Atherton plans interim city manager


An interim city manager will be overseeing Town Hall in Atherton while the City Council sorts through resumes and eventually engages a citizens committee to help interview candidates to replace departing City Manager Jerry Gruber, who is leaving on Oct. 22 for a position in Cambria, California.

The City Council talked the matter over in a special meeting on Thursday, Sept. 30, sandwiched in between discussions about candidates for code enforcement officer, building official and city attorney.

The council, in a unanimous vote, agreed to have Mayor Kathy McKeithen and Councilman Jim Dobbie solicit resumes for an interim manager for review by the entire council in a special meeting on Oct. 16, a Saturday. A notice similar to the one used to hire Mr. Gruber will go up Monday, Oct. 4, at, an online clearinghouse for government job openings, he said.

It may be six months before the council decides on a permanent replacement from among resumes gathered by an executive recruiter, Mr. Gruber said in an interview.

The process is expected to include citizens committee interviews of council-chosen finalists from what is hoped to be as many as 100 applicants.

Fresh eyes

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis wanted citizens involved from the get-go by having them write a job description for the new manager.

"I think now is the time for true transparency in our process," she said. "I want to surround myself with the bright spots of the community who know more than me."

Hiring a recruiter? "That is not going to work," Ms. Lewis said. "Atherton is at a crossroads right now. ... I think that Atherton has entered into an era that we need to put away the old way of doing things."

An interim manager hired from the outside would have to be brought up to speed, Councilman Charles Marsala noted. Why not have Assistant City Manager Eileen Wilkerson fill in until a permanent choice is made?

An outsider will bring a fresh and possibly impartial perspective, Councilman Jerry Carlson said, and Mayor Kathy McKeithen and Councilman Jim Dobbie agreed. "Make the job very, very attractive," Mr. Dobbie added.

The town needs a good interim manager, Mayor McKeithen said. "One of the most important things is that we are not rushed," she added. "We need to make sure that we do this right."

Make the job very, very attractive? The town can't afford it, said resident and former private sector CEO Jon Buckheit. "We can't afford to pay a city manager $500,000 to get the right city manager here."

Better to skip recruiters -- "Recruiters are crooks," he said -- and look in Atherton. A resident will come cheaper and have a vested interest in the town's welfare, he said.

Another option bandied about is having government run more like business. That's a serious consideration for Ms. McKeithen. "Maybe it's time for government to run like a business," she said. "Maybe a business man or woman would be good for this town."

Council candidate Bill Widmer seconded that notion. "I believe we need to bring some business practices to the town," he told the council. "I think it's important that we are open to these kinds of thoughts and these types of people when we're making the selection."

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Like this comment
Posted by Bill Gates
a resident of another community
on Oct 4, 2010 at 2:21 pm

Now this really is a "Waiting for Superman" cause I can get behind! So, I'll pay the city manager's salary, since this financially-strapped village of Atherton can't afford it.

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Posted by Regime change needed
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Oct 4, 2010 at 3:31 pm

This is a great opportunity for a whole new regime. I thoroughly agree with the suggestion to look for an individual with years of private sector experience. We need someone who will set goals for the town AND the employees. We need someone who will actually manage the employees - sit down with them on a weekly basis, review priorities, review action items, get them to commit to a time-table and hold them accountable to meet their deadlines. We need someone who will question the "government as usual" practices of the town. We need someone who will root out wasteful spending. We need someone who will determine how productive employees are, and be willing to let them go if they don't meet a reasonable standard. We might not be able to change the U.S. government, but wouldn't it be great if we could at least change the way we run our town?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 4, 2010 at 6:35 pm

If you want someone that will "actually manage" the town, you will need someone that will tell the "gang of three" to stuff it when they try to exert control. You don't have that and you just have another Gruber.

Like this comment
Posted by Been There
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Oct 4, 2010 at 7:48 pm

Forget the "Recruiter" idea. Head Hunters have no real motivation to pick an appropriate candidate; they are only eager for their fee and be gone. The interim Town Manager candidate doesn't matter as much as the final selection. It should certainly not be the same person. Good that a citizen's committee of actual taxpayers will be involved in the ultimate decision. The council itself, all of them, have never been a bit reluctant to spend the taxpayers money . . . witness their enthusiasm for the parcel tax and its increases. Some even boast about it. Bad sign! They clearly assume that the more the town (taxpayers) offer, the better the candidate will perform. Not so! Credentials are the point here. Atherton already offers a utopia and needn't gild that lily with more cash.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 5, 2010 at 4:33 am

1 -There is a cadre of trained, experienced retired California city managers who are willing to serve an interim city/town managers under contract. They have the skills, experience, and lack of local political attachments that would serve the interim role well and they DO NOT want a full time job.

2 - When it comes to the job description lets first look at our own local constitionion - the Atherton Ordinances - they are our LAW"

This is what the Town Ordinance specifies are the responsibilities of the Town Manager:

2.12.070 Powers and duties.

The city manager shall be the administrative head of the government of the town under the direction and control of the city council, except as otherwise provided in this chapter. He shall be responsible for the efficient administration of all the affairs of the town which are under his control. In addition to his general powers as administrative head, and not as a limitation thereon, it shall be his duty and he shall have the powers set forth in the following subsections:

A. To see that all laws and ordinances of the town are duly enforced and that all franchises, permits and privileges granted by the town are faithfully observed;

B. To control, order and give directions to all heads of departments, except the city attorney, and to subordinate officers and employees of the town through their department head, and consolidate or combine offices, positions, departments or units under his direction;

C. To appoint, remove and demote any and all officers and employees of the town except the mayor, councilmen, chairman and members of the planning commission and the city attorney;

D. To represent the town in its negotiations and working relationships with the state, the county and other governmental jurisdictions; provided, that any contracts negotiated for the exchange of services from any such other governmental jurisdiction shall be subject to approval by the city council;

E. To perform all of the duties and powers imposed by law on the city clerk or city auditor;

F. To attend all meetings of the city council of the town unless excused therefrom by the council;

G. To recommend to the city council for adoption such measures or ordinances as he deems necessary or expedient;

H. To keep the city council at all times fully advised as to the financial conditions and needs of the town;

I. To prepare and submit the proposed annual budget and the proposed annual salary plan to the city council for its approval, and to supervise the administration of the budget after its adoption;

J. To purchase all supplies for all of the departments or divisions of the town. No expenditures shall be submitted or recommended to the city council except on report or approval of the city manager. He shall approve all warrants drawn on the town before payment thereof;

K. To make investigations into the affairs of the town or any department or division thereof and any contract for the proper performance thereof;

L. To investigate all complaints in relation to matters concerning the administration of the town government and in regard to the service maintained by public utilities in such town;

M. To exercise general supervision over all public buildings, public parks and all other public property which are under the control and jurisdiction of the city council;

N. To devote full time to the duties of his office and the interest of the town. The city manager shall not be employed by or work for any other person, corporation or entity, whether or not compensated therefor;

O. To perform such other duties and exercise such other powers as may be delegated to him from time to time by ordinance or resolution or other action of the city council;

P. To attend any and all meetings of any commissions or boards created by the city council upon his own volition or upon direction of the city council. At any such meetings at which he attends, the city manager shall be heard by such commissions and boards as to all matters upon which he wishes to address them. (Ord. 274 ยง 7, 1967)


Hopefully the next Town Manager will be selected with these duties in mind and then given the support of the council to carry them out.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 5, 2010 at 4:35 am

The League of California Cities, to which Atherton belongs, maintains a roster of retired city managers who are available for interim assignments.

Like this comment
Posted by talent scout
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 6, 2010 at 8:56 am

Atherton needs more than an overpaid underachieving babysitter. It needs a leader.

Atherton needs Jon Buckheit.

Settle with him now and clear the path for his assuming his rightful position.

We need someone who understands the Town's problems, not an outsider.

Like this comment
Posted by Atherton taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Oct 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm

Help me with time line here-
Mr. Buckheit calls the APD for help in a domestic disturbance, is wrongfully arrested by said police, he uses his resources to be exonerated, then files a federal civil suit against the Town, and this qualifies him as City Manager how exactly?

Like this comment
Posted by talent scout
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Oct 7, 2010 at 5:35 am

First off, Jon Buckheit doesn't come from that very shallow gene pool of former city managers that have been dumped for one reason or another by another city.

Secondly, Jon Buckheit is acutely aware of and was deeply affected by the corruption that plagues the Atherton Town Goverment. McKeithen may call this "baggage". I consider it an asset.

Unless one knows the devil within, that devil will continue to lurk within causing destruction at will.

Finally, Jon Buckheit made his fortune by conceiving a product and successfully bringing that product to market.

We all seem to forget that local government is in the business of producing product, the product being municipal services.

In short Buckheit is the right man at the right time. All the City Council needs to do is reconcile with him.

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Cambrian
a resident of another community
on Oct 24, 2010 at 2:08 pm

Give us advice on Gruber -we're on the receiving end and wonder if he's probusiness, prodesalination, pro no bid contracts? Our current city manager who has run our town into the dumps in order to expedite a desal plant we've never voted for, and Gruber may replace her. What's your take on Gruber? What are we getting ourselves into?

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

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