Letter: Anonymous Athertonians site misleads users | June 13, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - June 13, 2012

Letter: Anonymous Athertonians site misleads users

The private, anonymously administered Athertonians Yahoo Group misrepresents itself, breaks its own rules regarding inclusion, and manipulates its membership rolls. These are not generalizations. Here are the facts of my interchange with this group:

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Posted by Hotmail Athertonians
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 12, 2012 at 7:55 pm


I just went to the home page of the Athertonians and see this only this statement: “A blog by Athertonians for the open discussion of matters of importance to the residents of Atherton, CA. Note this group is not affiliated formerly with the Town of Atherton, CA and therefore may not represent positions supported by the town council.”

Perhaps since your wife Kathy is on the council, the moderators have chosen to prevent you from posting in line with the above policy. There are no posts from any council member regardless of whether they agree with the Park and Recreation Committee Recommendation to survey the town on moving the library to the park or do not.

Peter Carpenter has started a new “Athertonians @ Google.” Do you believe his group also has an identity issue? Will someone start “Athertonians@Hotmail” next? Is the council going to go after them as well.

The blog is not a group as you state. There are no meetings, no editorials, no objectives and posts seem to be limited. There is only 1 post for all of 2009, 10 posts for 2010, and 26 posts for 2011. There is only one post on the blog for the month of June 2012, which includes comments from Council Member Kathy McKeithen, Walter Sleeth who both support a county library in the park without a town survey/ vote. The blog has been around for years simply informing residents of issues confronting Atherton.

This blog informs residents of upcoming votes the council is making and allows residents to post their comments. That should be helpful to council members to gage the pulse of the community.

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Posted by Hotmail Athertonians
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 13, 2012 at 12:24 am

What misrepresentation do you refer to on the Athertonian Blog regarding the Draft EIR? I could not find one.

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Posted by Hotmail
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 13, 2012 at 12:29 am

Only 25% of those that responded to the survey favor moving the library to the park. There is no “group” having an opinion, nor a “group” to propose an alternative. However at numerous council and planning commission meetings residents have mentioned possible alternative sites: Flood Park, the existing site, Menlo College, and Fair Oaks, yet the council will not put it on an agenda item to allow the public to comment.

If Kathy, Jim Dobbie, or Bill Widmer changed their vote to in favor of a survey there would be no issue.

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Posted by letusvote
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 13, 2012 at 5:12 am

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.

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Posted by Hotmail
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jun 13, 2012 at 12:22 pm

80% or better of the comments on the site have the writer's name posted. That is an "Anonymous" site.

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Posted by Name Use
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 14, 2012 at 12:19 pm

As far as I can remember, Athertonians@yahoo used that address when ACIL published "The Athertonian," not the town.

So ACIL used the name first
Then Athertonian@yahoo
Then The town assumed the no-longer used ACIL newsletter
Then Athertonian@google

So, in terms of which group has used the name the longest (and currently using it), I believe it is Athertonian@yahoo. Therefore, if the town is worried about the name confusion, they should change the name of their newsletter.