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Editorial: Managing the Atherton news

Original post made on Jan 8, 2010

The Atherton Town Council, city attorney and city manager should be ashamed of themselves after agreeing to settle an embarrassing lawsuit for $230,000, and then conveniently forgetting to inform the public about it.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 12:00 AM

Comments (15)

Posted by standard M.O.
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 8, 2010 at 12:18 am

Dear Almanac
I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for an apology or explanation from Atherton Town Officials about this or anything else.
Per usual they have forgiven themselves already (5-0 in closed session), forgotten to report out, misplaced the minutes, are now ready " To Move Forward......."

I do have a framed copy of a F.O.I.A. Public Records Request- "Letter of Denial"- sent to me from Atherton's last attorney--citing the government code that protects the towns right of restriction of all documents that are a matter of POTENTIAL litigation!!!!!! --(this reasoning was fiercely defended for over a year and a half). If you would like a copy I can arrange delivery, for Mr. Ewert's personal enjoyment of this Atherton Hall of Shame exhibit from my private collection. Tom you have my number.
P.S.--they never even blushed.......

Posted by Infer the Truth
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 8, 2010 at 7:08 am

What does it say when a government is so embarrassed at its performance that it wants to hide it? As a first step, Winnie Furth should be fired immediately.

Posted by Yes, let's manage it
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 8, 2010 at 9:41 am

I agree with the Almanac that news about Atherton needs to be properly managed. They need to take some responsibility for these shortcomings as well SINCE THIS STORY WAS ACTUALLY BROKEN on these forums, not by the Almanac, but by one of the "disgruntled" individuals whose posts the Almanac routinely deletes. By routinely deleting posts critical of Atherton, and in particular the Atherton police, in my opinion the Almanac has enhanced the feeling of the Atherton government that there is no transparency or accountability required. Seriously.

Posted by Ed
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

Does anyone know more about the "study session" referred to in the Almanac article--time??--place?? --public included??
This is not a just a venue for a closed session with no public notice or agenda I hope.
Andrea--could you check on this?

Posted by Andrea Gemmet
Almanac staff writer
on Jan 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Andrea Gemmet is a registered user.

The meeting is set for 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 11, in the Atherton Town Council Chambers, 94 Ashfield Road. The meeting is expected to last about six hours. The agenda is at this Web link: Web Link

Councilman Charles Marsala is soliciting public input before the meeting via an online survey here: Web Link

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The unfortunate part of this story is that the Town has still not issued a statement regarding this settlement. The citizens deserve to know who made the decision to settle and why and how the amount was determined as well as what steps have been taken to prevent future incidents of this type.

Posted by another end run
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 8, 2010 at 3:50 pm

Thanks Andrea----So.... its a six hour meeting about how to get the police a new building but still no venue to discuss the Pilar Buckley pay out or which officer was asking reidents for a ten thousand dollar loans............

Posted by amused
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 8, 2010 at 4:35 pm

ANOTHER embarrassing and preventable law suit/ many is this in the last 10 years? officer accused of stealing from the officer association and cleared by the D.A., the dog suit, the golf club fiasco where a police officer was arrested for stealing a residents golf clubs, the many unfair termination law suits, the work comp law suit where the dispatcher was sent to jail unfairly then exonerated in an appeal, the law suit involving two of the top people in the dept after cutting their positions and NOW the promotion of a chief with absolutely no testing or interview process for the best applicant for the job...just picked a guy in the agency and gave it to him. What a joke!It is time to let the Sheriff take over services. This town does not need this little tiny completely overly litigeous dept. This is ridiculous...

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What is needed is much more transparency in the Town's appointments and actions and much greater citizen involvement in oversight. In a democracy we get exactly the kind of government that we deserve and given the incredibly small turnout of citizens for Town Council meetings and in parcel tax election I suspect that we are getting exactly what we deserve.

How many citizens do you think will show up for the Town Council's six hour Study Session on Monday?

Posted by FILM AT 11
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 11, 2010 at 10:47 am

Pilar Buckley is now on the Selby Lane School foundation board. So is Jerry Carlson. Jerry Gruber's wife teaches at the Selby Lane School. Can this explain why a $230,000 settlement was made to Pilar Buckley? Why were these conflicts of interest not disclosed by the council and Gruber? Oh, what a minute, nothing was actually disclosed by the council and Gruber. Will the Almanac investigate this bombshell?

Posted by more to the story
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

One may also be interested in learning that Jerry Carlson founded the Selby Lane Education Foundation.

The plot thickens.

Posted by e.grimly
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 19, 2010 at 4:37 pm

To: Amused.... (too amused is right!)
You have clearly been around for awhile. For those that haven't, several of the suits being discussed would have been non-existent had the Town never:
(1) gone to the outside for a Chief (Cader) in the mid 90's, or
(2)replaced Cader with an interim Chief (Taylor) also from the outside.
Coincidently, it was an interim City Manager (Freedman)who brought Chief Brown in. And let's not forget that Freedman was 'hired' to find a City Manager...and ultimately, found himself......go figure.

Posted by hot on the trail
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 21, 2010 at 8:17 am

e. grimley makes an interesting observation. Lawsuits happen because people in a position of responsibility and authority make bad decisions.

After all look who Freedman picked for Chief of Police.

Posted by Sandy
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 22, 2010 at 11:15 am

Actually, I think Jenny Redo deserves credit for creating the Selby Lane School Foundation. She's worked tirelessly to raise money and rope in volunteers to help improve that struggling school.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 28, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town has issued the following superb press release - Well done and CASE CLOSED.


January 28, 2010 The Town of Atherton has settled a lawsuit brought by former police officer Pilar Ortiz-Buckley against the Town and a Town employee, Troy Henderson. Under the settlement agreement, which became effective on November 19, 2009, the Town paid $230,000 to Ms. Ortiz-Buckley in exchange for her release of claims against the Town and Mr. Henderson. No admission of wrongdoing was made as a part of the settlement. The lawsuit had been filed in April of 2009. In a related court proceeding, the District Attorney filed assault and battery charges against Mr. Henderson based on allegations by Ms. Ortiz-Buckley concerning an incident on June 3, 2008. The jury found Mr. Henderson not guilty in July of last year. A separate Worker's Compensation proceeding was excluded from the settlement. The decision to settle the lawsuit was made by the City Council after reviewing information provided by its lawyers in several closed sessions. The decision to settle was based upon a determination that it was in the Town's interest to settle the matter now rather than continue to incur litigation expenses in the face of an uncertain outcome. Even if the Town prevailed on most issues, and the damages were small, the possibility of an award to the plaintiff and the assessment of the attorneys' fees in litigating the case through trial made settlement negotiations advisable. At a closed session at its October 2009 meeting, the Council voted unanimously to give its lawyers the necessary settlement authority, specifying financial parameters within which an agreement to end the dispute would make sense for the Town. The negotiations were successful and settlement documents were drawn. The final signature on the Settlement Agreement was obtained on November 19, 2009. At that point, the settlement and the Council vote to authorize it became publicly available information under the Brown Act. The Town, however, took no effort to disseminate this information at that time.

While working to settle the Ortiz litigation, the Town has also been taking a number of steps to reduce the likelihood of future employee litigation of this kind. The Town's Assistant City Manager, Eileen Wilkerson, brought extensive human resources experience to the position. She has been working with the Town's lawyers to update existing Town Policies, personnel rules and procedures and establish needed new ones. The Town has updated its anti-harassment and work place violence policies. Training programs have been conducted for management, supervisors, and staff. All Town employees have been advised of their rights to work in a harassment-free environment and the importance of reporting any concerns promptly. Supervisors have been trained on the absolute necessity of treating all complaints seriously and investigating them properly. Implementing the Town's policies is part of the performance evaluation for all managers and supervisors.

In addition to in-house training programs conducted by specialist public employment lawyers, the Town participates in the San Mateo County Employee Relations Consortium, which provides regular training on creating harassment-free environments, workplace harassment, discrimination, and retaliation for supervisors, accommodating disabilities, and otherwise meeting the requirements of state law and Town expectations.

The Town has also shifted from self-insurance for employee conduct claims to partial Employee Practices Liability Insurance obtained through the Association of Bay Area Governments. To qualify for the program, the Town must have policies in place that meet state and federal compliance, bargaining agreements that meet the insurance companies' requirements, and a training program. Based on the Town's history of claims, the initial annual premium is approximately $34,000, with a $100,000 self-insurance deductible. If the Town is successful in reducing the number and severity of claims filed against it in future years, these premiums are expected to go down.

The Town did not issue a press statement at the time the settlement became final. That was an oversight and an error. The City Council and City Manager are taking steps to establish new communication procedures to prevent such a mistake in the future.

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