Atherton: Colleagues question mayor's call for collaborative spirit | January 30, 2013 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - January 30, 2013

Atherton: Colleagues question mayor's call for collaborative spirit

by Renee Batti

Two City Council colleagues have called into question the sincerity of Atherton Mayor Elizabeth Lewis' statement last month sounding the call for a more collaborative council after Ms. Lewis bypassed them for all committee appointments they had requested.

Appointed in December by her colleagues to a one-year term as mayor, Ms. Lewis had urged council members to "put aside personal agendas," and emphasized the need for more civility on the council, which for years had been marked by public bickering and the exchange of accusations of bad faith.

"I am greatly saddened by the mayor's committee assignments," Councilman Jim Dobbie said in a written statement read, in his absence, by Councilman Bill Widmer at the Jan. 16 council meeting. "She has deliberately excluded from all the important Atherton and relevant committees the two council members who have the most successful business experience."

Mr. Widmer followed his colleague's statement with his own, saying he was disappointed that he wasn't assigned to any committee or regional agency he had requested, and was placed on regional committees he found meaningless or couldn't serve on because of his schedule.

The mayor traditionally appoints two council members to each major town committee at the beginning of each year. One alternative is also appointed. Council members are also appointed to represent the town on regional agencies, such as the City/County Association of Governments and the Menlo Park Fire Protection District.

Council members Dobbie and Widmer were particularly peeved at having been left off the Audit/Finance Committee despite their current membership on it and their requests for reappointment. Mayor Lewis appointed herself and Vice Mayor Jerry Carlson, with new council member Cary Wiest named the alternative.

In his written statement, Mr. Dobbie said: "In the last two years Bill Widmer and myself have been key players in changing this town from a financially irresponsibly run administration gradually descending into bankruptcy into an administration which is now running on normal business principles and is close to breakeven financially." Mr. Widmer, too, argued that he and Mr. Dobbie have the strongest financial backgrounds, and should have been allowed to continue their work on the committee.

But Mayor Lewis said in an email that there had been a tradition of the mayor and vice mayor sitting on the finance committee, and that Mr. Widmer broke that tradition last year when, as mayor, he appointed Mr. Dobbie rather than her. "In my judgment, the mayor and vice mayor should be on Finance," she said.

Mayor Lewis said she used her best judgment in making the appointments, and noted that the number of committees that council members serve on dropped from eight last year to only four this year — meaning there were only eight seats to fill rather than 16.

Mr. Widmer noted, however, that with eight spots to fill "you'd think that each (of the five) council members could have been given one seat" that he specifically requested.

Council members Widmer and Dobbie were assigned seats on one committee only: the Environmental Programs Committee. Mr. Wiest, the only council member who requested that committee, was appointed the alternate.

Mayor Lewis, Mr. Carlson and Mr. Wiest, who is serving his first term, were each assigned seats on two committees.

Former council member Kathy McKeithen also took aim at Mayor Lewis at the meeting. Citing the mayor's call for greater transparency and a more collaborative council, Ms. McKeithen said the committee assignments didn't support the mayor's words, and instead represented a "personal vendetta" against two council members who often were on different sides of an issue from Ms. Lewis and Mr. Carlson.

In her email, Mayor Lewis said that not everyone gets the appointment he or she requests. "... (T)ruthfully, my personal experience over the past four years was that I did not get the assignments I wanted; however, I accepted the assignments (and) proceeded to serve as requested."

One example, she said, was when she was denied her request in 2010 to be reappointed to the Transportation Committee. Then-mayor McKeithen, she said, "denied my request" and replaced her with Mr. Dobbie.

Mayor Lewis said she wished Mr. Widmer had talked to her before the meeting if he was unhappy with the appointments.


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