News - December 28, 2011

Atherton council appeals to agency to keep interim manager

by Barbara Wood

One of the few things the warring Atherton City Council members can agree on is that they like the job John Danielson, the interim city manager, is doing for them.

According to state law governing retired public employees, however, he's already worked for the town for the maximum term of a year that a retiree may work for the same public employer while receiving retirement benefits.

In order to try to get around the rule, the council voted on Dec. 21 to send a letter of appeal to the state Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) board asking that Mr. Danielson, a retired city manager of Elk Grove, be allowed to stay in Atherton for up to one more year.

The letter paints a dire picture of the current state of staffing in Atherton's town offices.

"At present, the key positions of Police Chief, Finance Director, Public Works Director, and Building Official are filled with interim or new contract employees," the letters says. "We have no Assistant City Manager, no City Clerk, and 13 of 16 general employees were laid off due to financial constraints. In short, we are in the middle of a fiscal restructuring that has been orchestrated and planned by Mr. Danielson."

In fact, the original letter presented to the council was so dire that newly-appointed mayor Bill Widmer, who must sign the letter, asked to have it toned down. "If I need to sign it I would like it to be true," Mr. Widmer said. "I think we could be a little softer with our analysis of the current situation."

Council member Elizabeth Lewis came up with an acceptable solution: Instead of saying the "situation has actually deteriorated during the past year," she suggested the letter say "it has gotten better because of city manager John Danielson's leadership."

Mayor Widmer said he hopes it will take far less than a year to find a permanent city manager.

The letter says that Mr. Danielson may also be needed by the town to respond to lawsuits that have been filed during his tenure. City attorney William Conners said the suits were filed by some of the employees laid off by the town during the last year when Atherton contracted out most of its building and public works jobs.


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