Almanac

News - December 21, 2011

Atherton: Manager back in town, but how long?

by Renee Batti

John Danielson, Atherton's interim city manager since Jan. 3, is back in town and partially back on the job after suffering a medical emergency while out of the state in mid-November. But Interim Police Chief Ed Flint is still the town's acting city manager, and Mr. Danielson's future in Town Hall is uncertain.

Mr. Danielson's contract is set to expire Jan. 2, and no permanent manager is in sight. But because he receives retirement benefits from the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), Mr. Danielson is legally prohibited from working for a single employer for more than one year — and even during that year, the permitted number of work hours is limited.

The City Council is set to appeal to CalPERS for an extension to allow Mr. Danielson to work up to 960 more hours over the course of the next 12 months, if necessary. A draft letter to CalPERS that the council will be asked to approve at its Dec. 21 meeting says that the extension is needed to allow Mr. Danielson to finish "a reformation of the Town's operations in a way that will hopefully lead us from the brink of financial catastrophe." It adds: "It would be a substantial blow to this work in progress if he were forced to leave at the present time."

In addition to helping the town find a permanent manager, Mr. Danielson is needed to fill staff positions now held by interim employees, including those of police chief, public works director, and finance director, the letter argues.

The letter also cites Mr. Danielson's "serious medical problem that required surgical intervention in November, cutting short his availability to perform his important duties as outlined above for much of the final two months of this year."

Mayor Jim Dobbie told the Almanac that Mr. Danielson, who is paid $15,000 per month without benefits from the town, did not receive his salary during his medical leave. At the end of December, Mr. Danielson is expected to submit an invoice for a reduced work schedule for the month, according to Theresa DellaSanta, the town's deputy city clerk.

Meanwhile, Mr. Danielson has been in contact with acting manager Flint every day since returning to town, although he has not returned to Town Hall, Ms. DellaSanta said.

During his nearly one-year tenure, Mr. Danielson has struggled to carry out a key imperative he was charged with when hired: Resolve the town's structural budgetary deficit, estimated to be some $856,000. With the council's support, he orchestrated the outsourcing of the public works and building departments, which entailed the layoffs of 13 of the town's 16 general employees.

He also has sought to negotiate new compensation agreements with police department employees that would contain skyrocketing costs — an effort that is currently under way and is cited in the letter to CalPERS as another argument to allow Mr. Danielson to continue his work with the town.

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