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Atherton city attorney under fire by mayor

Original post made on Jul 29, 2010

The Atherton City Council has not asked City Attorney Wynne S. Furth to reapply for her job, which she has held since February 2009, but such a request could be coming.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 28, 2010, 12:00 AM

Comments (31)

Posted by Mary
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 29, 2010 at 5:41 pm

I do not know Mayor McKeithen but from what the Almanac reports, she seems like a tough lady. She has been in the city council for a long time, and I have noticed that ever since she came into the council aeons ago, there have been non-stop intrigues...all brought about by her accusations. How embarrassing for an "upscale community" such as ours to have a mayor like her representing us. It is so obvious that she is not afraid to ruin anybody's reputation.
Sadly, many in our town share the same sentiment about our mayor.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 29, 2010 at 5:55 pm

Mayor McKeithen has performed her job far better than has the Town Attorney.
The Mayor's problem is that the four other council members lack either the interest or the ability to work as a team. Under these circumstances the Mayor is often the point person on difficult and important issues without any support from her colleagues.

Posted by Louise
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Mary--How can you ADMIT that you don't even know the mayor, proceed to complain that she is rumored to ruin reputations, AND THEN POST AN AN ANONYMOUS BLOG TO DEFAME HER?

Why don't you run for office so that we can all pin the big mess the town is in on you instead of on the only council member with her eyes open.

Posted by Editor
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 30, 2010 at 7:40 am

More comments on this topic are at

Web Link

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 30, 2010 at 10:07 am

Mary -

Let's take a slightly closer look at the facts.

Council Member Marsala asked a resident for a $500,000 loan while that resident was in an active dispute with the town over his false arrest.

Council Member Lewis submitted plans to renovate her home and then demolished it and rebuilt it from scratch (at a size far larger than allowed)... and all without proper permitting. That was acknowledged by the town, but, for questionable reasons, was excused.

Council Member Carlson may have tainted the legal actions against HSR because of a known conflict of interest due to the location of his home.

While attending Harvard law school, City Attorney Furth appears to have skipped the class that covered conflicts of interest. She doesn't bat an eye offering safe harbor opinions for people who control her contract and compensation.

The Police Department is currently ensnared in several corruption scandals, the most serious being the false arrest of a resident and the falsification of a police report (now admitted by the police).

For her part, Mayor McKeithen has not only faced these issues, she has tried to resolve them. She has reached out - on this very forum - to citizens who have a beef with her town. I'm not aware of single scandal with her name on it.

So tell me again what Mayor McKeithen has done that has you so upset?

Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Jul 30, 2010 at 10:16 am

Pogo, I'm with you on this one.....Lets hear it Mary.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 30, 2010 at 10:53 am

And I never even mentioned the whole John Johns affair!

Posted by Kimberly Swiedy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jul 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm


I assure you, there is nothing "upscale" about the Town of Atherton. It is truly disturbing that with all our resources (in this community), both financial and educational, the Town of Atherton is not a role model for the entire country. Rather, it is, quite simply, an embarrassment and a disaster. And it is disappointing to see that citizens such as yourself have no shortage of opinions, only a shortage of the facts, which causes you to engage in classic "shoot the messenger" tactics, in a public forum, no less.

I personally know three heroes in this Town ..... Mayor McKeithen, Jon Buckheit and John Johns. And despite squeamish citizens such as yourself, I have joined them in once again validating Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis words, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant."

"Reputation" is what people believe is true, often without any basis in fact. We are very concerned with the _reality_ of the Town of Atherton's local government, Building Department, Police Force, City Manager and City Attorney. Can you even name these people, Mary?

Posted by Profiler
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I'm heartened by the many thoughtful and sincere rebuttals to "Mary" and her attack on Mayor McKeithen. Mary strikes me as someone who does not live in Atherton but pretends to so she can throw stones. How could she not know when Kathy McKeithen originally joined the City Council? It certainly wasn't "eons ago". Mary clearly has considerable class-envy to falsly malign the town of Atherton and also the person who is probably the best council member we've had in the last decade or so. Kathy McKeithen has a great cadre of admirers. It's likely that Mary, in addition to being uninformed, has ties to some who've been pulled out into the sunlight.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 30, 2010 at 9:09 pm

Mary -

What you did is called a "hit and run" post. You make some very serious accusations and run away.

Almost every subsequent post has challenged you - factually. You should have the integrity to respond.

Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jul 30, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I think Mary's comment was simply an ill-advised attempt to make Kathy McKeithen, a courageous individual, look bad by labeling her as a "rabble rouser" without any regard to the propriety of any of Ms. McKeithen's actions. Thus, I don't give it much credence. An intellectually honest critique would have made some attempt to analyze these actions and point out what is improper about them, not just simply vilify the notion that Ms. McKeithen has been willing to speak her mind on some issues that concern her.

Far more interesting to me are the contents of this article about the city attorney and Ms. Sweidy's comments. My own point of view is distilled into: "who is Ms. Furth's client"? The answer is: "The Town of Atherton", and I think she would agree with this. However, I think "The Town of Atherton" may mean something quite different to Ms. Furth than it does to me.

To Ms. Furth, I believe "The Town of Atherton" means the institution and the people who work for it. If anyone accuses that institution and/or the people who work for it of doing something wrong, she believes the only appropriate response is to defend that institution, no matter what the true facts or circumstances are. It's not all that different from a criminal defense attorney who says that his job is to defend his client, no matter what.

To many of the people who live here and pay property taxes, including myself, "The Town of Atherton" simply refers to us in the collective. We believe if the institution or the people who work for it make a mistake to the detriment of a resident, some acknowledgment and correction of that mistake should take place for the collective benefit of all of us. After all, if it can happen to one of us, it can happen to any one of us. I realize Ms. Furth et al. simply will refer to someone like me or Ms. Sweidy as an "aggrieved individual" and perhaps too many people like Mary will buy into that view without any real consideration or thought to the true facts underlying a particular situation.

I can assure you all that this second view of what the "Town of Atherton" is does not prevail right now in Atherton, but I really believe more effort should be made to consider how adopting more of that type of thought process would improve this community.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 31, 2010 at 8:54 am

Jon -

I think Ms. Furth thinks her client is the Town Council, period.

They are the ones who hired her, review her contract and set her compensation.

I don't think she defends "the institution," I think she does things to keep at least three Council Members happy.

Posted by Chesire Cat
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2010 at 11:09 am

The City Attorney's client is the Town of Atherton (the municipal corporation). The elected representatives are the customers. So are the Department heads. That relationship is well documented. Good information can be found at the California Cities website.

The issue here is not to whom the City Attorney reports. It is TRUST.

The Mayor says she doesn't trust Furth. Several contributors to this forum also have expressed their lack of trust, specifically allegations of questionable ethics and conflicts of interest.

Each of the people questioning these traits has suspect motivations. The Mayor is apparently not pleased with Furth's interpretation of law regarding her political adversaries. The others either have or are in the process of suing the Town; they are in an adversarial relationship with Furth.

Obviously, the Town contracted with a firm which is now defunct. That is reason enough to make the switch to another attorney / firm. Frankly, it seems only right that the "new" council members be allowed to make that decision.

Let's not get caught up in a suspect discussion about Furth's ethics and abilities. So far, I have only read a bunch of conjecture and speculation by parties with questionable motives. In our society, that should not be enough to impeach someone.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 31, 2010 at 11:29 am

Note that the Council will hold a Special Meeting at 9 AM on 2 August to discuss the process of hiring a new Town Attorney and the possibility of appointing an ad-hoc committee to assist in preparing the RFP.

Hopefully concerned citizens will be included in the potential ad-hoc committee

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Jul 31, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I am familiar with the facts and circumstances of two cases of existing or potential litigation. One involves the Police Department the other the Building Department.

I have seen Ms. Furth shield three of five members of the City Council from being held accountable for official misconduct.

I have seen her do this during my lawsuit (which was successfully prosecuted) and during the two cases mentioned herein.

Ms. Furth should be fired immediately. To continue employing her only increases the risk that the City will face defeat in a court of law that is catastrophic.

If one need to get an apreciation as to how badly a corrupt and incompetent City Council can hurt its city and how inimical the conduct of an all too accomodating city attorney can be, just look over the hill to Half Moon Bay.

Wake up and smell the coffee Atherton, you folks fail to fathom the peril that faces your Town government.

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jul 31, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Chesire Cat -

I don't think anyone questions who Ms. Furth SHOULD be legally representing. The point several posts have tried to make is that Ms. Furth does not recognize when a conflict of interest exists.

Conflicts cannot be determined by the person who is conflicted. All of us BELIEVE we can be fair and objective.

Someone once gave me this example. Suppose you were suing someone and, by luck of the draw, the judge selected for your trial was related to your adversary. The judge could say to you "Don't worry, I can be objective" and that may very well be the case. And if the judge rules in your favor, everyone will be happy. But if the judge does not rule in your favor, the conflict will surely be cited as the reason.

The reason for a recusal is for the benefit of the LOSER, not the winner. There should not be any appearance of insider dealing or favoritism.

When Ms. Furth says to the outside world, "don't worry, I can determine if a council member's actions were legal or not," she ignores the fact that she was hired by that body and continues to work for them at their pleasure. For the same reasons I gave above, Ms. Furth should have stepped aside and let an independent person - perhaps a retired judge or city attorney (from another town) - handle this.

With this simple fix, those determinations would have been far more credible and not subject to these claims. Atherton should have learned this lesson long ago.

Posted by bill hewitt
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 31, 2010 at 9:08 pm

Wynn Furth put forth a proposed contract for the City Council to consider on Monday.

Is it chutzpa or delusion?

Posted by Mad Hatter
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jul 31, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Cheshire Cat finds conflicts of interest in people like McKeithen, Johns, Buckheit or Sweidy criticizing Furth, but has no issue with any conflicts of interest with Lewis, Carlson or Marsala, people who protect Furth, her job, and her money making from Atherton after she scratched their backs by clearing them on very thorny issues. Why?

Cheshire Cat says John Johns has no credibility in gauging Furth's job performance because he sued the town.

As Kimberly Sweidy pointed out, John Johns is a hero. He saw the major problems brewing with the building department and police department long before he got fired or filed any lawsuits. Rather than taking a quick buck from Atherton like Pilar Buckley, he stood firm, and continues to stand firm, on making sure reforms take place.

If you measure credibility by accuracy of a person's predictions, Johns is batting 1000. Maybe we should listen to what he has to say about Furth also. His analysis of the police and building departments sure proved out in spades.

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 1, 2010 at 9:50 am

"Cheshire Cat?" Are you grinning? Do you think that the issues we are raising, in order to improve and protect our community, are funny?

I assure you, they are not. My brand new home is being rebuilt because it is not structurally sound. And Mr. Wasmann passed it on many inspections, when it should not have been passed. This is in addition to the failure of the Plan Review process as it pertains to the "geotechnical report" and foundation design, done incorrectly by people who, it turns out, were neither geologists nor geotechnical engineers. And this is in addition to the structural computations and design that resulted in an estimated 40% of the structural strength needed for a sound home. And these are just a few highlights of my home's problems. Here is a link to our Fourth Amended Cross Complaint:

Web Link

I have been forced to pursue suing the Town of Atherton because there is no other way to get these people's attention. They have made it clear that they don't care who they harm and in what amount. They believe they have no obligation to do their jobs competently. They believe that they are either immune from lawsuit or above the law. This is documented in written exchanges with Ms. Furth, which are nothing short of disturbing.

It is my belief that Mr. Wasmann is not qualified as a Building Inspector, much less a Building Official. He is not certified as a Building Official. And until I brought it to the Town's attention, he had even let his certification as a Building Inspector lapse in 2007. I have a copy of his resume. It appears he has a maximum of two school years at College of San Mateo. It is unclear whether any degree was granted. I am still investigating. And his only employment in the construction industry was self-employment, where we do not know the number, size or complexity of the projects he built, much less their quality. And there is no experienced outside oversight in self-employment.

In my opinion, this background is totally inadequate for employment as a Building Inspector, much less Building Official, for the homes being built in the Town of Atherton, with their complex size and designs. I have called for Mr. Wasmann's firing. I have been ignored.

"Mary" described Atherton as "upscale." Well, it is immodest to refer to ones community as such, a true sign of not being upscale. My grandmother with a third grade education told me not to lie, cheat or steal, and she was a hillbilly. So it seems I prefer to identify with decent people/hillbillies, if "upscale" is now a euphemism for "people with a little money and no moral compass."

Want copies of the correspondence with Furth? Call me with your email address. I'm "in the book."

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

In the interest of full disclosure: Mr. Wasmann also claims to have taken various Uniform Building Code courses at the College of San Mateo. I am also investigating this.

Posted by Helene Wickett
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2010 at 11:42 am

In response to Mary's irresponsible allegation that Mayor McKeithen is not afraid to ruin anybody's reputation I would like to counter that Mayor McKeithen is not afraid to stand up for what is right. She is a beacon of light in this town. Kathy McKeithen and a family friend saved my mother's life from an elder abuser. I will forever be grateful to Mayor McKeithen for having the courage, the kindness and the decency to act, and not only that, insist she was doing it as a city official when suggested by counsel that she was doing this as a private citizen. Atherton is blessed to have a mayor with guts and integrity. After a four year hellish nightmare I have been blessed to have my family restored thanks to Kathy McKeithen, and to have both John Buckheit's wisdom as my mother's conservator and John Johns' skills as her forensic accountant to clean up the mess created by the predator who took his own life rather than face the consequences. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Mayor McKeithen! Thanks to you and other wonderful people who spoke their minds at the right time, the perfect crime became less than perfect and was thwarted. DeToqueville predicted that apathy would spell the potential demise of democracy. I hope Atherton's citizenry finds the collective energy to cease being a test case for his theory.

Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm

After three years of no one within the Town of Atherton being willing to help Helene Wickett help her mother, in less than two weeks after my informing Mayor Kathy McKeithen of the situation, she was personally at that home to take her mother to the hospital, setting into a motion a chain of events that saved her life.

She doesn't get a 90% pension upon retirement, and even if she did, it would be 90% of nothing. The woman is literally a hero. I believe anyone who attacks her is deeply concerned about the reform she is trying to bring to Atherton and how it will personally affect them.

Posted by John P Johns
a resident of another community
on Aug 1, 2010 at 1:19 pm

Like Kimberly Sweidy, my parents came of age during the Great Depression. Like Kimberly Sweidy I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth. Like Kimberly Sweidy, I am the scion of a family that lived a hard scrabble existence in the southern San Joaquin valley.

Having roots similar to those of Ms. Sweidy I have become fond of her in short order. She referred to me as a hero. I am flattered that a woman of her intelect and of her stature would speak so kindly of me. However the notion that I am a hero is sheer nonsense. I was only doing my job.

Jon Buckheit has also said some kind things about me. I am flattered that such a brilliant and accomplished man, one who is ten years my junior would hold me in such high regard. However he too has been far too generous in his praise.

In the opinion of this humble accountant, Ms. Sweidy and Mr. Buckheit are the real heroes. They are like guardian angels who have descended from up high to deliver Atherton from a government steeped in an unseemly brew of corruption, incompetence, arrogance and neglect.

Jon Buckheit is prosecuting a civil rights claim against the Town of Atherton for abuses he suffered at the hands of the Police Department.

Kimberly Sweidy is prosecuting a case against the Building Deparmtment for gross neglignce.

The Atherton Building Department and the Atherton Police Department were, when I was employed by the Town, and still are everything that Ms. Sweidy and Mr. Buckheit describe in their pleadings.

If Ms. Furth and her cohorts are foolish enough to resist Ms. Sweidy's and Mr Buckheit's legal challenges (rather than try and come to terms on a reasonable settlement) I expect that I will have my deposition taken by Ms. Sweidy's attorney and by Mr. Buckheit's attorney.

When and if my deposition is taken I will speak of my experience with the Town. I will speak the truth.

I fully expect that, when all is said and done, when the lawyers have made their cases and this matter is adjudicated Mr. Buckheit and Ms. Sweidy will carry the day.

The truth will come out. Invariably the truth does, it's just a matter of time really.

In any event, Ms. Sweidy and Mr. Buckheit will always have my gratitude not for foisting praise upon me that is undeserved, but for carrying on where I tried and failed.

Finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Ms. Helene Wickett's characterization of Mayor McKeithen. Ms. Wickett has disclosed that her mother was rescued by Ms. McKeithen from an abusive situation.

Ms. McKeithen was also the one who had the moral courage to write a declaration in support of me as I sued the Town to prevent the release of the now thoroughly discredited Topliff report.

As in Ms. Wickett's example, Ms. McKeithen acted out of conviction and contrary to the instructions of the Town's legal counsel.

This is what you people in Atherton are getting in the form of legal representation by the way. You are getting attorneys who would rather cover up for the misdeeds of City staff as would a cat in applying cat litter after having done its business.

Change will come in Atherton soon enough. The only question is whether this change will come voluntarily or will be imposed upon the Town by courageous individuals like Ms. Sweidy and Mr. Buckheit.

Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm

"Change will come in Atherton soon enough. The only question is whether this change will come voluntarily or will be imposed upon the Town by courageous individuals like Ms. Sweidy and Mr. Buckheit."

If I was to lay a bet, my money would be on change being imposed. As long as "the gang of three" maintain control of the city council imposition will be required.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Aug 1, 2010 at 5:00 pm

IF the apathy has not totally destroyed the willingness of Atherton citizens to actually participate in the November election we could, with three of the five council seats at stake, have a revitalized council that could begin to provide true leadership for the Town.


Posted by Atherton Taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 2, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Ms Sweidy-
I read your cross complaint, (I am not an attorney, so I may not understand the nuance) and it looks like you are suing EVERYONE involved in your construction debacle. I am truly sorry that you are going through this. I completely understand that you need to approach your legal recourse broadly, especially if you don't know where the deep pockets will be. My question to you is this: isn't your real dispute with the engineering and design professionals who have contractual and fiduciary responsiblity to you to perform their work to industry standards? I find it troubling that you feel that I, as an Atherton taxpayer, should be held responsible to cover your losses. Legal fees and damages paid to you from the town coffers creates even larger fiscal problems for our town.

Posted by Andrea Luskin
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 2, 2010 at 6:33 pm

I can't agree more with all the posters who have sang Kathy McKeithen's praises.

She is responsible, thoughtful, bright, dedicated, a terrific advocate for Atherton citizens trying to get something accomplished (in my case, the installation of a pedestrian friendly crosswalk over a dangerous stretch of road shared by Atherton and Menlo Park) and willing to stand up for what she believes in and knows is right -even if it means drawing the wrath of town employees and council members.

Bureaucracy and life employment often lead to complacency. And, unfortunately, it seems that the town not only suffers from complacency but also more than its fair share of corruption.

When the status quo is unacceptable, we need people to shake it up. We need our elected officials to make noise and not be afraid to shine a light on improprieties and incompetence.

We need more council members - and more people in the world, like Mayor McKeithen!

Regarding the decision to hire a new attorney, I believe Mayor McKeithen is right on the mark. It would clearly be a conflict of interest to allow 3 council members, who received exonerating conclusions from Ms. Furth, to determine whether she should be retained.

(Mary, I’m not sure where you’re coming from with your comment, but with the exception of saying Mayor McKeithen is tough, which she is and which we want her to be, you sure got it wrong regarding Mayor McKeithen. The problems already existed/exist in the town and Kathy McKeithen was/is astute enough and courageous enough to work to fix them.)

Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 2, 2010 at 7:59 pm

Nicely said, Andrea.

I hope you will post more frequently!

Posted by Jon Buckheit
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Aug 2, 2010 at 8:43 pm

In response to Atherton Taxpayer, I believe state law requires municipalities to enforce minimum standards of construction (in particular, safety standards). Atherton charges permit fees and at council meetings I have heard from a council member that this is a great revenue source for the Town and why the real estate industry is our friend, not enemy.

Ms. Sweidy has alleged that the paid inspections were performed negligently. If true, the law provides that Atherton can be held liable. For a recent comparative example, think of Enron and Arthur Anderson.

As a taxpaying resident myself, I realize that if this Town becomes liable for monetary damages due to the misdeeds of its agents or employees, taxpayers may ultimately be on the hook. The solution in my opinion is to fix the problems, not attempt to ostracize those who seek redress. You wouldn't want to be ostracized if you were in her shoes, and that is the golden rule.

Posted by Kimberly Sweidy
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Aug 3, 2010 at 11:04 am

And to add insult to injury, I am being required to pay more fees for the permits on the repair work that are the result of the Town's wrongdoing.

Regarding our Fourth Amended Cross-Complaint, it does not contain the allegations against the Town of Atherton, because, at this time, they have not been added as a party to that lawsuit. So the totality of the Town's wrongdoing cannot be understood from that document.

I am pursuing the Town of Atherton as the last resort, not the first. I cannot sit idly by while someone is killed or injured, whether in my home or someone else's.

If you are concerned about the Town of Atherton, its pocketbook or its safety or any aspect of its legitimacy, then vote for ethical representatives.

Posted by Atherton Taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: other
on Aug 3, 2010 at 3:01 pm

Ms Sweidy-
It is a horrible situation you are forced to endure. What about remedy from your Architect and Engineers, who presumably have insurance for this exact condition?

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