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Atherton: A Government or a Business?

Original post made by please stop, Atherton: other, on Nov 25, 2012

This Wednesday a very important vote on employee’s compensation/benefits will be made by the Council to chart the course of Atherton’s employees and managers for the future. This will be a last ditch effort by a group of Councilmembers who see Atherton as a business where the mission is to deliver the product at the lowest possible cost using the fewest and cheapest employees one can find. Given the wording of the pending resolution the rational is built on “savings”. Likely the business backgrounds of the various personalities involved see their duty as business managers. They see the need for this hurried vote as they realize change is coming. The new moderate mixture of council members will likely see Atherton as a small town government serving the residents and responding to their needs for safety, roads and infrastructure.

The last ten years of Atherton’s governance is not pretty. It has been marked by a toxic mixture of various Council members who are at war with each other, with multiple departures of key employees, and costly lawsuits. There is no vision to replace decrepit town buildings. The recent effort at placing a library in the Park was a total disaster in that the will and appeals of the majority of the residents was totally ignored from the beginning and then when using the ballot box was overwhelming slapped down.

While it appears that the resolution on compensation and benefits will probably be passed unless it is immediately pulled as an agenda item. The timing is just wrong in that a new council will not be allowed to consider the matter. The old Council has no business making long term decisions in the final minutes of their term that a new Council will have to live with over a long period of time. The voters have indicated they want a change in the nature of Atherton’s government. The remuneration issue has not been explained in terms of fiscal need or discussed in public meetings. The resulting effect will be not being able to attract the best employees available. What this vote will produce is more employee turnover, less effective employees and in the end more expense for the taxpayers of Atherton.

This vote will have consequences in upcoming contract negations with the sworn police officers. It would not be a surprise if many are planning to leave right now as they see what the future holds in Atherton. Many communities are seeking trained police officers from adjacent communities (lateral transfers) and enhancing benefits. For instance Antioch, California is considering making benefits more attractive as they find training and experience are costly items.

Web Link

The need for a renew of the Parcel Tax is obvious but the intent of this vote is to do away with it having “saved” costly employee expense. The private funding effort of a new Town Center which residents endorsed will likely stall in absence of a long-term vision for the Atherton Police Department and other town service employees. As a new library or remodeled one is mixed into Town Center concept it likely too will stall.

While the result of the Wednesday vote can possibly be undone in the months ahead, it will be a reflection of today’s dysfunctional Council for a long time. Atherton residents should demand a responsive government and are tired of the last ten years of poor governance. Atherton is not a business but an organization to serve the needs and reflect the will of the residents. The lame duck council should not vote on anything of a long term nature right now but take their victory lap, have their party and get out of the way.

Comments (27)

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Posted by Ready, Fire, Aim
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 9:37 am

The proposed decreases in the resolution will save the Town $92,413 over three years.

The question is how much turn over will it cause? What will be the cost to replace the employees? Will it exceed $92,413 over three years?

It took the Council a long time to replace John Danielson when he was forced out by CalPERS. How much did it cost to find his replacement? How could the Council bring on the new City Manager and immediately modify their compensation promises?

How long will it take to find another City Manager, Finance Director, Police Chief, and Police Lieutenant once they choose to leave?

This policy seems grounded in emotion, not practicality.


For 2013, this represents an average 2.9% decrease in pay with a larger amount of this impact falling on employees with dependents. Cumulatively, in 2014 the average cost impact is 6.3% and in 2015, 11%. In 2012, the work furlough results in an additional 1.5% pay reduction. Over the three years of the CalPERS liability transfer and merit program the Town will save $92,413.

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Posted by Well Said
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 9:53 am

Well said, but the $6,000.00 Lame Duck Holiday Party should not be at the expense of the town. Just bad manners to have the staff that is being furloughed to save the money to pay for the party to have to plan the party.

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Posted by Different view
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 10:08 am

First, I believe that employees are generating these posts, and they should be taken with a grain of salt.

Second, this is not a policy that seems to me at least to be grounded in emotion rather than reality. As was pointed out on the other thread, many other cities in California have done the furough expense reduction.

So, it is not emotional for this council to do this. It is simply consistent with tough times, a desire to reduce expenses, and the realization that every bit helps. No one reduction will balance the budget, but a combination of many will. That's the hard part about readjusting to live within one's means. The balance of cuts in this resolution all make sense, and all (unfortunately) result in the employees having to make concessions.

The difficult part about Atherton's situation is that any plan to balance the budget will necessarily have to involve employee concessions.

Second, the refrain that if Atherton tries to cut some employee costs to balance the budget, it will result in all the employees leaving in a mass exodus, doesn't make sense either. It's a scare tactic, and a rather desperate attempt by employees to try to argue against the powerful common sense of making expense deductions in very tough times. Since all the other neighboring communities are doing the same thing (like the furlough), there's no "safe harbor" of a town or city that's spending lots of money because they have lots of money. Every city has been hit with the same set of problems, mainly due to municipal salaries and benefits having swung out of control over the past ten years. That pendulum now needs to swing in the other direction, as it always does when things get out of hand, and the people affected by it naturally don't like seeing that take place.

Regarding the $6,000 party, I agree. Don't approve it, since the budget is not in the black. That's an easy one. But so is this resolution. To the employees, sorry you have to endure some hardships here. I don't think anyone feels pleasure from reducing compensation. It simply must be done if the council members are going to be responsible stewards of Atherton's finances, just like the council members of all the other cities that have done the same thing. Atherton employees have long been exempt from economic realities, due to a sense that because of the wealth of Atherton's residents, they can just fork over more in taxes to fill the gap. That gap has gotten too large now.

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Posted by Well Said,
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 10:51 am

There are several issues which are debatable.
1. I do not think Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie consider themselves "Lame Ducks". They firmly believe their positions are the best for the town. In two years they could have the 3-2 majority back in their favor.

Thus forcing the new council to live with their policies by passing this agenda item is in line with their dogma.

2. What level to pay Atherton employees relative to the rest of the area. For more than a decade the position was half way between average and the best paid employees in the area. To pay them below average will likely cause turnover.

A high level press release, could simply that the council's new position is to pay at the 35% level. That is the bottom line residents want to know.

3. The point Widmer, Dobbie, and McKeithen should consider that voters rejected not only the library in the park, but also their style of government: not listening to people who for more than a year said we do not want the library in the park.

The 70th percentile was established more than a decade ago, communicated to residents who have been been happy. The current council has refused to declare how much relative to other cities they want to reduce pay.

4. Residents are aware that the council made major errors in finances during the last decade. Money was wasted on lawsuits, looking for flaws in the building department, and refunding illegal tax increases.

Surpluses in Building Deptartment revenue were used for operations.

This waste is why Atherton taxpayer voted for a change in government.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 10:58 am

Why set pay at "just" the 70th percentile (of wages in the area)? Why not set it at the 99th percentile?

It is foolish to set a pay scale to ANY percentile. A business or a city should pay WHAT THEY NEED TO PAY to get qualified employees. If it is a tough job requiring higher pay, you do it. If it is an easier tour of duty and requires less, you do it.

Working for the Atherton Police Department is very different than working for law enforcement in San Jose, Menlo Park or the Sheriff's Department. I'm not saying it is without risk; I'm saying it is different.

At a time when trained police officers are being laid off in nearby cities, the idea that a local city will be unable to recruit qualified employees at a lower pay scale is folly.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 12:07 pm

"At a time when trained police officers are being laid off in nearby cities, the idea that a local city will be unable to recruit qualified employees at a lower pay scale is folly."

What I've been saying all along. The police officers aren't going anywhere. Where are they going to go? San Jose? Not hiring, laid off over 400 officers and are trying to bring them back. Some other departments? Not likely. They've all taken pay cuts and increases to their required contribution to their retirements. Many are starting two tiered retirement plans. Atherton officers that have seniority and are well entrenched there are not going anywhere. They'd be taking a bigger pay cut than Atherton is likely to give them.

These postings are likely coming from police officers. Officers that work for a department that does not require much from them at all. True, it requires things a professional police department doesn't do, like taking in peoples mail, but it's easy duty. Believe me, I worked law enforcement in a large city police department. When we logged on in the afternoon we had multiple calls for service backed up and waiting. Serious calls, not noise complaints or nonsense calls like in Atherton. We ran call to call to call most of the night. Somehow I don't see Atherton officers carrying that kind of work load.

The only officers Atherton will lose by cutting pay and benefits are officers that were using the department as a stepping stone. They weren't staying anyway. The rest aren't going anywhere.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 12:14 pm

Please excuse the double post. Internet hiccup.

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Posted by Ready, Fire, Aim
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Forbes Magazine, it so happens, has an excellent recent article on this very topic:

Web Link

Some excerpts:

"The idea that government should be run like a business is a popular one with both Republicans and, albeit to a lesser extent, Democrats. But this betrays a basic misunderstanding of the roles of the private and public sector. We should no more want the government to be run like a business than a business to be run like the government.

Those popularizing this notion feel this way because they see business as more efficient. This must be the case, so the logic goes, or the entity in question would lose market share and go bankrupt. Only the fit survive.

Bear in mind, first, that “efficiency” in the private sector means profit. Hence, to ask that the government be run like a business is tantamount to asking that the government turn a profit.

The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. Reality TV, pornography, fashion, sports, and gambling are all of questionable social value, but each is quite profitable and exists in the private sector. Meanwhile, few would argue that the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, police department, fire department, libraries, parks, and public schools are of no social value, and yet they could not exist if they were required to be profitable.

To reiterate, the key issue is this: not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. The proper role of government is the latter. Those arguing for a business model for government must necessarily be ready to shut down all government functions that do not earn a profit, regardless of their contribution to our well being. And, if the public sector is being run properly, that should mean every single one.

The point, however, is that saying that government is inefficient because it does not turn a profit is the equivalent of saying that Peyton Manning is a poor quarterback because he doesn’t hit enough home runs. He’s not supposed to."

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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 25, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The issue is not is government a business but rather should government be operated on a rational, cost-benefit basis.

The mission of government should be to serve the people whom it represents, not the employees of that government.

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Posted by Different view
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm

To "Ready, Fire, Aim" –

Yes, government is not a business. Do you believe this means that any concept that is part of a well-managed business, such as controlling costs, has no place in government?

How do you believe Atherton's budget should get balanced?

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Posted by Ready, Fire, Aim
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 7:39 am

There’s no dispute that employee costs need to come down to market levels. This group of employees has likely made good faith attempts to bargain with the Council. Presumably, they offered to reduce their compensation. By the Council’s standard, their offers weren’t sufficient.

The Council, it seems, is focused on using private sector metrics to run the Town -- they measure themselves on profitability.

How do you define a budget that’s in balance? Is it a snapshot of today’s budget where revenues (including the parcel tax) exceed expenses? Or, is it a budget that allows for Council benefits such as iPads, new dais chairs, and catered meals? Is it a budget that permits the Council to increase its legal expenses to sue residents for moving urns? Does a balanced budget fund questionable investigations of Town departments and electronic bug sweeps of Council member homes? Is the definition of a balanced budget one that frees up some existing expense for other uses?

There are, of course, two ways to “balance” the budget: reduce expenses or increase revenues.

On the revenue side, the Council walked away from a profitable concession. This, by the way, is a business that many governments are in; they have stadiums, amphitheaters, pools, camping grounds, etc. They outsource their concessions to the private sector which operates them at a profit.

Atherton was able to rent the park for weddings and meetings and garner a profit. The Park concession brought in nearly $90,000/yr. Yet, the Council walked away from this revenue, characterizing it as trivial. Here’s a glimpse from this week’s Council packet of the demand for the concession. This is money the Council is refunding to depositors, not the profit they could make:

14346 10/10/2012 THE OTHER WOMEN 296 General Fund - Refund park deposit Inv# 296, 10/6/12 -- $900.00

14389 10/24/2012 CHAVEZ MARIE 304 General Fund - Refund park deposit Inv#304, 10/16/12 -- $250.00

14305 10/2/2012 ANDRADE JAVIER 280 General Fund - Refund park deposit Inv#280, 11/24/12 -- $1,000.00

14309 10/2/2012 CENGAGE LEARNING General Fund - Refund park deposit Inv# 293, 9/27/12 -- $250.00

14336 10/10/2012 KAISER 286 General Fund - Refund park deposit Inv# 286, 10/4/12 -- $250.00

How can one explain dismissing $90,000/yr in revenue while demonstrating tunnel vision toward their goal of $30,000/yr in compensation reduction? One explanation is it’s based on philosophical belief and emotion.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 26, 2012 at 3:02 pm

@ Ready, Aim Fire. I agree with even while I said to people that, Government should be more like a business. I only think efficient, cost management, budget skills and provide the best customer service. I dread the day when profit making cities, school, other public agencies. Gate key charge, paying for city services like cable TV, or premium city hall access pass or jump to the front of the line.

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Posted by Well Said
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

While Council Members call out for Fiscal Responsibility, they misuse taxpayer dollars. Stopping Park Rentals and missing out on $90,000.00 a year in rental income to help justify converting the Main House to a Library is one example.

Another example is the recent Mailing done by the Mayor. Now the $6,000 party at the end of McKeithen's term.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Nov 26, 2012 at 6:33 pm

One of the richest towns in America wants "the cheapest employees one can find." Good way to retain and attract personnel.

Hasn't worked so well lately. I believe that you'll get what you deserve -- because I believe in the free market.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 6:38 pm

You don't have to find "the cheapest employees you can find."

You have to find QUALIFIED employees.

If you want to pay an employee more than you have to, that's quite generous... but unnecessary and a breach of the fiduciary duty to tax payers.

By the way, one of tonight's local news programs featured a story about police leaving San Jose "in droves." Sounds like a hiring opportunity to me.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 7:07 pm

And just where are those San Jose oficers going to "in droves?" Sounds like news story hyperbole. What's going on, as I understand it, is many older offecers are choosing to retire. Mainly because, as one officer I know told me, "they wouldn't give me any time off." With the layoffs they're short staffed don't ya know. I'd be gob smacked if San Jose hired someone that worked for Atherton unless they were a new officer with a couple years under their belt. They know what "slugs" the rest are. They don't want them.

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Posted by droves
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 26, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Ofc. J. McGill Resigned Modesto PD 108
Ofc. J. Rusteen Resigned San Francisco PD 107
Ofc. M. Opp Resigned Arizona State PD 106
Ofc. Van Dyke Resigned San Leandro PD 105
Ofc. Rossmiller Resigned Hayward PD 104
Sgt. R. Benitez Resigned FBI 103
Sgt. J. Pace Resigned Hillsborough Oregon PD 102
Ofc. Guy Resigned San Diego Sheriff's Dept. 101
Ofc. M. Williams Resigned Livermore PD 100
Ofc. Stockeland Resigned El Dorado Sheriff's Dept. 99
Ofc. Ribeiro Resigned Campbell PD 98
Ofc. Njoroge Resigned Walnut Creek PD 97
Sgt. R. Fong Resigned S.C.C.D.A. 96
Ofc. F. Torrico Resigned Fremont PD 95
Ofc. O'Neil Resigned Redwood City PD 94
Ofc. Thayer Resigned Redwood City PD 93
Ofc. Corbin Resigned Belview PD Washington 92
Ofc. J. Domenici Resigned Mountain View PD 91
Ofc. R. Brennan Resigned Palo Alto PD 90
Ofc. M. Corona Resigned Refused to state 89
Ofc. F. Abi-Chahine Resigned Refused to state 88
Ofc. C. Barnes Resigned Refused to state 87
Ofc. J. Rickert Resigned S.C.C.D.A. 86
Ofc. C. Watson Resigned San Leandro PD 85
Ofc. F. Wilkinson Resigned Daly City PD 84
Ofc. J. Brown Resigned San Mateo PD 83
Ofc. D. Gerbrandt Resigned Santa Clara PD 82
Ofc. C. Scott Resigned Berkeley PD 81
Ofc. D. Bonillas Resigned Mariposa SO 80
Ofc. K. Nishita Resigned Colma PD 79
Ofc. M. Millman Resigned Concord PD 78
Ofc. R. Sanchez Resigned Mountain View PD 77
Ofc. Bartholomew Resigned Refused to state 76
Ofc. H. Kindorf Resigned Fremont PD 75
Ofc. M. Chan Resigned Fremont PD 74
Ofc. M. Aguayo Resigned Newport Beach PD 73
Ofc. B. Allison Resigned San Diego SO 72
Ofc. D. Stromska Resigned Campbell PD 71
Ofc. G. Ezard Resigned Walnut Creek PD 70
Ofc. M. Ybarra Resigned Refused to state 69
Ofc. E. Martin Resigned Bothell PD Washington 68
Ofc. P. Soper Resigned Fremont PD 67
Ofc. S. Marello Resigned Refused to state 66
Ofc. J. Castro Resigned Redwood City PD 65
Ofc. B. Rodriguez Resigned Oxnard PD 64
Capt. S. Savage Resigned AssT. Chief D.A. Ofc. 63
Ofc. R. Burke Resigned Los Altos PD 62
Ofc. B. Jeffrey Resigned Los Altos PD 61
Ofc. F. Banuelos Resigned Los Altos PD 60
Ofc. K. Krauss Resigned Los Altos PD 59
Ofc. B. Kelsoe Resigned San Leandro PD 58
Ofc. J. Kalsbeek Resigned San Leandro PD 57
A.C. D. Urban Resigned Chief Hayward PD 56
Ofc. L. Larsen Resigned Santa Clara PD 55
Ofc. F. Hagg Resigned Santa Clara PD 54
Ofc. B. Loftus Resigned Attending Law School 53

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 7:20 pm

MV -

What I meant was that it was hiring opportunity FOR Atherton.

I assume those San Jose cops are pretty well qualified!

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 7:30 pm


honestly, I don't think there's a former San Jose cop worth his salt that would actually go to work for Atherton. As I've said many times before, Atherton PD is looked upon as a joke by every other real police agency in the bay area. I can't see any officers I knew taking in mail or any of the other nonsense Atherton asks its officers to do after making self initiated felony arrests every day.

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Posted by Factory line
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 26, 2012 at 8:16 pm

If you look a little more carefully at the above list of retired officers you will note one Robert Brennen from Palo Alto who was one of many short term Atherton Police Chiefs (now working a patrol car for the county).
Or has he now retired a third time as well.................

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Posted by droves
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 27, 2012 at 6:12 am

An average month for the Atherton Police Department

Police Activity
There were 104 criminal investigations for the month of October. Seventy-two (72) offenders
were cited, arrested or referred to the District Attorney’s Office for prosecution. Fifty-three (53)
of those cases were for vehicle code violations that include driving without a license, driving on
a suspended license, and driving under the influence of alcohol. The other cases were warrant
arrests, an arrest for residential burglary, parole violation, public intoxication, brandishing and
possession of a weapon (bb gun) on school grounds, juvenile probation violation, possession of
marijuana, possession of a controlled substance, creating a disturbance at school, and theft of
construction funds by false pretenses.
Of the 1,548 total police incidents for the month of October, 559 were officer-initiated incidents,
which resulted in 322 citations being issued for vehicle code violations. Officers also initiated
232 other types of incidents that included contacting suspicious people on the street or in cars, as
well as security checks at schools and Holbrook Palmer Park.
Holbrook Palmer Park had 26 incidents this reporting period, 19 of which were security checks
by officers. Other police activity at the park included suspicious vehicles, traffic enforcement,
and a citizen assist for two people stuck in the elevator.
Officers responded to 17 ordinance violation calls this month. These calls were for a lumber and
nursery delivery before 8AM, loud music, and various construction ordinance violations.
The Department performed a total of 728 home security checks during October.
School Incidents
Officers responded to 96 school incidents during this reporting period. The incidents involved
thefts, alarms, traffic issues, suspicious vehicles, security checks, traffic enforcement, and gang
activity. The following depicts the number of incidents per school:
Response Times
The average response time for Priority 1 Calls for Service (incidents are categorized from 1 to 3
with one being the highest priority) was 7 minutes during this time period, which met our goal of
having an average response time of less than 8 minutes.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 27, 2012 at 7:29 am

Out of all of the arrests five whole felony arrests. Wow.

With El Camino running through the middle of town, citing or arresting traffic violators is like shooting fish in a barrel.

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Posted by droves
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 27, 2012 at 8:10 am

More Atherton Police Activity in October 2012
Case 11-315: Detective Yoakum has been working closely with the District Attorney’s Office
on a fraud case, involving a construction contractor illegally obtaining funds with false
vouchers/invoices. Our victim lost approximately $400,000.00. On October 30, 2012, Detective
Yoakum obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect. On the same date, Detective Yoakum located
the suspect in Redwood City and placed him under arrest.
Case 10-363: This investigation is for Oral Copulation and Sexual Battery from 2010. Sgt. Lopez
worked with the District Attorney’s Office to get the case filed after they initially rejected it. The
DA’s office recently obtained an arrest warrant for the suspect. The Investigations Unit is in the
process of locating the suspect to make an arrest.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

Sounds like nice police work by Detective Yoakum and Sgt.Lopez.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Nov 27, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Here is an idea, lived down under in Melbourne which was great. Was there when they merged cities together, seems about time we start doing this. Merge police, fire and the schools, you could save a ton of money.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 27, 2012 at 8:19 pm


one question about the oral cop case from 2010. Why'd the DA initially decline to prosecute?

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Nov 28, 2012 at 8:51 am

Hmmm. 12 hours and no response from droves.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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