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Why I'm about to sue Atherton (again)

Original post made by John P Johns, another community, on Aug 21, 2010

During the past 24 months I have submitted as 100 public records requests.

During the past 24 months I have sought to obtain copies of e-mail archives, copies of police reports, documentation concerning code violation complaints and other material with the objective of bringing to light and holding highly placed elected and appointed officials accountable for thier behavior.

Prior to the arrival of Ms. Wynne Furth on the scene, the Town of Atherton obeyed the public records act scrupulously. In fact the former City Attorney's production of records pursuant to my public records requests gave me the information I needed to successfuly prosecute my lawsuit seeking reinstatement as Atherton's Finance Director.

Regrettably, subsequent to the installation of Ms. Wynne Furth as City Attorney, the Town of Atherton has refused to comply with the California Public Records Act on numerous occasions.

For example the Town has stated that "after a diligent search" it was unable to locate records responsive to my public records requests, despite the fact that it had previously provided the very same records in response to prior public records requests (such as copies of Charles Marsala's e-mails).

On other occasions, the Town has refusd to produce public records on grounds of attorney-client privilege, employee privacy interests and an overly broad nature of my requests.

I have been patient and persistent in submitting my public records requests, accepting the Town's refusal to produce records I believe it has and should produce, while seeking other records of interest.

However I have run out of patience and understanding with the Town's recalcitrance.

As is documented in the video which is now accessible via You Tube, the City Manager, presumably pursuant to the instructions of the City Attorney has refused to produce or allow for inspection electronic records from the Building Department's permit tracking system.

Web Link

I firmly believe that the Town has refused to produce these records because it would wish to avoid being held accountable for a pattern of neglect or worse, criminal activity in the Building Department that has continued until the present day.

It is for that reason that I will instruct my attorney to file a writ of mandamus to compel the Town of Atherton to adhere to the California Public Records Act if the City fails to produce or to allow for inspection the records I have requested.

For those readers who reside in Atherton and who would rather not throw good money after bad to a loosing cause, I would urge you to call or to write the City Attorney, the City Council and the City Manager to stop the stonewalling.

Comments (16)

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 21, 2010 at 1:36 pm

John Johns has teamed up with John Buckeit and Kimberly Sweidy on this effort to get Atherton to comply with the Public Records Act. That trio has lots of money, lots of brains and lots of inside knowledge. The longer this goes on the more it will cost the Town including paying this trio's legal bills.

There is no way that the Town of Atherton will be able to win against them on this issue and the Town would be wise to fully comply with the Public Records Act starting next Monday.

Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 21, 2010 at 2:49 pm

In a recent Almanac article about Atherton selecting a new city attorney, Ms. Wynne Furth defended her performance by stating: "It is not always possible to avoid litigation."

Is this such a time?

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Stonewalling is the sanctuary of fools and thieves. I leave it to Athertonians to decide which they have running their city.

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 21, 2010 at 3:57 pm

When I showed up at the Building Department on Friday morning to file a Revision to a permitted set of Building Plans and to meet Mr. Johns and Mr. Buckheit for noticed access to Public Records, I had no idea I'd need a video camera. But, apparently, Mr. Buckheit did. (In all fairness, Messrs. Johns and Buckheit have a distinct "advantage" over me, as they have been wrongfully arrested and/or charged by the Atherton Police Force, so they possess a cynicism that I can only admire.) Had I known that we were going to film an impromptu skit reminiscent of the original Saturday Night Live cast, I, as the Third Musketeer, would most certainly have combed my hair, put on clothing other than sweatpants and donned my wedding ring, as it is entirely inappropriate for me to "go public" sans wedding ring.

The Town of Atherton has declared war against its citizens. Recent lawsuits by Johns and Buckheit (resulting in unfavorable lawsuits against the Town) have not humbled or educated these misguided tyrants, who are convinced they are above the law. Rather, it has hardened their resolve to go to any lengths, including the farce you see here, to maintain the status quo.

There are many issues going on simultaneously here, not the least of which is the salary and benefits of government employees

Web Link

Web Link

Add to this Atherton's problem of hiring those employees without requiring the proper education, experience, qualifications, training, etc. The Town's answer to my recent revelations about Building Official Michael Charles Wasmann's lack of qualifications is to now refuse to give me any information about anyone's qualifications or engage in any rational dialogue about my inquiries. After all, look what I did last time when I went about confirming my suspicions/experience with Mr. Wasmann.

As I said at the Wednesday night City Council meeting, they have messed with the wrong hillbilly.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 21, 2010 at 6:54 pm

If I am not mistaken, the Public Records Act provides for monetary penalties and awards, including attorney fees, for non-compliance, incomplete compliance and late compliance.

Posted by ED
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 21, 2010 at 7:40 pm


Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Aug 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Good for you, John P. Johns! I support you because I know you are on to something that the County itself has feared would never come out..
an angry citizenry in almost every city on the Peninsula.
I would advise you to pursue the action employing attorneys from the City. There is a lot of "stuff" which reeks to high heaven in the records, which if you have been to Redwood City and gained access to files, you will find yourself being misled or not having the necessary documents available while you are there.
All of this will end up in Sacramento and then higher up after that, because even the Governor has been made aware of the non compliance by all of the different departments and going back to the banking scandals when a few established suits were brought to the fore and then halted in neighboring citys within the County.
Stay with it and you will probably find yourself being joined by others in a very large political fracas. This is no small complaint you have going and it ought to have a lot of people in office handing in resignations or retiring, but it will not matter.

Posted by Atherton Taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 23, 2010 at 5:53 pm

You people scare me. Not in the sense that I think Atherton is right and you are wrong, but in the sense that you are out to lynch (electronically at least) any public employee who does not kowtow to your every whim! 200 FOIA requests in two months! It is a low-tech denial of service attack on an already strapped administration, with the threat of low suits from deep pockets.
You guys are malevolent.
And Mr. Carpenter, before you jump in to defend their rights to open government, I am not saying they are not within their rights, I am saying this is for their own selfish motivations, not some desire for "clean open government."

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 23, 2010 at 5:57 pm

I believe that this 'confrontation' was an essential step towards full compliance with the Public Records Act by the Town of Atherton. As I stated above, change in organizations is hard but I predict that we are already seeing a much more open response by the Town.

Let's give change a chance.

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm

Atherton Taxpayer, and aren't we all, me to the tune of almost $70,000 a year in property taxes alone,

I assure you, I am not malevolent. In fact, you should be very, very happy that my husband and I operate with the highest ethical standards. We are harder on ourselves than anyone else. Because if we were malevolent, as you state, with our brains, talents, money, resources, etc., we could do some very, very serious damage.

That is not a threat, I promise you. We truly believe that with great power comes great responsibility. And we are working hard to turn the tide on the mess we have at Town Hall, and apparently have had for some time. Most people resist change, whether or not it's the right thing to do. We do not. I even have a T-Shirt that says, "Change. (Embrace It.)" Perhaps I should wear it to the next City Council meeting.

Sometimes, when being nice doesn't work, you need to get people's attention. Confrontation is necessary. In fact, frank and honest communication, especially when critical, is the path to growth.

Do understand that my husband and I (I don't speak for others, they can speak for themselves) absolutely want to see the Town of Atherton be the best it can be. It's our home. So do not misunderstand our motives. There are many things we could be doing with our time. We think this is a worthwhile opportunity to make a positive difference.

I agree with Peter, let's give the process a chance.

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." ..... Sir Winston Churchill

Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 23, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Atherton Taxpayer, I made one public records act request in the past two months, and just a handful before. I don't know where the figure of 200 is coming from. When I requested my police report from Atherton, which I have an absolute right to under the 6th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution I was stonewalled for nine months before filing a lawsuit (which resulted in the release of the document and $8,000 in legal fees). Rather than portray me as instituting a denial of service attack, I think it's actually the other way around. I'd request you be more careful with your facts.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 23, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Atherton Taxpayer:

You are a fool. Your town government is about to cost you HUGE money due to their stonewalling. Instead of complaining about people legally excercising their rights to PUBLIC documents, your ire would be better directed at the fools or thieves that are running your town government. After all, it's your taxes they are about to throw away trying to prevent acccess to documents that everyone has a right to access.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Aug 23, 2010 at 8:11 pm

As I am merely an honorary member of the Atherton Hillbillies Association, I can do nothing but applaud the efforts of these fine citizens. I believe that this kind of open, honest community action represents the best hope for honest American governance.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Aug 24, 2010 at 11:48 am

Atherton Taxpayer,

You couldn't possibly be farther off the mark.

This video might just be the best thing that has happened in Atherton in years. It gives the Taxpayers a view not a spin.

I can say this, I have personally seen Jerry Gruber respond/stare exactly as shown in last few seconds of video at no less than 4 times when I requested he instruct his Police Chief to identify the Police Officer who committed a felony against Mr. Jon Buckheit.

I wish I had a video of that.

Posted by Architect2B
a resident of another community
on Jun 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm

I'm sure I'm not nearly as eloquent as you Mrs. Sweidy (et. al) but...

I so agree w/ Atherton Taxpayer...

You people are really scary... Again, not that I think you don't have a legitimate gripe (yes, understatement of all time) w/ the city. Ive become aware of this situation via my profession...

What really gets me is I have read a few articles and their accompanying comments and it is clear that you have issues that are not strictly "objective" - You post a link to Reason Magazine (Ayn Rands favorite no doubt)that talks about "govt pay is too high" - Well Mrs Sweidy do Lawyers make too much money? Whatever the market will bear you say? Yes Bell was OUTRAGEOUS... no doubt about it.. but "you people" only complain about Govt pay but never anything else.. Personally I believe (most) Lawyers are so overpaid it borders on immoral.
Ive seen people post snotty comments to you (e.g. Did you do your due diligence, etc) and your responses are sometimes quite condescending to say the least. You relentlessly challenge the competence of the Bldg Inspector "because he only earned a 2 year degree and possibly not even that!" Wow... Sorry that we can be all over educated and over paid Lawyers like yourself But "only" having an AA doesn't make him incompetent... And the fact that he let his certification lapse doesn't make him incompetent either...

In the end my understanding is that Atherton has laid off the bldg dept and is now going to outsource the work.. Are you happy now?

All these people that are telling/told you that your house was "under-built" - you'd best be careful since anyone will say anything to try and make more $ of you by "repairing" it... I know a few engineers and they ALL over build...

It must be wonderful to have deep pockets and so that you can just keep litigating away...

I do honestly believe (from what I have read) that you were severely wronged.. badly.. but your focus on the city (the pay and eduction) seems steeped in ideology and not objectivity... and many people can see that..

Take Care

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 3, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Architect2B -

Good post, but there is a difference.

To your point, it really doesn't matter how much lawyers earn. Or athletes, Charlie Sheen, movie stars, or Mark Zuckerberg for that matter. We don't employ any of them. If that high-priced lawyer blows a case, it's his or her client that complains, not me. I don't care.

But we do employ our public employees and everyone at Town Hall. For that reason, we do have a say in their compensation and we do have an expectation of competence. If that building inspector is incompetent and misses something he should have caught, then, as his employer, I have a real complaint.

If the outsourced building service at Atherton is less expensive, more responsive and competent, then that would appear to be an improvement. Only time will tell.

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