Atherton: New mayor wants to boost technology, public access | January 4, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - January 4, 2012

Atherton: New mayor wants to boost technology, public access

by Barbara Wood and Renee Batti

Bill Widmer, who was the top vote-getter when he was elected to his first term on Atherton's City Council a little over a year ago, was appointed mayor Dec. 21 by his fellow council members. Elizabeth Lewis was named vice mayor.

Both received the unanimous votes of their fellow council members.

It was Mr. Widmer who nominated Ms. Lewis as vice mayor, but only after saying he had been lobbied to nominate someone else. "I think there's a situation with fairness and I think there's also a situation with effectiveness," he said. "I think I've come down on fairness."

Mayor Widmer, who served the past year as vice mayor, said he has several goals for the year, including trying to replace the town's many interim employees with permanent ones. "It needs to be a year of settling things down," he said. "We need to pay more attention to detail in our operations."

Interim staff members include the top decision-maker in Town Hall: John Danielson, whose tenure as interim city manager began Jan. 3 of last year, and whose contract will expire Jan. 2.

Because the town has yet to conduct a search for a new manager, the council finds itself in a difficult position: Mr. Danielson, a retired city manager of Elk Grove, cannot continue receiving his pension if he works more than one year for Atherton because of a California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) rule. But the council, clearly happy with the job Mr. Danielson has done over the past year, wants to keep him around until a new manager is hired.

At its Dec. 21 meeting, the council approved sending an urgent letter to CalPERS asking for an exemption from the rule, in the hope that Mr. Danielson could continue in the job for up to another year. The town had yet to learn of CalPERS' decision by the Almanac's press time.

If CalPERS approves the request, Mr. Widmer hopes a new manager will be hired well before the year's end, he said in an interview after the meeting. "I'd like to move as quickly as we can," he said. "I'd like to bring in a search firm and start looking at candidates" after the council formally approves such a move.

"It's important that we get started — we can't keep kicking the can down the road," he said.

Mayor Widmer's ideal candidate would be "somebody who's got city government experience, but I'd like (him or her to have) some business experience as well," he said, adding that the town "is a services business."

Other management positions being held by interim staff are those of the police chief, the finance director, and the public works director.

Mayor Widmer also said he wants to make good on his campaign commitments to improve citizen participation and access to information through technology. He told the Almanac that he will explore webcasting, possibly even televising, council and committee meetings. Another technology he wants to look at is one in which residents can "dial in" during a meeting to speak from a remote location.

During the Dec. 21 meeting, Mayor Widmer promised to work at "improving our openness to the public." He said he might try to hold council meetings in non-traditional locations. He later said that Menlo College has offered its auditorium for meetings, and he also wants to look at high school and elementary school campuses as other options.

Meeting at other venues might provide better access and a friendlier environment for residents, which would encourage more attendance, he said.

Mr. Widmer has lived in Atherton since 1996. He works for France Telecom's Orange Business Services as a deputy vice president and has an undergraduate degree in computer science as well as a master's degree in business administration from Texas Christian University.