Atherton council greenlights staff, spending cuts


Major staffing and spending cuts are likely to be made soon in Atherton City Hall after the City Council, in a special meeting this morning (May 9), gave the town's interim manager the support he was seeking to begin the difficult process.

A presentation by finance director Louise Ho early on in the 8 a.m. meeting revealed sobering budgetary figures that project deficit spending of about $856,000 in the 2011-12 budget, assuming no salary increases and no capital improvement spending.

She also projected that the town's reserves, which have been tapped into in recent years to balance the budget, will be exhausted by 2015, offering no bail-out of the town's projected $1.2 million deficit in the 2015-16 fiscal year.

"This is the picture of a structurally insolvent (entity)," interim City Manager John Danielson told grim-faced council members after Ms. Ho's presentation.

Atherton's 2010-11 operating budget is about $10.6 million.

Noting that 80 percent of the town's costs are for labor, he said there is no way to solve the problem without cutting staff. And, he said, he must begin the process soon to complete the 2011-12 budget, "although I don't have a final tally" on which services and employees will be affected.

Council members Jerry Carlson and Kathy McKeithen, and Mayor Jim Dobbie, told Mr. Danielson that they would support whatever cuts he felt he must make, noting that he was hired to tackle the town's growing fiscal crisis. "John, whatever you need to do, you have my support," Ms. McKeithen said. "Good luck to you and good luck to the town."

"He'll be using a scalpel, not an ax," said Mayor Dobbie. "Therefore, he has my support."

Councilman Bill Widmer acknowledged that the town must take "a hard look at how we're providing services," but added that caution must be taken to retain the "institutional knowledge" that many staff members provide. "I offer my support and expertise to (help) decide what to outsource," he said.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis complained that the public wasn't informed about the special meeting in sufficient fashion. "I know a number of people who would have liked to be here," she said, adding that the majority of residents "have no idea" the meeting was being held. "We are remiss in the outreach" needed to inform residents, she said.

Ms. Lewis also said Ms. Ho's presentation of budget projections was "the first I've seen of these numbers."

After the meeting, Mayor Dobbie defended the scheduling of the meeting, saying that the town announced it well in advance of the 24 hours required for a special meeting. The agenda was posted and notices sent out on Thursday, May 5.

On May 5, Mr. Danielson told the Almanac the meeting had been scheduled for 8 a.m. Monday because of scheduling conflicts among council members. Time to complete the budget is running short, he said, so it was necessary to call a special meeting quickly to give the council "one last opportunity to say I'm on the right track" with his strategy for addressing the budget shortfall.

Not so Ducky

Because the special meeting is certain to be followed by layoffs and spending cuts, one town resident who has followed the budget woes of the town was stunned to see a police car in the detail area of Ducky's Car Wash in Menlo Park shortly after the meeting.

The resident, who asked that his name not be used, was there to get a price on having his own car detailed -- which, at $180, he determined to be too much. He asked staff at the carwash what it will cost the police department for detailing the patrol car, and was told $200 to $250, he told the Almanac. "I couldn't believe it," he said.

The resident soon after called Mayor Dobbie, who then put a call in to the city manager, Mr. Dobbie told the Almanac. The mayor said he's reserving judgment until he learns more, but his initial reaction was: "It's absolutely unbelievable to me. You can get your car washed on Marsh Road for $6."

After checking out the situation, the interim manager, Mr. Danielson, said he learned that each of the police department's patrol cars gets detail service once a year, at a cost of only $150. The cars are driven 24 hours a day, he said, and "they get a lot of dings and scratches." The detail work helps prevent rusting and other problems.

"We keep those cars a long time, too," he said.

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Like this comment
Posted by peter carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 9, 2011 at 12:13 pm

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Danielson was hired to provide exactly this kind of leadership and the Council is to be commended for supporting his proposed plan of action.

The next steps will be painful but are essential if the Town is to remain solvent.

Wee done.

Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 9, 2011 at 12:47 pm

Atherton is in a tough position. Thanks to Dobbie, McKeithen, Carlson, and Widmer for your leadership. Lewis was out pruning her yard on Saturday as I drove by - if she thought people were not adequately notified perhaps she should have been wielding a phone and not pruning shears.

Like this comment
Posted by I love Atherton
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 9, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Nicely said Chris!

Like this comment
Posted by Very interesting
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 9, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Isn't it interesting that Elizabeth Lewis said not enough time was available for this meeting. Isn't it interesting that a real estate developer said the same thing at the beginning. Isn't it interesting that Elizabeth Lewis said if the town is running out of money, we can just keep doing more parcel taxes.

The previous finance director put a road impact fee in place that balanced the town's budget. It was a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of millions in profit the real estate developers were making.

But they complained to Charles Marsala, who colluded with them to have the fee removed. Lewis went along with this. And now taxpayers should shell out more money because real estate developers got greedy and didn't want to pay their fair share, and police are greedy and want to make too much money?

Someone needs to explain this to me as I just don't get it.

Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of another community
on May 9, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Excessive spending on car wash coupons and auto detailing by the Atherton Police Department was one of the items the former finance director flagged in his review of the department's spending, a review he conducted at the request of the Finance Committee.

We all know what happened to him. His office was raided and he was accused of creating a hostile work environment.

Danielson looks as though all he cares about is extending his tenure. The notion that patrol sedans get detailed just once a year is ludicrous.

Sorry Ms. McKeithen, Mr. Dobbie and Mr. Widmer, it'll take take someone with a whole lot more courage and honesty than Danielson to clean the PD up.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 9, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Remember that Danielson has already brought in a truly independent outside investigator to pursue that latest complaint against the PD.

I will comfortable place my bets on Danielson leaving Atherton in much shape than when he arrived last December.

Like this comment
Posted by Independence
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on May 9, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Peter may be correct about Danielson leaving Atherton in better shape than when he started. That's setting a pretty low bar. I might even go so far as to say Danielson will likely have done a credible and good job. On the other hand, there is no justification for the excuse generation about the auto detailing. "Detailing" a police car, for $150? You've got to be kidding me. It's ridiculous. His comment should have been, "I didn't know about this, and I've put an end to it. That type of spending is irresponsible, disrespectful, and inappropriate. It won't happen again." People are going to lose jobs. That's serious. "Detailing" a police car in that type of environment is appalling.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 10, 2011 at 12:59 am

The Fireman routinely detail their own fire trucks during their down time--why aren't the police expected to do the same to maintain public property. Are they too busy in their gym?
If Danialson had any intention of reigning in costs from the APD's 50% plus side of the budget then he would NOT have leaped to their defense on this rather timely frill, with in an hour of his claim that all staff were going to have to tighten their belts.
I will have to assume that like his recent predecessors, This City Manager is afraid to touch the sacred cow, and will just make an elaborate show of outsourcing the Building Dept. and Public Works to CSG or INNER WEST--which ever fate that Neil Martin has pre-arranged.
The Town will become run from San Carlos
Did anybody notice that Glen Neilson left the meeting immediately after Ms. Lewis gave her shtick....and with Flairity??

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 10, 2011 at 2:18 am

This is a classic case of a rumor mill run amok - an anonymous poster made a comment about what Danielson is alleged to have said about an event that may or may not have occurred and then Danielson is criticized for what he may or may not have said about an event that may or may not have occurred.

Please, just the facts.

Like this comment
Posted by Facts
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 10, 2011 at 8:36 am

Peter - Danielson admitted the car detailing and defended it to the Almanac in the updated article associated with this thread.

Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Why is Carpenter pinning his hopes on Danielson. The guy's got a 960 hour limit on his contract. He's going to be gone in two months. Then who are we going to count upon?

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on May 10, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Sometimes an interim manager, with no long term commitments, no established loyalties and the freedom to make tough decisions, can have a big impact.

Hopefully a POSITIVE impact.

Like this comment
Posted by Honest Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 10, 2011 at 2:40 pm

If "80% of the town's costs are for labor", how do you define "labor"? Based upon media reports, very substantial sums of money are paid to settle liability claims against the "town" for alleged wrongdoing by the staff who are being paid for their "labor". Those causing the huge settlement awards should be the first to be let go.
If "labor" is 80 % of the costs, what % of costs is the payment of liability claims?

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Does any body know the status of the "Town Efficiency Review" report ordered several months ago by either the council and or city manager?
It seems like NOW would be a good time to make this report available to the public who paid for it if it is complete instead of AFTER the hiring of five more police officers (who can never be laid off) and AFTER the elimination by out sourcing of all Public Works and Building Department employees.

Like this comment
Posted by Honest Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 11, 2011 at 7:15 pm

I suggest to Ed that he go to the town offices on Ashfield and request a copy of the Town Efficiency Review. If you are unable to obtain a copy, you can make a written Freedom of Information Act request for the document. It would be helpful if the report is published in The Almanac.

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm

So has anybody actually seen the efficiency experts "Department Review Report" for Atherton yet? Has Danielson released it yet?

Like this comment
Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on May 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

The agenda for Wednesday night's closed session council meeting lists the Sweidy's/Broadacres multi million dollar construction litigation as the only item for discussion. Interestingly the Open session agenda already states that there will be no "report out from closed session" which apparently a "given".
With the Town's financial situation being what it already is, and the layers of unanswered questions about how the unresolved problems of the past have led us here, a few reminders of context may be worth consideration.
First--the Broadacres project has been going on for many more years than I have seen referenced in any of the press coverage over the last year. It actually started closer to the time frame of Hood's retirement and the brief consecutive tenures of the various
interim building officials like Gary Binger and Mike Cully of CSG, both of whom were necessarily reliant on Ms Lois English who was still the "Office Specialist" for the Building Department at that time, and had not yet been "transfered out". The upheaval in that department and the surprising resistance to the finance director's ongoing audit may well explain the how the Sweidy project got off on the wrong foot to begin with.
Also during this same time frame of about 2006 or earlier Ms English and Councilman Marsala were widely known to have been active in rallying the development community to protest the new fees imposed on those making money off the use of town services for personal gain. One scandal in particular that I can recall involved Ms English calling up favored developers to encourage them to file "place holder permits" in advance of the implementation of the new fee requirements. This was followed quickly by the many lawsuits for over a million dollars worth of "refunds" which is precisely the amount of the town;s current budget shortfall.
Really folks!!--Is it any wonder that the previous finance director ended up tearing out all of his hair and nashing his teeth.

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