Guest opinion: Mayor's letter upsetting for police supporter | November 7, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - November 7, 2012

Guest opinion: Mayor's letter upsetting for police supporter

by Don Way

On Oct. 31 we received a letter dated Oct. 18 from "The Mayor" (no name) of Atherton.

We believe the mailing to be a misuse of taxpayer dollars for political purposes. If the mayor does not like the people (Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest) the APOA endorsed for council, he should have to use his own campaign funds to promulgate his beliefs just as the Atherton Police Officers Association did. The mayor needs to be a statesman. Referring to our police as people who issue unspecified "misleading statements" is not statesmanship.

What is his agenda? Is it to go into negotiations with the police union next year in hostility so that he can walk from the talks and justify outsourcing? Is it to get his candidates elected?

Among other questions my wife and I would like to see answered publicly:

• The letter was unsigned. Is the mayor representing the entire council? Did the whole council approve his message?

• How about informal or sub-committee discussions on local policing? I just do not believe there have been no communications with APOA.

• Incomplete budget information was given regarding our police force — how about comparing staffing and response rates to last year, not to half a decade ago?

We moved here several years ago after 30-plus years in Palo Alto. In Palo Alto I served on the school board for eight years. I believed then, and I believe today, that honesty and transparency are absolute requisites of community leaders, and I am troubled that the Atherton council may not be living up to these essential attributes of effective representatives. I have a strong position on the Atherton Police Department — keep it.

However, it is true that funding for defined benefit retirement plans is an issue for all employers, especially public ones, and it is an issue that must be faced and addressed in a reasoned, public, and cooperative fashion. It seems to me, without being privy to all the communications, formal and informal, that the APOA has been willing to do this but has been stonewalled by the current council majority, which is one reason why we have contributed to the APOA-PAC.

A two-tier police retirement plan would be a good first step although the devil always is in the details. Of course we should have a school resource officer. Of course we should support renewal of the parcel tax; it's not like our friends and neighbors cannot afford it. As for placing items on the council agenda, I had no idea it apparently takes a majority; that's nonsense. Any one elected council member should have that right.

Here in Atherton we all have our own little private enclaves, and we like it that way. Unfortunately, that leads to a disregard for — and disinterest in — local governance. Our council does not represent the talent that resides in this town because most of us do not care enough to be involved. We need more who do.

Don Way lives on Patricia Drive in Atherton.


Posted by More spending, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2012 at 8:10 am

Strange that the Mayor went to such effort to comment on the APOA letter and does not respond here to Mr. Way's letter.

Mr. Way opens with the statement:

"We believe the mailing to be a misuse of taxpayer dollars for political purposes. If the mayor does not like the people (Elizabeth Lewis and Cary Wiest) the APOA endorsed for council, he should have to use his own campaign funds to promulgate his beliefs..."

I also believe the EIR to move the library to the park to be a misuse of taxpayer dollars for political purposes. The EIR was ratified by Widmer, McKeithen, and Dobbie and then referenced by the Yes on F Committee, which McKeithen donated to, advised, and made phone calls on behalf of to lobby for town votes.

Posted by Resurrection, a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2012 at 3:49 pm

Bill encourages us to visit his website, Web Link.

The first thing you see is his election tagline, “Budget-minded Independent Listening Leader”.

Let’s start with “Independent”.

How does he square his Independence with his voting so often with Dobbie and McKeithen?

Might it have something to do with his being appointed Vice Mayor at his first Council meeting?

For those not familiar, the Vice Mayor and Mayor seat rotates among the Council Members. In 2011, it was to be Lewis’ turn to be Vice Mayor. But, she got bypassed. Dobbie and McKeithen nominated Bill instead. And, with Bill’s help (he was his own third vote), he became the Vice Mayor at his very first meeting. Thus began the 3-2 split on the Council.

How could Dobbie, McKeithen, and Widmer coordinate this “coup” had they not coordinated their actions, perhaps in violation of the Brown Act?

More importantly, what did Bill owe Dobbie and McKeithen in exchange for getting this Vice Mayor seat when he had only just been elected? Is he truly “independent” when he owes them so much in return for the quick ascension to power?

We turn now to “Library”.

Bill’s website lists many platforms. He does mention “Library” as one of his issues, but does not declare he’s in favor of moving it to the park. His archived SmartVoter platform also fails to mention moving the library to the park. Of course, this all smells like Obama’s Rose Garden Benghazi terrorism comment. It’s certainly a convenient mention of the word Library early in the game, but hardly a committed platform of moving the library to the park.

Did he misread the voters, as he claims? Or, did he promise to support McKeithen’s and Dobbie’s desire to build a new library in exchange for so quickly being made Mayor? Why would someone who is supposedly independent stubbornly resist letting residents vote on this matter for so long despite the apparent overwhelming opposition?

Finally, we turn to “Ethics”.

Bill mentions “Ethics” as a platform issue as well. Does he advocate transparency as the ethical way to do business? Would that include limiting agenda items to only those pre-approved by the Council majority?

Would ethics prohibit the use of Town funds to mail letters to residents so that he could counter a political campaign?

Does ethics include following the Brown Act, including the serial meeting provision? If so, how was McKeithen able to submit a letter in this very newspaper before a Friday deadline mentioning a YouTube video that Bill wouldn't publish until the next day?

These are all important questions. Will the answers ever see the light of day?

Posted by Perfect for the police department, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2012 at 4:52 pm

We have a top notch police department. Let's have them investigate this. Any possible conflict coming from Widmer's criticisms of their letters and campaigning can be waived by the new council. Only arrests and criminal prosecutions can rectify these wrongs. These guys didn't just lose on F, war crimes have been committed here. I'd like to see John Mattes as judge, jury, and executioner.

Posted by More Spending, a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Substantial funds were spent for an EIR that should have been done after the vote.

From the Almanac- August 2012

"Mayor Bill Widmer noted that the EIR reviewed five library options, allowing comparisons of different potential sites for the facility, which could help
voters in "deciding on one site over another.""....

"Also on the agenda was the certification by the council of the environmental impact report (EIR) on alternatives for locating the new library, including options not in the park....

The council certified the document on a 3-2 vote, with Ms. Lewis and Councilman Jerry Carlson opposed. The two council members had also opposed the council action late last year to approve a library in the park....

Library in the park?

Ballot language recommended for council approval by City Attorney Bill Conners asked voters if the town should "construct a new library in Holbrook-Palmer Park using funds dedicated for library purposes only, and not using any existing park open space for this purpose."

Council members Carlson and Lewis, as well as numerous residents who addressed the council, wanted the references to funding and open space deleted, arguing that the question should be: Should a library be built in the park — yes or no?

While some asserted that the language about funding and open space was confusing, others said it was biased in favor of building the library in the park. The additional information, they said, could be included in the ballot arguments instead.

But others argued that without funding and location information in the labeling language, the question would be too ambiguous and wouldn't tell voters what they need to know. "Vague and amorphous (language) could also be biased," said Mr. Conners, who said he wrote the language with no "axe to grind or oar to pull" in the debate.

Mr. Conners also noted that the extra language would restrict the town from using money from its general fund, and from encroaching on existing open space in the park. (The town has a special fund that can be spent only on the library; it is expected to exceed $8 million by the time construction begins.)....

Other residents also argued for the addition, and the council added language telling voters that the library would be built "by replacing the Main House and some surrounding patios and walkways."

Library EIR

The council's certification of the library EIR, which includes environmental analysis of options for building in the park and in the Town Center, won't have a direct impact on the November ballot measure. But the recommendation to certify it drew many of the same opponents who wanted to simplify the ballot language of the library measure.

Councilman Carlson said certifying the document will confuse residents, who will wonder if the council is "taking one step further" in supporting a library in the park. "I'm concerned about the message we may be sending," he said.

But Councilman Jim Dobbie said that the town attorney "has made it crystal clear that approving the EIR is not approving a project. They're totally separate. The only reason to delay (certification) is if we think it's inadequate."

Mr. Conners and Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen noted that the EIR could
provide voters with useful information to help them make their decision at the ballot box.

When Councilwoman Lewis pointed out that the document is already posted on the town's website and residents can review it before the council acts on it, Ms. McKeithen countered: "Certification says it's been completed in accordance with California law. It's an issue of credibility in voters' minds.

Mayor Bill Widmer noted that the EIR reviewed five library options, allowing comparisons of different potential sites for the facility, which could help
voters in "deciding on one site over another."

Meeting start time

A number of residents criticized the town for beginning the meeting at 4 p.m., when many people are still at work or commuting home.