Almanac

News - February 16, 2011

Atherton faces more legal claims by former employee

by Renee Batti

Atherton officials may have thought they put the nasty business of finance director John Johns' firing behind them when they approved a $225,000 settlement with him last year for wrongful termination.

But that has proven to be wishful thinking. Mr. Johns has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming the town of Atherton retaliated against him when it declined to hire him to be interim city manager late last year.

Mr. Johns applied for the interim manager position after the town's permanent city manager, Jerry Gruber, resigned last October. The town considered a number of applicants, and hired Nadine Levin as "bridge" interim manager in October, then a longer-term interim manager, John Danielson, who began work at the beginning of the year.

In his EEOC claim, Mr. Johns cites his advocacy, during his tenure as finance director, on behalf of two female town employees. He had complained to town officials that the women were being subjected to sexual harassment, but his complaints were not followed up on, he said.

In a brief written for a planned mediation session, Mr. Johns wrote that the town responded to his complaints by first dismissing them as insignificant, and then by retaliating against him. The retaliation, he said, consisted of his 2007 suspension and, after a two-month investigation by the town, his firing.

Now, Mr. Johns states in his complaint, the town is again retaliating against him by refusing to rehire him.

Mr. Johns has also filed complaints against the town's police department based on what he alleges was his illegal detainment by the department during the 2007 series of actions by the town against him. The complaints allege evidence tampering and the falsification of two police reports pertaining to his detention and investigation, he said.

An internal investigation of the complaints is now under way, he said, and he was recently interviewed by the town-hired investigator, Pete Peterson, the former police chief of a small California town who also investigated a complaint by Atherton resident Jon Buckheit that the police report of his arrest had been falsified.

Comments

Posted by No surprise, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 16, 2011 at 9:50 pm

By simply dealing with the Johns firing as a money issue instead of a leadership issue, the town council did not resolve this problem. The wrong doers: Bob Brennan, Sherman Hall, Jerry Carlson, Charles Marsala, received no punishment or rebuke for the offenses they committed against Mr. Johns.


Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:16 am

One poster suggested I move on, get a life, stop bashing Atherton and go look for another gravy train.

In reply, I would like to say that I'm not interested in money. I have a new job which brings me a modest income. I'm a researcher with a national organization that represents primarily low paid workers from a broad range of trades.

Like Dr. Buckheit who's civil rights were also abused, I'd drop my claim for monetary damages in a heartbeat if the Town would take responsibility for the criminal conduct of certain highly placed elected and appointed officials who are and who were a part of the corrupt power structure that remains in place.

Sadly, the Town refuses to do so. Even worse, officials such as Mayor Jim Dobbie who were elected on the promise of cleaning up the Atherton Town government, seem to find a state of denial to be much more comfortable than a state of action.

For those who think that it is just me obsessively waging a one man crusade against Atherton as though I were Captain Ahab pursuing Moby Dick, I would also remind them that the Town's problems include one civil rights lawsuit against the Police Department, one lawsuit against the Building Deparmtent for negligence, two EEOC investigations (one of which is my own) and now an investigation by the FBI.

It was once said that Atherton is a train wreck just waiting to happen. I agree with this metaphor. I think we are seeing that train wreck happen albeit in slow motion.


Posted by None, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 17, 2011 at 10:18 am

Mr. Johns:

It's not just Atherton that is a train wreck just waiting to happen.

For more than thirty years, the San Mateo District Attorney's office has been a train wreck waiting to happen.

Now, under current management, it is actually happening as we speak.


Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 12:03 pm

I agree.

Several months ago, Wagstaffe was grandstanding over intrusive pat downs by TSA security agents at SFO. (See the link below.)

Web Link

What Wagstaffe should have been doing is looking into what seems to have been legitimate allegations into the misconduct of investigators and attorneys who report to him.


Posted by None, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Feb 17, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Mr. Johns:

You are right on the money about Wagstaffe's grandstanding about the TSA security pat downs.

I am sorry you have had so much trouble and am hoping that the FBI will investigate the claims made against Wagstaffe thoroughly.


Posted by Tim Wulff, a resident of another community
on Feb 17, 2011 at 9:38 pm

I'd like to say some things about Mr. Johns for the public record.

I have heard no one speak publicly about Mr. Johns personal and professional capabilities.

It's my opinion that this is a guy who was born be a CFO, and the only reason that he has lost that position with the Town is because his standards of professional conduct and ethics so challenge the personnel and elected officials that they chose not to deal with it.

Anyone who has interacted with him will perceive his intense intellect, quick mind and impossibly detailed recall of facts, dates and events. I can't do what he does with his mind.

John and I had a dream, and we knew we were at high risk, but character has that classic tragic aspect to it of the moth-to-the-flame. We had no choice because we are both servants. We are servants of the truth and servants of the common interest of the citizen.

Revelation of government conduct to the public is at the heart of the functioning of our system of government. It is no mistake that intimidation and financial coercion have been institutionalized in order to control the press and the culture of government employees.

Our desire was to replace the current culture of secrecy in the Town with one of clear, high standards of ethics and visibility of all activities at all levels, especially the revelation of failings, errors, mis-behavior, abuse and yes, crimes.

You will know that this town has been healed when you see these things occur, actualized by the choice of the Town Council. Until you see these things, you can know that all that which you surmise from perceived events is continuing.

The Town refused to hire John not because isn't appallingly professionally exemplary and brilliant. They refused to re-hire him because he represents the greatest threat there is to the presence, employment and agendas of the majority of the people involved with the Town government.

No one will remove these people from their positions until the citizenry gets up off their butt and cares enough to make it happen. Peter Carpenter tried to get a Citizen's group of 100 off the ground and no one called.

You are all an embarrassment.

The citizens of this town were the people that I sacrificed my career and my livelihood for, with conscious prescience.

John and I knew it was the faintest of chances that we could succeed, and I made him agree in the very beginning that he acknowledge that this was a win or lose situation. We would either succeed, or we would be destroyed.

Neither of us had the choice to other than to do what we did.

I refused to live as a man who would not offer up the truth when asked, even though it was to my detriment.

This was done in the service of the people. What we all are supposed to in government, remember?

What I have described is what you collectively actually do to those who have the temerity to actualize your own purported ideals.

When I was unemployed and bankrupt, not one person ever called to ask how I was.

And I have not to this day heard a single 'Thank you for your sacrifice'.

This is how you choose to create your world.


Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 17, 2011 at 10:41 pm

"To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men."

(not said by Abraham Lincoln, as many people think, but a female poet of mainly the 19th century, Ella Wheeler Wilcox).

Johns and Wulff are two men who decided not to act like cowards, and were punished for it by a highly defective system.


Posted by Jack O'Dwyer, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Is anyone taking notes? When will this be serialized for cable television? And who will play who? Can't wait for the promos.


Posted by John P Johns, a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Mr. O'Dwyer's note of humor hits close to home. I for one used to describe working for Atherton as though it was like stumbline on the combined sets of the television shows Dynasty and Mayberry RFD.

However Tim Wulff reminds us of the human cost which results from corruption and from failed attempts at correcting such corruption.

By sharing his experience with us, Tim reminds us that the casual abuse of power by elected and appointed officials in Atherton and elsewhere is, by no means, a victimless crime.

After being pressured to leave his employment with Atherton, Tim Wulff spent countless nights huddled in his car because he could no longer afford an apartment. Having been blacklisted he couldn't find work up or down the peninsula or points beyond.

There are other victims as well. Some known and some unknown.

There is Jon Buckheit who had to spend the night in jail and who was barred entrance back into his home after he sounded his plea for help with a call to 911.

Rather than apologize for its error, the Police Department falsely accused Mr. Buckheit of a crime. In Atherton it seems as though it is perfectly acceptable to rewrite a police report instead of taking responsibility for one's actions.

There is a woman whose mother fell victim to elder abuse. She complained to the Atherton Police Department about this crime. Since the former chief of police had become a personal friend of this woman's mother it would have been reasonable to expect that the Police Department would have acted swiftly and decisively.

The Police Department did not act. Despite uncovering substantial evidence of elder abuse during its investigation this woman's mother was left to die a slow death at the hands of a predator. Fortunately for the victim and for her daughter, an 11th hour rescue was effected. Fortunately for both, the rescuer did not ask for the permission of the Police Department to intervene.

There are also families living in Atherton whose homes weren't designed or built in accordance with the seismic or fire codes (one of which is now suing the Town), all because the former two Building Officials had little apparent respect for the rule of law.

While Mr. O'Dwyer's attempt at humor is appreciated, one must remember that what is going on in Atherton is serious business, and I mean deadly serious business.

Ignore what goes on at Town hall at your own risk.



Posted by The Miniseries, a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Could anyone believe the hijinks in America's wealthiest zip code?

With Harvey Keitel as Chief Bob Brennan

Jackie Earle Hayley as John Johns

...and starring...

Dame Judi Dench as Mayor Kathy McKeithen

And Jesse Eisenberg as Jon Buckheit

This week's episode: COP OUT

John Johns confronts the chief of police with a new complaint


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Feb 19, 2011 at 8:24 am

You probably wouldn't think it was very funny if it was you who called 911 and you ended up in handcuffs, arrested, locked in the back seat of police car, booked into jail, charged with a crime, had to hire an attorney, and found yourself named in a false police report.

Maybe not so funny...


Posted by Casting Call, a resident of another community
on Feb 19, 2011 at 11:39 am

Eisenberg's booked but MIchael Cera has expressed interest in the role. The director is working with him so he can get in touch with his 'nasty nerd' side.


Posted by hollywood, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Danny DeVito as Glenn Nielsen

Jim Belushi as Bob Brennan

Val Kilmer as Jon Buckheit

Tomme Lee Jones as John Johns

This miniseries is shaping up to be a blockbuster!


Posted by Jon Buckheit, a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 19, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Casting Call - Be nice to nerds. Chances are you'll end up working for one.


Posted by Tim Wulff, a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2011 at 8:35 pm

For the record, I never slept in my car.

I stayed with friends, but I was homeless for a brief period.

Also: A normally functioning person intuitively understands that it is crass and amoral to mock the suffering of others. Those who have authored these events spoken of here and those who approve of them and benefit from them may well not possess this innate comprehension.

Each person makes those important choices of whom he will be, of what values he will commit to actualization and bears the consequence of his choice.

For myself, while disappointed in others (nothing new for any of us), I do not regret my choices. They were inevitable. They were correct. They would be repeated tomorrow if the occasion arose.


Posted by socrates, a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2011 at 9:55 am

Woe unto those who cannot help bit be honest and just, for they suffer the indignity of corrupt and powerful.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields