While it is still nearly two months before the consultants Atherton has hired to do a fiscal review of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District release their report, fire board President Peter Carpenter has taken a preemptive strike against what the report could conclude.
Mr. Carpenter has announced that as a private citizen he has formed a political action committee, which he registered with the state in early June. The Citizens' Fire Services Performance Committee, he said, plans to poll fire district residents about what the poll calls a "proposal" by Atherton to form its own fire district.
Atherton officials insist there currently is no such proposal, although the fiscal review of the fire district is looking at options for providing fire service to the town, including creating a municipal fire department, contracting with another fire service or creating a joint powers agreement with other regional agencies.
One of the questions in Mr. Carpenter's political action committee's first poll is prefaced with this statement: "A proposal to split off Atherton into its own district would result in two districts..."
The question, which he provided to the Almanac, will includes details such as how many firefighters and fire stations the proposed district would have, and even states the new district would have "no mutual aid agreement" with surrounding districts.
When pressed to explain where this proposal can be found, Mr. Carpenter said: "This (poll) question makes no assertion that the Council has adopted a specific proposal but is rather an expert opinion on what would happen if Atherton formed its own fire agency."
Mr. Carpenter would not say whose expert opinion he was relying on, but that he "consulted with knowledgeable people in whom I have confidence."
Mr. Carpenter also would not say if anyone else is involved in the committee, how much money it has raised or even how the polls would be conducted, saying that information was "embargoed."
"The Committee will make the survey methodology and results public when it chooses to do so," he said in an email.
In the papers filed to form the PAC, supplied by Mr. Carpenter to the Almanac, he is the only person named, and his home address, phone number and personal email are the contact information on the filing.
The purpose given for the committee is: "To conduct surveys regarding citizen satisfaction with current and alternative fire service models."
Atherton City Council member Rick DeGolia said that he has "no problem with a survey, but I do think that it would better serve the collective constituents of the Atherton City Council and the Menlo Park fire board if it were done by a third party organization and not by Peter Carpenter, who has been extremely vocal with his inaccurate perception that the purpose of the consultant is for Atherton to take tax dollars from the fire district."
Mr. DeGolia said the "proposal" asked about in the survey does not exist. "Peter Carpenter is the only person that I've heard articulate that there is such a proposal," he said. The "question appears to be designed to imply that Atherton is, in fact, seeking detachment. That is wrong," he said.
Atherton City Council member Bill Widmer said he was also surprised by some of the questions proposed in the survey, and that he wonders where Mr. Carpenter "is getting the facts and figures as they are not coming from the town."
"I see no reason for misinformation such as is included in the questions to be circulated by someone in a responsible position. I find it troubling and irresponsible," Mr. Widmer said.
In April, Atherton's City Council approved a contract with Matrix Consulting Group, a management consulting firm based in Mountain View, to conduct a fiscal review of the fire district.
The fire district, which provides fire, emergency medical and other emergency services to Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Atherton and some nearby unincorporated areas, receives more in property tax revenues from Atherton residents than the town itself does. The City Council said it wants to find out just what Atherton residents get for those tax dollars.
The $50,000 contract with Matrix will look at two questions:
• What are the costs, locally generated revenues, and benefits of service to Atherton from the Menlo Park Fire Protection District?
• What options -- such as a municipal fire department, contracting with another fire service or creating a joint powers agreement with other regional agencies -- are available for providing fire service to the town?
According to Matrix's proposal, the team conducting the study includes two former fire chiefs and a project manager who has conducted more than 150 fire and emergency medical services reviews nationwide.
Atherton City Manager George Rodericks said that on June 29 the consultants reported they had so far created a detailed organizational profile of the fire district, mostly from information provided by the district. They are also working with the county assessor to determine exactly how much Atherton-generated property tax revenues goes to the district.
Matrix's next step, he said, would be to look at the question of how much it would cost the town to get fire services somewhere other than from the fire district.