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Grand Jury rebukes Atherton events rules

Original post made on Apr 7, 2009

If Atherton neighbors have a problem with events on the Menlo-Atherton High School campus, they should take it up with the school district and the town should stay out of it. That, in a nutshell, is the conclusion of a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report issued Monday, April 6, that examines Atherton's controversial special events ordinance.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, April 8, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (14)

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Posted by in the know
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 7, 2009 at 2:45 pm

A member of the FY 2008-09 Grand Jury told me that Councilman Marsala had some friends of the Grand Jury.

When when the Grand Jury focuses on an issue as trivial as this. There can be little doubt.

The Grnd Jury's time would have been better spent looking at how the Atherton PD spends its money.

How ong this post stays up will indicate what kinds of friends Marsala has at the Almanac.

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Posted by the jackal
a resident of Portola Valley: Portola Valley Ranch
on Apr 7, 2009 at 5:41 pm

This San Mateo County Grand Jury was the least impressive assortment of mental midgets ever assembled - with the possible exception of the 08-09 Grand Jury.

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Posted by socrates
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 7, 2009 at 6:46 pm

It is Mayor Carlson whom we should be disappointed in.

He had a chance to show some leadership and put a stop to the special events ordinance.

Instead he let Kathy Mc Keithen and her Lindenwood cronies lead her around by the nose.

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Posted by brian foster
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2009 at 9:28 pm

If I am not mistaken, this is the third time Atherton has been subject to a reprimand by the Grand Jury in three years.

It would appear as though the City Council has something to learn about acting responsibly and with respect for the rule of law.

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Posted by arlan
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 7, 2009 at 10:28 pm

Socrates is right

Jerry Carlson has been the swing vote for several years.

He had a chance to put a stop to both the special events and the artifacts ordnances. Instead he went along with the just say no crowd.

He should be held accountable.

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Posted by Accountability
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 8, 2009 at 12:06 am

How does one hold the mayor (or any town council member) accountable? I mean, they are doing this work on an unpaid basis, spend quite a bit of time in the meetings, and I'm really not sure what benefit they get from it other than their own personal satisfaction (for example, I doubt it can be used as a springboard for higher office).

The real reform would be to make the town manager electable each year by the voters. This is someone who wants/needs the salary, house, and benefits that go with the job. In terms of the day to day issues that have bothered most people (save for the artifacts issue), these were decided by town staff, not council members, who probably act with impunity given the (I believe wrongful) directive from a previous grand jury that the council's oversight of town affairs and employees is strictly limited to managing the town manager. The council members come and go, but the employees continue to be there. At the very least, put the town manager on a base salary/bonus arrangement with specific incentives such as keeping the budget balanced, reducing litigation to a sane level, etc. I think people would be amazed at how effective this would be.

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Posted by scholar
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Apr 8, 2009 at 5:41 am

Accountability is right

This would require a amendment change to a strong mayor form of government.

I for one would welcome the change. My vote would be for Charles Marsala.

However I doubt he would want the job. He's already got a home in town and has a successful business.

Too bad, this is just the kind of leader the Town needs.

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Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 8, 2009 at 8:37 am

The Grand Jury is commenting on the Atherton Non-School Events Guidelines as the MA Performing Arts Center cost taxpayers over $26,000,000. Three San Mateo County elected organizations have spent a fair amount of tax dollars in legal costs regarding usage of the Performing Arts Center. The Pop Warner issue adds to the need for an opinion from an oversite board. The good news unlike lawsuits the Grand Jury opinion does not cost a large amount of funds.

Parts of the Grand Jury report that stand out to me:
From Page 5, Item 6: There are eight cities in the District. No other city within the boundaries of the District imposes specific requirements for the Civic Center Act, non-school-related uses of fields or outdoor and indoor facilities.

From Page 6, Items 1 & 2: The 2008-2009 San Mateo County Grand Jury recommends that the Town Council for the Town of Atherton:
1. Should recognize that the Sequoia Union High School District is also a public body that is accountable to its constituents and is responsible for regulating use of its facilities for both school and non-school use.
2. Expressly exempt all present and future public school facilities from the Special Events Ordinance and Special Event Guidelines.

Our Town Council sets policy for the City Manager to enforce. I have felt for some time that the Non School Events Guideline Policy is onerous and needs to be relaxed by the council, this would free staff time for other issues.


Charles Marsala
Council Member

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Posted by jack rosen
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

Right on Charles!

If Councilman Marsala isn't inclined run for Mayor under a strong mayor form of government, maybe we could draft him.

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Posted by Concerned Resident
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 8, 2009 at 10:31 am

Here we go again...

Why is it that we have a council that is constantly over reaching their legal ability. Why must they be told by the Grand Jury and the courts that they are acting inappropriately and in a capricious manner time and time again! How much of the taxpayer dollars are we going to allow the council to spend over and over. They have over the last few years spent hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars defending their personal interests (people please realize it is over $650,000.00 in the last 2 years alone). When will the people of Atherton start listening to what this council is doing to our town. The majority of the council have hidden agendas that benefit their own special interests and do not care what it does to the rest of the town. People if we are not careful this council is going to bankrupt our town very soon, if they have not already done so. Is this really how you want our parcel tax dollars to be spent? I think have a chance to tell the council this when it comes up for a vote again in November.

Their are two council memebers (Marsala and Lewis) who have acted in good faith and spoken out when the council starts to head down a path of distruction but they are the minority on the council unfortunately. We need more people with clear unbiased minds on the council. I do think that the current council and the Mayor should be held accountable for the mess they have created. Who else would or should be held accountable? The city manager really reports to the council...after all he was hired by the council...right?

Why must the McKeithen, Carlson, and Dobbie always point fingers at someone else when they are the problem! Look back on the records and see how they voted in any council meeting, the facts are the facts.

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Posted by Accountability
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:01 am

Concerned Resident, the answer to your questions above simply has to do with the incentive plans in place for the members of the Atherton government. The town manager, who wants his salary, retirement benefits, free house, etc., is fairly well shielded from the public in terms of being accountable for his decisions. If mistakes are made by town employees, it's simply explained as being a vestige of the previous police chief, town attorney, town manager, finance director, etc. The council has limited power to actually manage the town affairs and their accountability is limited to losing re-election for their council seat. This wouldn't be the end of the world for any of them. The "strong mayor" form of government that I initially advocated is what Atherton needs. Charles Marsala would be a great candidate for an executive mayor since he's shown maverick qualities in taking on tough issues. This would ideally involve recasting the existing town manager into a different type of position (perhaps with a different individual) that is responsible for the ministerial parts of existing responsibilities (applying for grants, etc.) whereas the decision making and management would reside with the elected, executive mayor. This is a system that has accountability, and the appropriate reward structure.

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Posted by esquire
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:07 am

Of the troika Concerned Resident speaks of Kathy McKeithen is the worst.

The Town\'s legal problems have been compounded by Kathy McKeithen\'s inability to be discrete.

Take the case of the former finance director who is suing the Town. He probably wouldn\'t have a case if Kathy hadn\'t let it slip that the City Council discussed his case in closed session.

If I were the District Attorney, I\'d be asking Kathy McKeithen about her conversations with the former contract plan checker during the months of October and November 2007. How else would it be known that the Cuncil voted 3 to 1 with one abstension (Kathy voted no and Jerry abstained) on the terms of the former finance director\'s terms of separation on October 3rd 2007?

The last time I checked, a brown act violation was a misdemeanor.

I hope Kathy has a good criminal defense attorney.

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Posted by come on
a resident of Atherton: other
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:15 am

Come on, Esquire (former town attorney?) - the root cause of any municipal legal problem is the bad decision making and institutional arrogance that caused them to exist in the first place, not how well damage control was done thereafter. I think your notions are awfully misguided.

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Posted by esquire
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2009 at 11:40 am

[Removed; excessive posts by same person]

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

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