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Atherton: Fired finance director seeks to block investigation report

Original post made on Nov 7, 2007

The murky details surrounding the unceremonious firing of Atherton Finance Director John Johns on Oct. 29 might be revealed to the public. Then again, they might not.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 7, 2007, 12:00 AM

Comments (18)

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Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 7, 2007 at 8:43 pm

There is so much information to the events of the past year that the residents of Atherton should know and understand. Information obtained from my Freedom of Information requests should be shared and residents informed.

1. Interim City Manager Wende Protzman has down an amazing job, stepping in to a difficult situation three months ago and thinking clearly how to proceed. She has consulted with knowledgeable specialists in human relations issues, made solid decisions, keep council informed, and acted in the best interest of Atherton.
2. Regarding the Police ticket to John Johns. This is unfortunate. Mr. Johns was placed on leave and advised not to return to Town offices during the investigation. He violated that requirement and was told to leave the premises. However the Police already knew he had an expired driver’s license, and when he started his car, they were required to issue a Fix-it ticket. Had they not done so and had he been involved in an accident on the way home, the Town would have been at fault.

For Mr. Johns to claim a Fix –It Ticket as unlawful search and seizure is an overkill. He drove to town and when he attempted to leave; the police simply did their duty to the Town.

3. The subtitle of this story: “Johns says report on him is flawed; he denies allegations” I am sure if asked Retired Building Official Mike Hood would have denied allegations by John Johns. Mike Cully, Building Department consultant, and Gary Binger, from the Association of Bay Area Governments, who were brought in by City Manager Jim Robinson; would agree with Mr. Hood there were no improprieties, as alleged by Mr. Johns.
4. As a Council Member I attend the many philanthropic activities and events of Atherton Residents. Often I am asked about the high cost of permits and fees. During his tenure as Building Official Mr. Hood did his best to keep fees down, to run on a small a budget as possible, and still provide the best service. He had a reputation in the Peninsula as being tough but fair by taking the time to meet and advise residents in advance of plan changes needed before they spent ten of thousands of dollars with architects designing plans that would not meet Atherton codes and he would later have to reject. I have heard story after story from residents of these experiences with Mr. Hood.

Mr. Hood required something more than most Building Officials- new homes are required to have height and setback independently verified by a licensed civil engineer.

Though all of Mr. Johns’ Audits of the Building Department and inspection of 6,600 permit files he did not find any instances of undercharging- all he could come up with was to allege that Mr. Hood should have been charging a wrongful fee increase a week before it went into place.

The recommendations to have increased controls and cross checks in the Building Department will come to residents at a price. This past June’s budget done by Mr. Johns included a large fee increase on some permits to cover the costs of the restructuring needed for greater reports and controls on building permits and fees. Atherton Residents may have been happy with the lower fees and not felt the need for more audit reports on building projects.

5. My Freedom of Information Requests on Mr. Johns’ expenses and town cell phone usage show many items that concern me. During the six months the town provided him a cell phone, calls made during working hours were frequently made from outside Atherton. Recently a resident provided a copy of a February 2007 contract for Mr. Johns to do 400 hours consulting for Sutter County.

On his expenses Mr. Johns put an IPOD, a digital camera (when the town already has two), a laser printer and a photo printer. There are meals in restaurants in Menlo Park, and several hundred dollars in copy expenses at a Kinkos in Santa Clara.

There are several hundred dollars in expenses reported as “Fraud” and a new card was issued. It took Mr. Johns months to get the paperwork in to the Credit Card company and he never reported the identify theft to the police, which are fifty feet from his office and have a specialist in Identify Theft. Several of the charges were to web sites that require the user to leave an email address or shipping address. I would think Atherton PD would have located the user given the chance.

It is clear to me, Atherton needs increased controls and cross checks on expense reports.

6. On his resume to obtain the Sutter contract in February 2007, he writes how he implemented a $700,000 Off-Haul fee. He does not say that residents challenged as to weather is was a fee or tax and it was rescinded and repaid by the council.
7. Another Atherton fee increase on Mr. Johns Sutter County Contract resume is that he changed and increased the business license tax for contractors and sub-contractors adding $300,000 in revenue. We have now discovered this could be a wrongful interpretation of State business license fees as he changed it from a one year fee to per job site. Some contractors paid multiple fees for the same year. Did these increases to the residents of Atherton help him gain outside consulting work by adding to his resume?

My appreciation to all Atherton Staff for enduring this period of turmoil and serving the residents of Atherton well as shown by survey last year that 97% of residents are satisfied and 82% are very satisfied with services.

Charles Marsala
Council Member

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Posted by Michael Stogner
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2007 at 11:53 am

"However the Police already knew he had an expired driver’s license,"

Mr. Marsala, Could you explain how the Atherton Police knew the above information?

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Posted by Chad
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 8, 2007 at 1:38 pm

How much more is this latest shenanigan of Mr. John's going to cost our town?

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Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 8, 2007 at 5:30 pm


Mr. Johns was required not to return to Town Hall during his leave. The Police Station and Town Administrative offices use the same front door to Town Hall. The Police were advised of his leave.

Procedure requires that police dispatch have a photo of Mr. Johns to identify him should he violate the conditions of his leave and appear at Town Hall.

To obtain a photograph the Police pulled his driver's license, at which point they became aware it was expired.

Charles Marsala
Council Member

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Posted by Michael G Stogner
a resident of another community
on Nov 8, 2007 at 6:02 pm

Thank You for your response, I live in San Carlos and our City also shares the same building with Police and City Council. Are you suggesting that your Police Department and officers didn't know what Mr. John Johns looked like. He is the man who wanted to audit the Police Department, you don't think that upset Chief Bob Brennan. I hope your story is true and no law enforcement officer used the criminal computer system without proper authority. You can just imangine if every time a citizen upset your Police Chief and there was a routine background check done on them.

I'm not sure if you can comment on this subject anymore, as of Tuesday afternoon the Hon. Judge Robert Foiles granted a TRO involving the Town of Atherton which I think means you and a few others.

It seems strange that it is not good enough for the town of Atherton to fire the finace director who wanted to audit the PD, he gets a ticket and now a few individuals want to publish more stuff.

Web Link

Best of Luck to the Town of Atherton

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Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 8, 2007 at 9:48 pm


Nine hours ago you asked me to explain a comment, which I did. Two hours ago you ask if I should be commenting on the subject. What is up with that?

To your last question; not every staff member of the police knows what Mr. Johns looks like. Night shift may never have met him; so a photo was needed.

No-I do not think Mr. Johns wanting to audit the police dept upset the Chief. I have seen many reports on the Police Department and they are used to being reviewed. The Chief is proud of last year's record breaking 97% satisfaction rating from a town survey; with 82% being very satisfied.

The public has a right to know how their government is working, hence the Freedom of Informamtion Act. If they want to hear what this recent event is about; they are entitled to exercise those rights.


Charles Marsala
Council Member

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Posted by Carla
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 9, 2007 at 12:05 pm

The people of Atherton need to be told what's going on. The report should be aired. Of what is Mr. Johns afraid?

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Posted by Michael G Stogner
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2007 at 6:47 pm

I'm sure that your Police Chief Bob Brennen got a very nice survey from residents who live in Atherton, They would have to be idiots to complain about him and still live there as his behavior has demonstrated.

Atherton happens to be the location of a multi law enforcement computer investigative unit. This information was made public during the Mike King trial
Several different Police Departments are involved as I am sure you are aware. this unit has the ability to access computers and the skill.

Your police Chief Bob Brennen also happens to be a member of the Service League of San Mateo County...which has no official affiliation to San Mateo County. He is the only Police Chief member.

google it and look up the members.

His statements regarding the routine backgroud check on Mr. John Johns and the tickect are simply not believable. Would he be willing to make the same statements under oath?

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Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Nov 11, 2007 at 5:55 pm

Richard Hine is a registered user.

I've taken some comments off line because they seem to be muddled and off-topic, or disparaging of other posters. Please stay on topic, avoid belittling remarks about other posters, and vague guilt-by-association references. Let's make this an intelligent exchange of ideas. If you have evidence of public misfeasance, malfeasance, etc., please submit it to the Almanac.
Richard Hine, managing editor, The Almanac
650-854-2626, x. 213

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Posted by Hyena
a resident of another community
on Nov 12, 2007 at 6:36 am

Outrageous! The Country Almanac is a farce. The paper chose to back the wrong horse in this controversy. It publishes stories which are biased toward its choice. Now the Managing Editor filters its forums to remove free speech which is counter to his view.

"Muddled and off-topic" and "vague guilt-by-association" accurately describes the postings of Mr. Stogner, yet they remain online. Astonishing.

The Almanac is selectively purging its readers' speech and it should give up the protections of the ECPA. The Almanac should be held liable for the content of all of the messages in these forums, as it has demonstrated a practice of reviewing messages for "appropriateness".

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Posted by Richard Hine
editor of The Almanac
on Nov 12, 2007 at 9:15 am

Richard Hine is a registered user.

My comment refers to a Stogner post that was taken offline. Posts need to comply with terms of use. See this link: Web Link

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 12, 2007 at 3:50 pm

Once again, John Johns' antics have managed to entangle the town in a mire of legal bills and to divert everyone's energy from pursuing what's best for Atherton. As for Sam Goodman, Chair of the Audit Committee, he's supposed to be a representative of the town, not an aider and abettor of frivilous lawsuits and studies which have already extended Atherton's legal budget well beyond its boundaries.

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Posted by Michael G Stogner
a resident of another community
on Nov 17, 2007 at 7:43 am

What if Sam Goodman, Chair of the Audit Committee became aware of some information.

Is he supposed to just keep quiet? Pretend he doesn't know it. Hope it will go away. Don't tell anyone or he will loose his job.

That is why we have WhistleBlower laws.

it sounds like he became aware of some information through his position as Chair of the Audit Committee, and as a private citizen he is standing up and offering funding to correct it.

Sounds like a very good man.

Best of Luck Mr. Goodman

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Posted by nofreespeechhere
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 17, 2007 at 11:01 pm

The censorship by the Almanac is really out of hand. Note the thread
Web Link which has thus far led the censors to clip or remove 2 posters comments (one of which was mine)...


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Posted by Carol Parker
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 11, 2007 at 5:18 pm

Mr. Marsala, enough is enough. This has gone on for months. Let the City Council get on with their jobs. Let them find a permanent city manager. And a permanent finance director. Let the Grand Jury investigate as needed. All the official results are in. Find something else to write about.

I, for one, would like to see the elected officials focusing on their job of making the town a nice place to live and work.

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Posted by Charles Marsala
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 12, 2007 at 10:54 am

Ms. Parker,

Philanthropy in Atherton

I agree with you that we need to be focusing on making the Town a better place to live. If you read page 169 of this month’s Gentry there is a story of what Atherton resident Mike Derylo and I did in 2005 and we continued in 2006 to help in New Orleans rebuild from Katrina. The story is called “The Power of One.”

I have served on the non-profit boards of the Selby Education Foundation, the Peninsula Volunteers, the Stanford Delt Legends for Youth Programs, Menlo College’s Built to Last Program, and the Heart of Silicon Valley.

The Heart of Silicon Valley has raised over $150,000 at my home for Autism, the Community School of Music and Art, and the Support Center for Battered Women with their home concert series. The San Francisco Symphony has out reach Bar-B-Ques to recruit peninsula members here.

As a member of the Knights of St. John, I helped raise a $200,000 donation for a new kitchen this year for the Peninsula Volunteers Meals on Wheels program. When I was part of Silicon Valley Venture Fund, I helped secure a $150,000 for Yes Reading to open at Selby Lane School, teach English skills, and improve Test Scores.

I have also helped the Dames and Foundation raise funds for our Park.

Atherton has a multitude of Philanthropists, raising millions of dollars and doing great work to help the community and world; one of our roles as council members should be to facilitate and promote the works of these residents.

Last year as Mayor, I was working along with fellow council members on many important issues for Atherton: Improving Emergency Preparedness, Greening and Conversation of Natural Resources, Facility improvements, Train and Housing Issues.

Then we were distracted by the Audits:

At the end of June last year, sixty hours before Mike Hood’s retirement, the first Audit Report was released. I found the report to be erroneous, undermining of the City Manager, and distracting to addressing the other needs of the Atherton.

The Audits did not find any funds not collected- only charged that the Building Department should have been collecting off-haul fees before their effective date. By law the Building Department was doing the right thing. Other findings were that that Mr. Hood required extra building reviews that other cities do not: such an independent registered professional signing that the home meets Atherton height requirements and set back requirements.

Mr. Hood argued that the Off-Haul fee was wrong, needed to be recinded, and eventually he was proved right.

When I left the Arts, Waste Reduction, and Park and Recreation Committees to become a council member it was to address the needs of the Town. Last year’s Witch Hunt on the Building Department and this year’s Witch Hunt on the Police Department have distracted us.

Although in 2005 we did a preliminary study on a new Town Hall, and began talks on new Library designs; 2006 was lost due to the time spent on abatements and issues from the Audits. I look forward to having time to spend working with our great staff on positive issues in 2008.

I am sure all wish to focus on Housing, Train, Emergency Preparedness, Capital projects on roads, and drainage rather then focus on the waste and abuse of Town funds on IPODs, cameras, and printers in the Finance Department. But our fiduciary responsibility to the residents requires we investigate these purchases.


Charles Marsala
Council Member

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Posted by OutsideObserverLOL
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 12, 2007 at 4:02 pm

Nice spin, Charles - a "Bush-worthy" effort, but alas one that only the Bushies (or, in this case, the Athertonians) could actually believe in their "make-believe" world.

To really make the grade on this one, however, I'd like to see you try to say it in person in its entirety without at least once laughing out loud!

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle

on Jun 3, 2017 at 3:36 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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