Editorial: Critique of Athertonians blog is off base | May 30, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - May 30, 2012

Editorial: Critique of Athertonians blog is off base

One of the cornerstones of our democracy is the free exchange of ideas, no matter how upsetting those ideas might be to another person or institution. Unless it is defamatory or libelous, citizens of this country are permitted to write or say just about anything they please, without prior restraint, even though it may be untrue or outrages local government officials.

A good lesson in First Amendment rights is playing out now in Atherton, where some members of the City Council are livid about a local blog and email message group that calls itself "Athertonians," which they say is too similar to "The Athertonian," the title of the city's official newsletter. A majority of the council wants the blog to change its name. But to us and many others in Atherton, the name is a red herring. The real problem the blog presents to the council majority is its strident opposition to the town's plan to build a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park.

Athertonians is hardly an upstart, single-minded enterprise. It has been around for eight years, but did not attract much attention until its members started to strongly oppose the library project, which the council majority is attempting to push through despite many calls for a city-wide vote.

The disagreement between the anonymous bloggers and the town has reached a boiling point. But the majority of council members, and the city's lawyer, insist that the effort "...to go ahead and get started in shutting it down," as Councilman Jim Dobbie put it a few weeks ago, is not about the blog's content but about the confusion caused by the similarity of the names "Athertonians" and "The Athertonian." Town officials say they have had numerous residents question whether the Athertonians, a Yahoo group, was an official publication of the town. Even current Mayor Bill Widmer said he has taken part in the group since before he was elected to the City Council several years ago, and initially thought the site was sponsored by the town.

This "tempest in a teapot" might easily be resolved with a simple name change or explanation in the heading of Athertonians, except for the underlying feud between some town leaders and what appears to be a sizeable number of town residents who are using the blog to criticize the effort to build the library in the park.

Strong words have been published on the blog, and library supporters say their views are not posted. The council majority of Mayor Widmer and members Jim Dobbie and Kathy McKeithen seems determined to make life as painful as possible for the Athertonians, directing city staff to urge its anonymous moderators to change the group's name, and if they don't, prepare to take legal action. At the council's April l8 meeting, Mr. Dobbie said, "It's high time we do something."

But from the looks of it, the blog moderators are not going to back down, telling the Almanac that the Athertonians is "distinct from the name used by the town for its infrequent newsletter, 'The Athertonian.' As such, we have no hesitation in assuring you that we are not discontinuing our use of a name we have held for eight years."

In this case, the First Amendment rights of the Athertonians clearly trump any upset felt by the council members or city officials about the blog's content or the possible confusion from the similarity of names to The Athertonian. Any judge would want to know why the city is just now objecting to the confusion, eight years after the blog was created. In this situation, it appears that the council majority is rowing upstream against an increasingly vociferous group of residents who in the Athertonians have an effective communications tool.

It may be time for the majority to back off, agree to put the library move to a vote and end the efforts to smother the ever-growing band of critics. We think a good case can be made to build a new library in the park with funds that are not available for any other use than the library. It is remarkable how Atherton can tie itself in knots over such a simple project. But continuing this fight makes no sense for either side.


Posted by Voted Needed, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 6, 2012 at 6:45 pm


Thank you for suggesting the council majority approve a vote on moving the library to the park.

It would be interesting to hear what others think of the idea to use the $5,000,000 surplus to improve the current library and with the rest for a Joint Venture with Menlo College to replace its outdated library. Menlo College could also offer adult education classes as part of the agreement.

This library would be on a bus route with more accessibility then the park.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 6, 2012 at 8:19 pm

The Town has no more right to the tile/name Athertonians than does the city government of Rome to the title/name Romans or the city government of New York to the title/name New Yorkers.

The proper role of government is to serve its citizens not to censure or sue them. What about the title public servant do they not understand?

Posted by Ed, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Peter this private little group was originally called "Athertonians for Better Governance" as a vehicle to launch a recall of McKiethan campaign (circa 2004) which quickly failed and then went underground to grumble and plot, founding members were the Manas/Salzmans, Marsala, Gardner,Lewis and the like.
While It may be of some interest that Charles is still trying to get his mitts on the library reserves after another ten years, I am disappointed to see you missing the bigger picture on what really going on here with the moderators of this group.
Trust me, this is not the Group of 100 that you had hoped for.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 6, 2012 at 10:15 pm

As an Athertonian, i.e. a citizen of Atherton, I care not what might be the agenda of others who are also citizens of Arherton and who rightfully also call themselves Athertonians. The bigger picture is the right of citizens to identify themselves as members of the community in which they live.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 6, 2012 at 10:38 pm

Peter's comment is interesting. A person from New York can call himself a "New Yorker", but there is a magazine called "The New Yorker" and if I published another magazine called "New Yorker", or "New Yorkers", there would be a trademark dispute from "The New Yorker" over the confusion that would create.

I understand there is a magazine called "The Athertonian" and this group is causing some confusion. It's not about telling a resident of Atherton that he or she cannot call himself or herself an "Athertonian".

This is a more intricate issue than what Peter is making it out to be, even if he ultimately turns out to be correct.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 7, 2012 at 6:20 am

In addition to the Athertonians Yahoo Group there is now an Athertonians Google Group - I think a court would hold that these two groups are distinctively different since they have the same 'surname' but different 'family' names.

Web Link

Posted by T&A -- Transparency & Accountability , a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 7, 2012 at 9:14 am

Atherton’s Political history has repeated

The ACIL was formed fifty years ago to oppose the Council on a land use decision, it continued to exist as a council watchdog and have its members elected to council. McKeithen ran in 2000 with the backing of the ACIL and with an ACIL Director as her running mate. They campaigned on Term Limits, Transparency, Accountability, and Responsive Stewardship to town Government.

She has since abandoned Term Limits and will be seeking her fourth term in a couple of months.

Eight years ago the council started passing illegal taxes on construction with the leadership of McKeithen, who was on the Finance Committee. The Town reserves grew quickly and the ACIL did not challenge her. However a new group of residents organized and three times illegal taxes were refunded to the residents.

Around that time someone or a group realized it would be great to have an email list and blog to advise residents of Council Agenda items; so residents would know when there were important council votes, attend meetings and express their objections to council actions. Athertonians@yahoogroups was formed.

Against what appears to be 75% of the town’s wishes McKeithen has pushed for a library in the park. On November 16, 2011 after a council agenda was posted on the Athertonian’s website advising of a library agenda item and the process not being transparent, McKeithen sent an email to the city attorney which read: “It has been now been over a week since I put you and John Danielson on notice that the EPC was illegally operating its Town website and its part “Ownership” of the Athertonians’ e-mail list….I am letting you know that I intend to go to the Grand Jury next week to investigate these matters.”

Currently it takes three votes of the council to place an item on the agenda. Thus McKeithen, Dobbie, and Widmer control what is on the agenda.

Efforts to “Shut Down” the Athertonians’ email are not promoting Transparency , Accountability, and Responsible Stewardship from the Atherton Council has.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 7, 2012 at 9:32 am

As the owner and manager of the Athertonians Google Group I would welcome any attempt by the Town to shut down this group however such an effort will 1) deeply embarrass the Town and 2) fail.

Posted by Go Peter!!, a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 7, 2012 at 9:41 am

Go Peter!!

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jun 7, 2012 at 10:00 am

Those citizens of Atherton who wish to show their support for Transparency , Accountability, and Responsible Stewardship by citizen are encouraged to join this Google Group:

Web Link

Posted by Michaeltug, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 6, 2017 at 12:26 pm

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