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Who do elected officials work for?

Original post made by Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood, on Jul 8, 2010

An attorney, acting on behalf of the Town of Atherton, has written a letter to a citizen informing him that an elected Council member does not wish to be contacted at his home phone number, which is the phone number provided on the Town's web site.

If elected officials, and I served as an elected Director of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District for 8 years, are not willing to be accessible to the citizens whom they serve then they should simply and promptly resign.

Comments (7)

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Posted by Context is everything
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 9, 2010 at 8:44 am

Peter, I agree in principle with you about elected officials and their responsibility to communicate with the public. But I've also been observing this very sticky situation.

I don't think Carlson objects to residents calling him at home, but this is a former employee (who I believe really was screwed by the town) who is behaving toward some current council members and city officials in ways that could be considered harassment. And, he is not a constituent, he lives out of town. I read the letter the attorney sent to Johns, and it said Carlson objects to HIM, not others, calling him at home.

I think it's wrong to judge this case out of context.

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Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 9, 2010 at 8:56 am

Mr. Johns works in the Town of Atherton. I know this because I hired him. Mr. Carson decides issues (such as the subject of Mr. Johns' call, High Speed Rail) that affects people outside of Atherton in any event. The letter to Mr. Johns is conspicuos in its absence of any allegation that there was anything about Mr. Johns' call that was harassing. It did not require a response from an attorney in any event whatsoever. Mr. Carlson could haves imply e-mailed Mr. Johns, if not called him back, and let him know that since he does not live in the Town of Atherton, he doesn't wish to take phone calls at home from him but will review written correspondence. There was absolutely no justification for having a lawyer write a cease and desist letter.

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Posted by Context is everything
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 9, 2010 at 9:12 am

Jon, I agree with you, and not just in principle. Carlson shouldn't have involved the city attorney's office for this, so I agree the situation was mishandled. But I do think the targets of Johns' anger (justifiable anger, I think) are feeling harassed by him at this point. I wish there was an easy answer to all this.

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Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 9, 2010 at 9:31 am

There is an easy answer. We need council members who understand part of their job is hearing from people they don't like, disagree with, and/or make them uncomfortable. I am pasting a clip below of Kathy McKeithen inviting dialog with an anonymous poster from these boards when he disagreed with her on a very charged issue. If elected officials only accepted dialog from supporters, we wouldn't have much of a government.

In the case of Mr. Johns, assuming he is indeed (justifiably, or even unjustifiably) aggrieved, if I were on the council, I would definitely accept the dialog. First, I would want to understand what made him aggrieved, and not let that happen again. Next, I would hope I'd appreciate that when someone does feel aggrieved, they tend to be much more into the issues than someone who never had a personal interest in them. It definitely does not invalidate the substance of what he or she might say.

Finally, of course, there are always lines. If Mr. Johns had said anything inappropriate, threatening, or rude, the city attorney letter might be justified. It wouldn't be the way I'd handle it, but I couldn't object. If Mr. Johns had called in the middle of the night, was making constant calls, etc., I'd have the same attitude. To ask an attorney to write a letter like this after just one phone call that had no special circumstances attached is totally ridiculous. Carlson should reimburse the residents of the Town of Atherton for whatever attorneys fees were generated in the stupid exercise.

Posted by Kathy McKeithen, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, on Apr 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm

Dear "Are your Joking"

You make a good many general accusations without indicating any knowledge of the facts. While I am a very busy person, I have always believed it was my duty to take the time to help anyone in need of assistance and you seem to be one such person.

Kindly give me your name and telephone number and I would be happy to call you and arrange a time and place to meet of your choosing so that we can discuss just how I am in the midst of working to have a new library more than twice the size of the existing one (hopefully a green building!) built, as well of some other projects to improve the quality of life in Atherton and save Atherton money (including the anticipated $1.1 M which will likely be transferred out of general reserves at our next meeting -- which should require a 4/5 vote but which will be changed by my fellow councilmembers at that very same meeting to require only a mere majority).

It is always so easy to accuse, so difficult to learn, but I am willing to listen to you. Will you listen to me?

Best regards,

Kathy McKeithen

Mayor of Atherton

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Posted by John P. Johns
a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm

For the record.

I have called Ms. McKeithen at her home on a number of occasions. Her telephone number is listed on the Town's directory as well. In Ms. McKeithen's case I did not receive a letter from the City Attorney as I did in Mr. Carlson's case.

Additionally and to Ms. Lewis' credit, she asked me to get in touch with her to discuss the problem I had observed with her building permit. She gave me her cell phone number and asked to speak with me about it, even though I suggested that she may have acted improperly. I respected Ms. Lewis for her willingness to engage in a dialouge with me in spite of my concern over her permit.

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Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Jul 11, 2010 at 10:51 am

What are the laws governing the right to email or call elected officials or nominated members on any of these or adjoining counties?
I left a message asking for the return of some legal papers and keys which were not property of a former official, and received a phone call from a member of the police department telling me I was forbidden to contact this person.
The police officer on the phone, said "I was harrassing this individual" who had filed a complaint.
Before I take further action, I am curious how an individual can use the police for matter like this.
The other party is a Russian citizen, working now at Stanford, and is on a visa which could be revoked.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 11, 2010 at 11:00 am

Only a judge can make a determination that you are harassing another person - a civil harassment order;the police can charge you with harassment but can do nothing more without a court order.

Here is the California law on the subject"
For the purposes of getting a civil harassment order, harassment is defined as:

* Unlawful violence, such as:
o assault (attempting to cause a violent injury to you)
o battery (use of force against you) or
o stalking (repeatedly following or harassing you with the intent to place you in reasonable fear for your safety or your immediate family's safety);*
* A credible threat of violence (a statement or actions that reasonably place you in fear for your safety, or the safety of your immediate family); or
* Repeated actions (such as following you, making harassing telephone calls, or sending harassing emails) that seriously alarm, annoy, or harass you, and that serve no legitimate purpose and causes you to be extremely emotionally upset (distressed).**

To read the actual wording of the law, see the CA State Statutes page (and go to “Code of Civil Procedure, Part 2, Title 7. Other Provisional Remedies in Civil Actions, Chapter 3, Injunctions” and then “527.6.”).

* Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 527.6(b); Ann.Cal.Penal Code §§ 240, 242, 646.9
** Ann.Cal.C.C.P. § 527.6(b)

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