the material -- numbering more than 25,000 pages -- once he confirms the data is what he requested.

"The town does appear to be making the necessary efforts" to retrieve the records, Mr. Johns told The Almanac.

Town staff also worked with Ms. Sweidy to arrange a meeting between her and the town's part-time interim building official to discuss the records she is seeking on the permit approvals, inspections and other building department involvement with the construction of her home. Ms. Sweidy has accused the department of "gross negligence" in the performance of its duties.

The town switched from Q&A software to Trakit software after questions were raised about record-keeping and other discrepancies in the building department in an audit performed by Mr. Johns, who was the town's finance director at the time.

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Like this comment
Posted by Looking Back
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 8, 2010 at 8:19 pm

The fact that Atherton's officials, such as Mr. Gruber, suddenly appear to have turned about and become conciliatory and "open" does little to explain why they didn't simply offer these explanations in the first place. Why did Mr. Gruber read from a prepared statement (in the video) that didn't even answer the questions being asked on the day of confrontation instead of being open and honest then? I smell a new angle in the old obstructionism game which will end in non-compliance. Much of what you are seeking has already and deliberately been destroyed. Too much incriminating evidence there and they knew it. Remember the Nixon tapes? Don't hold your breath Johns and Sweidy; this is just a stall. I believe you're still being "had". It's nice that you are willing to believe their story, but watch your back! The rest of us are.

Like this comment
Posted by alexander haig
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 8, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Who is in charge here? Is it Johns? Is it Buckheit? Is it McKeithen? It sure doesn't appear as though Mr Gruber has any control over what is going on in Town Hall.

Like this comment
Posted by Power behind the throne
a resident of Atherton: other
on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:09 pm

McKeithen and Johns work for Buckheit. If you don't support the cops, this is going to continue and get worse.

Like this comment
Posted by broomstick
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:40 pm

The best way to support the cops is to give Guerra a free hand in clearing out the dead wood and getting rid of the bad actors.

Most officers are hard working and honest. Unfortunately some don't belong in a uniform. Guerra desparately needs help if the Atherton PD is going to survive.

Like this comment
Posted by Nonsense
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Sep 8, 2010 at 10:56 pm

That's all utter nonsense (Alexander Haig, Power behind the throne, and especially Broomstick). Buckheit and McKeithen already offered to give Guerra the tool he needed to clean house, the civillian police review board. The police department lobbied various council members to turn this down, and Guerra needs to take responsibility for this. The department is going to get shut down. Face it. They deserve it. They had their chance. Now it's too late. Don't blame Buckheit. Don't blame McKeithen. It's the fault of Guerra and the cops for not acting on what they offered when they had the chance.

Like this comment
Posted by black and blue
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Sep 9, 2010 at 1:13 am

I anticipate the usual wait,
for the predictable newspaper article,
with the inevitable announcment that the latest (of many) investigation into Atherton police misconduct (and how the Bld Dept problems might be connected),
will be UNavailable to all council members and the public as determined by some future city attorney because;
A) If the the council is known to be aware of the truth, they would be in the uncomfortable position of being expected to correct it. They prefer to demure.
B) Questions might be asked about why the council has learned nothing at all from the last three investigations or the last several grand jury reports, or any of the personnel disasters.
C) How would the overly fortunate continue to feel special and important if they don't receive special treatment, creatively bent rules or kept secrets.
D) We are going to need to stall just a few years longer to have enough time to spend a seizable fortune on a new deluxe police headquarters--several million on this monument and then, for sure! no council person will ever admit that it might have been a mistake to build it to begin with, this will insure permanent job security for APOA pension mill.

But sincerest Good luck to Chief Guerra in all of this. He has a lot to navigate here--the famously dysfunctional Atherton council, MacGruber--that big fat "Blue Line"--and too many retired puppet masters with strings left all over town.

Like this comment
Posted by James Thompson
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

I do not live in Atherton currently - but I did. I am not a lawyer, but I do run a large business.

I read the story, then the postings that follow (as I do weekly with most Atherton stories. It is very clear to me that a few people have issues with the police department ande Chief Guerra. From what I have read in THIS story - it has nothing at all to do with the police department nor the Chief.

What is clear is that certain people choose this forum to bloviate about subjects not even related for pure personal reasons. I would guess either former employees or those who have been arrested. Either way, stand-up, use your real name and stay on topic.

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

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