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Atherton Council to Review Brown Act Laws In December

Original post made by Council Concerns, Atherton: other, on Dec 4, 2012

At the December Council Meeting the Atherton Council will review Brown Act Laws. Below is part thread on this topic taken from another thread on the staff compensation reduction.

For two years the council has been divided 3-2 with several actions questionsed: the 3-2 Election of Bill Widmer as Vice-Mayor in December 2010, the Library issue, the Press Release regarding the APOA, legal action against the Athertonians, and the recent Reduction in staff compensation all have raised questions regarding Brown Act Compliance.

Here is the where the thread picks up.


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, 14 hours ago
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

"Would you comment on how it is possible for WMD to have such strong disagreement against the City Attorney, staff, several residents, and other council members with violating the Brown Act?"

Agreement of the mayor with other councils members plural - he can't without violating the Brown Act because he and two other council members constitute a majority of the council.

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Posted by BenchMark, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 13 hours ago

Peter,

We agree again on the Brown Act.

I agree with the City Attorney, Lewis, and Carlson that: That attorney believes it's "bad form" to approve at this meeting.

The City Attorney says he would liketo have CalPERS review and approve a portion of the resolution and will reintroduce that part at the next Council meeting.

For WMD to have pushed so strongly for approval after those comments of "bad form" by the city attorney concerns me.

"Kathy McKeithen-- Says pushing for a delay is only intended to make everyone start over again. Says there is reason not to delay;there is a risk of setting it back 9 months. Says this has been in discussion for months.McKeithen says this is all about the pending negotiations with the Police Department and that's why the APOA is at the meeting. Web Link

Jim Dobbie--He sees no reason to delay and makes a motion to approve the resolution.

Bill Widmer Says there is little activity during the week in question and it is a good time to do afurlough.

Bill Widmer Thinks the changes are cosmetic and do not justify putting off consideration. Says they have pushed it off multiple times. Motions for passage "once and for all" in an effort to prevent re-consideration next month. [City Attorney tells him he can't do that."

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Posted by Is this really happening?, a resident of the Atherton: West Atherton neighborhood, 13 hours ago

Are people on these boards really going to respond to the hundreds of posts by Atherton employees essentially saying the same things over and over again (basically complaining about a pay cut)?

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Posted by It Is Really Happening, a resident of the Atherton: West of Alameda neighborhood, 5 hours ago

Are people on these boards really going to respond to the hundreds of anonymous posts by Atherton Council Members essentially saying the same things over and over again (basically ignoring resident sentiment)?

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Posted by BenchMark, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 4 hours ago

What is really happening?

More Brown Act Violations in Atherton.

The Conpensation Reduction should not have been on the agenda last week, but Widmer, McKeithen, Dobbie wanted it passed with their terms, and for the new council not to be able to change it. It appears the Brown Act was violated to achieve that goal.

For years Atherton has been managed by a council majority that does not respect the Brown Act. Even though the residents spoke loud and clear and a discussion of the Brown Act is on next month's agenda. One reason is that appearent violations of the Brown Act have never been reviewed in Atherton. Here are two that have been reported with no review:
Brown Act Concern #1
"Atherton: John Johns loses legal round
by Andrea Gemmet Almanac Staff

The saga of Atherton's ex-finance director added some new twists last week, as a judge told John Johns he had to decide between suing the town and avoiding incriminating himself in a criminal investigation.

In addition, Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, who had been Mr. Johns' staunchest supporter on the council, repudiated a statement the former finance director made under oath.

The San Mateo County District Attorney's Office is currently investigating whether Mr. Johns used town equipment or town time while doing outside consulting work, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

Mr. Johns argued that he didn't know there was a criminal investigation going on, citing a November phone conversation with Councilwoman McKeithen. He said Ms. McKeithen told him the criminal complaint was going nowhere, according to a declaration filed with the court.

Ms. McKeithen, however, filed her own declaration on Feb. 27, saying she didn't tell Mr. Johns anything about a criminal complaint against him. "The statement Mr. Johns attributed to me under penalty of perjury in his declaration ... is not accurate," she said. "

The Brown Act prohibits council members from discussing closed session information. Mr. Johns swears that Ms. McKeithen violated that law.
End Result: By a 3-2 vote the council awarded Mr. Johns more than $200,000 and two years credit towards health care for life.

Brown Act Concern #2
"Why would McKeithen promote Widmer over Lewis?
Posted on May 22, 2012 by distraughtresident
This question refers to the whole, extremely strange and rather suspect Vice Mayor/Mayor selection thing that happened in December 2010 and which had some follow-on weirdness in 2011. Anyone else care to speculate? This episode with the Atherton council went largely unnoticed by many in town. Yet, this small act and possible major violation of the law, set the stage for much of the subsequent hostile actions perpetrated against the residents of the town relating to the Library Project. Love to hear what others think, as it is possible to suspect that this little incident, more than any other, reveals the ugly under-belly of the beast that we are dealing with.

As I understand it, Carlson nominated Lewis, whose turn it really was, having had three years of service on the council. Lewis probably seconds that motion. Then they vote. Carlson and Lewis vote "Aye" and Dobbie and McKeithen vote "Nay." Widmer stuns everyone by abstaining from this vote, so the nomination fails.
Think about this. You are a brand new council member, newly seated five minutes ago. The next most junior council member colleague of yours who has already served three years on the council, was just nominated to be Vice Mayor, according the the council's long-standing protocol of nominating that member of the council who has served the longest without having been Vice Mayor. What do you do to launch your political career? Abstain, force that nomination to fail? For what beneficial purpose?
I don't know about others, but I find this little episode to be hitting a nadir in the chambers of Atherton's not always so genteel politics. What happens next is both surprising and not so surprising: McKeithen and Dobbie nominate Widmer and the three vote to put him into the Vice Mayor seat. Just like that.

It happened so fast, people changed seats, and then the meeting moved right along. A lot of us were just staggered, downright uncomprehending. It seemed to be merely outright meanness by Widmer. We didn't really have any clue of why McKeithen and Dobbie would line up like that, until this past fall, when residents begin to call out their concerns about the ALBSC and we started to see Widmer squirm under the spotlight of McKeithen's botched Library outreach job and so many suppressive council votes. He didn't seem at all convinced about what the ALBSC was doing, yet dutifully marched in step with McKeithen, despite awareness of all of the ALBSC's "failings" as he called them.
It was John Danielson who let slip a little information: he said Dobbie prided himself on having mentored Widmer. It makes you wonder what that mentoring consisted of."

Hopefully the new council will do more than just talk about the Brown Act next month, it will put in place something to hold council members accountable for violations.


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Posted by Council Concerns, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 2 hours ago

Besides the three possible Brown Act Violations mentioned above. Here are a few more from this year's agenda items.

1. The Co-ordinated response from Widmer, McKiethen, and Dobbie to the APOA endorsements gives the appearance they somehow knew what each other's roll was and the message was to be "Fear mongering" by the APOA. Widmer and Dobbie requested an agenda item and were in the newspaper; and McKeithen wrote a guest opinion. All three had the same message, used the word "fear mongering" and claimed to have received calls from residents afraid to put up yard signs.

2. The Co-ordinated efforts by Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie against the Athertonians Blog to push for legal action, when the blog is a obvious first admendment right. How is it that none of them could see the first admendment right.

3. The Co-ordinated efforts Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie against the Save our Park Committee. All three repeated a claim of "misleading statements" being made by the Save Our Park Committee.

Peter has suggested the council implement a 15 day policy on Compensation changes-good idea. The council should also implement a policy to allow residents to submit concerns on Brown Act Violations and require some type of response from the town.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, 1 hour ago
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

"The council should also implement a policy to allow residents to submit concerns on Brown Act Violations and require some type of response from the town."

No need for such a council policy - The Brown Act already has one:

54960.1. Violation of Act; Actions declared null and void
(a) The district attorney or any interested person may commence an action by mandamus
or injunction for the purpose of obtaining a judicial determination that an action taken by a legislative body of a local agency in violation of Section 54953, 54954.2, 54954.5, 54954.6, 54956, or 54956.5 is null and void under this section. Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prevent a legislative body from curing or correcting an action challenged pursuant to this section.

(b) Prior to any action being commenced pursuant to subdivision (a), the district attorney or interested person shall make a demand of the legislative body to cure or correct the action alleged to have been taken in violation of Section 54953, 54954.2, 54954.5, 54954.6, 54956, or 54956.5. The demand shall be in writing and clearly describe the challenged action of the legislative body and nature of the alleged violation.

(c) (1) The written demand shall be made within 90 days from the date the action was taken unless the action was taken in an open session but in violation of Section 54954.2, in which case the written demand shall be made within 30 days from the date the action was taken.

(2) Within 30 days of receipt of the demand, the legislative body shall cure or correct the challenged action and inform the demanding party in writing of its actions to cure or correct or inform the demanding party in writing of its decision not to cure or correct the challenged action.
(3) If the legislative body takes no action within the 30-day period, the inaction shall be deemed a decision not to cure or correct the challenged action, and the 15-day period to commence the action described in subdivision (a) shall commence to run the day after the 30-day period to cure or correct expires.
(4) Within 15 days of receipt of the written notice of the legislative body's decision to cure or correct, or not to cure or correct, or within 15 days of the expiration of the 30-day period to cure or correct, whichever is earlier, the demanding party shall be required to commence the action pursuant to subdivision (a) or thereafter be barred from commencing the action.

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Posted by Way to go, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 1 hour ago

Well Peter that seems simple enough if your an attorney and have time on your hands.

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Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, 1 hour ago
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

"Well Peter that seems simple enough if your an attorney and have time on your hands."

A literate person can do all of these steps without the help of an attorney. The written demand is a straightforward letter detailing the alleged violation and asking that the violation be 'cured'.

Democracy isn't easy and true citizenship isn't without responsibilities.

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Posted by Way to go, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 40 minutes ago

Peter says "Democracy isn't easy and true citizenship isn't without responsibilities."

While I appreciate the ongoing lecture and I do not disagree with you the Brown Act violations in California are apparently frequent and well documented but almost never prosecuted. So here is a law on the books that is largely not enforced so there must be a good reason.

I would rather Atherton Council Members or committee people comply with the law but if they do not then there should be a mechanism where the Town attorney accepts complaints He can either cautions the offenders members to comply if warranted or determines there is no transgression.

That would be workable.

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Posted by Council Concerns, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 24 minutes ago

I agree with Way to Go. Brown Act laws do not appear to have been enforced and appear to have been abused in Atherton. Way to go makes a point: "a mechanism where the Town attorney accepts complaints He can either cautions the offenders members to comply if warranted or determines there is no transgression."

Here is an idea for council to consider at the next meeting. Under City Attorney reports and a Part B to the report. The City Attorney reports if he has been notified of any Brown Act Violations and publicly responds with an answer.

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Posted by Another idea, a resident of the Atherton: other neighborhood, 19 minutes ago

Let's also have the city attorney adjudicate and make findings on resident complaints about the conduct of some of the police officers (including leadership of the APOA). Maybe there will be a different outcome than the cops deciding the legitimacy of the complaints on their own?

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Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of the Atherton: Lindenwood neighborhood, 6 minutes ago
Peter Carpenter is a member (registered user) of Almanac Online

"a mechanism where the Town attorney accepts complaints He can either cautions the offenders members to comply if warranted or determines there is no transgression."

The Town Attorney does exactly this - try it.

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Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community, 2 minutes ago

San Mateo County needs a District Attorney that will enforce the Brown Act Law. Currently we do not have that with Steve Wagstaffe, and we did not have that with James P. Fox.

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