News - May 18, 2011

Atherton: garbage rates, ethics panel on agenda

by Renee Batti

The Atherton City Council will review and possibly approve higher garbage rates, and discuss proposals by two council colleagues that would create an ethics and oversight board for the town, and establish rules on private donations made to the police department when it meets on Wednesday, May 18.

The meeting, which includes a public hearing on the proposed new garbage rates, begins at 7 p.m. in Jennings Pavilion in Holbrook-Palmer Park, 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton.

The garbage rate issue has been a contentious one since the town first proposed increases ranging from 63 percent to 98 percent late last year. With many residents up in arms over the proposal, and many questions raised about the need for rates that would have made Atherton the most expensive place on the Peninsula for trash pickup, the council voted in March to significantly lower the proposed rates.

Although council members at that time agreed to a rate schedule that would reflect a 39 percent increase for all service levels — from a 20-gallon can to a 96-gallon barrel — the public notice sent out that month inadvertently reflected higher rates than the council endorsed.

Theresa DellaSanta, the town clerk, said the council could still, for the most part, approve the lower rates it endorsed when it acts this week.

The council will also consider two memos from council members Bill Widmer and Kathy McKeithen, the first of which would require that specific donations made to the police department be made anonymously, and channeled only through the city manager and city attorney.

The memo notes that several donations have been made to the department recently, which has led to "citizen concerns ... that they may result in favoritism."

The proposed requirement comes at a time when a community group is "looking into ways to assist our community in minimizing the impacts" of budget cuts, according to former mayor Didi Fisher, who is part of the group. She said the group will look for sources of income such as grants and private donations to see the town through its financial crisis.

Mr. Widmer and Ms. McKeithen are also asking their colleagues to consider establishing an ethics oversight board consisting of one council member, one citizen who is a judge or lawyer, and the town's human resource manager or town manager. The board would hear and investigate citizen complaints of actions by town employees.


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