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Atherton council members accuse colleagues of censorship

Original post made on Jun 23, 2009

Two members of the Atherton City Council are accusing their colleagues of censorship for making it harder to place issues on meeting agendas.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 24, 2009, 12:00 AM

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Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jun 23, 2009 at 2:27 pm

To my knowledge the ability of two council members to place an item on the agenda is standard practice in most cities. In January of this year I presented this concept to the Atherton Council after reviewing what other council do, including Menlo Park. It was approved 3-2.

In early March 2009, the San Mateo Grand Jury issued a report rebuking Atherton’s Special Events Ordinance imposing restrictions on non-school groups using facilities at Menlo-Atherton High School. The report also listed Finding number 7 as. “The Atherton Planning Commission does not appear to be broadly representative of the Town of Atherton.”

Discussion of this report was not on the March City Council agenda, but council members Dobbie and McKeithen made comments expressing their disapproval of the report. Council member Lewis and I found constructive some of the advice in the Grand Jury report but did not express our approval, as discussion of a non-agenda item during a council meeting is a Brown Act violation. We waited till the item was on the April agenda.

For the April Council meeting Council Member Lewis and I wrote a colleagues’ memo requesting an agenda item to review the California Brown Act and Atherton Council Code of Conduct.

This may also have been part of what triggered the request of council members Dobbie and McKeithen to place this item on the agenda. We have now eliminated the ability of two council members to place an item on the agenda for discussion and action.

Examples of an instance where putting something on the agenda would have helped the town or given residents in disagreement a chance to express their opinion and request the council change an ordinance include:

1. The Business License Tax BLT. The BLT was re-engineered in 2003, but was found to be doubling charging residents and schools building permits and charging on permits for more contractors then were needed and used to do jobs. The re-engineering lead to annual revenue to increase from $150,000 to $450,000.

In November 2007, Interim City Manager Wende Protzman informed the council of this problem. In 2008, I began pressuring for the Town to revert back to previous method and issue the refunds for overcharging, as the impact to Atherton’s budget and reserves would be approximately $1M.

In May of 2008, a member of the ACIL asked Interim Finance Director if my comments were correct. The Interim Finance Director confirmed by comments, however we did not address this illegal tax and announce we would issue refunds until after the November election of 2008. By waiting to address this problem until December, the town lost most of the legal revenue (approximately $100,000) it could have collected for FY2009-2010.

Had the ability to put the BLT on an agenda existed in 2008, Atherton might have collected an extra $100,000 in FY2009-2010.

2. Another example is basements. In 2006 a couple of residents who had bought adjoining acres, wanted to place basements under the accessory structures for children’s play areas. For months, I was not able to get this on the agenda. However when the Planning Commission sent an item to Council to eliminate garage basements, I advised those residents that basements would finally be an agenda item. A large number of residents organized and spoke at the council meeting requesting council end the five year probation on accessory structure basements.

After several more months and being sent to several committees, council reversed its position and basements under accessory structures are now allowed.

I do disagree with the above story’s comment that I “proposed selling to the library the town’s council chambers to expand the library.” While I think that concept has merit given the library has $4,019,000 in reserves, the reserve is growing at over $600,000 annually, and library programs need a better presentation place; what I proposed after referral from a town committee was for Atherton to approach the San Mateo Library JPA for approval of this possibility and continue Atherton’s review of the option.

Another option could be to simply use the funds to connect the library and council chambers, renovate the new facility to accommodate library programs and give the town use of the new facility for council, committee, and commission meetings.

Or if deemed appropriate transfer the building and land asset (valued at $800,000 to $1.3M) for appropriate library funds and use the remaining funds and surpluses from future years to cover the renovation. The appropriate value could be used towards an Emergency Operations Center for the town or to renovate the Pavilion to accommodate council meetings and wedding reception rentals during the winter months. This could bring in ten of thousands of dollars annually to the park’s budget, which could be spent on other Park needs. All ideas need resident input.

As council members I believe it is our duty to present solutions for consideration and the council agenda is the means for process.

Charles Marsala
Council Member

Like this comment
Posted by Renee Batti
associate editor of The Almanac
on Jun 23, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Renee Batti is a registered user.

This thread has been merged with an older thread on the same topic. See Web Link

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

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