Thursday, October 16, 2008

Atherton Backgrounder...Number I

Some of you have complained, others have cheered, that there is Watch Dog attention on the hotly contested political battleground of Atherton. Not since the Dixville Notch has so much been written about a town so small...

But the politics are cut-throat in Atherton, which makes for good political theater.

Here we go:

In the Town of Atherton, there was a guy named John Johns. John Johns was the Finance Director of Atherton until 2007 when he was fired/release/gotten rid of...the John Johns' issue led to incredible in-fighting in Atherton which I will get into in coming posts, but it isn't pretty.

It is this John Johns issue that is at the root of much of the discontent politically. (And the discontent is pretty serious -- recall attempts, "Wanted Posters," neighbor-vs.-neighbor hostility, property rights battles, lawsuits, etc.)

One of the outcomes of all of this and having a major personnel issue with a Finance Director is that the budget is screwed up in Atherton. So screwed up, that one of the of City Council members, Charles Marsala, actually sent out this email to residents (thank you tipster) about getting money back from Atherton. Imagine that, a City/Town actually offering folks money back. Pretty unusual. You can imagine how screwed up things are there...

Anyway, here is Marsala's email to constituents in Atherton. I post it because it provides some background to the issue -- but it also talks about John Johns. In the next update from the Atherton front, I will share the issue of how John Johns is tied to one of the current candidates for City Council...(hint: it isn't Elizabeth Lewis, David Henig, or Richard Moore...)


If you have built a house in the last five years or know someone who has, you could be entitled to a refund for overpayment of Fees in the Building permit process. During the last month three residents have contacted me and although final determinations have yet to me made, I want to share the information with you as I know many of you have built homes during the last five years or recently started.

The Atherton Municipal Code allows us to charge a Business License Fee of $250 annually for a General Contractor’s license to operate in Atherton and $150 for a sub-contractor’s license. Back in 2003, former Finance Director John Johns proposed that it was hard to manage the large number of licenses.

He proposed that we charge the General Contractor a fee based on job size, and have the General Contractor pay for the sub-contractors. The proposal included .036% of the job value. This passed with a 5-0 vote.

Recently two residents building new homes have received Business License Fees of $24,145.00 and $15,998.00. Translated this would be for 159 and 105 sub contractors respectively. The issue gets more complicated as often the same sub-contractors work on different jobs, thus paying the BLF multiple times in the same year.

The resident paying the $15,998.00 has approximately 20 unique sub contractors and will be asking the town for a refund of $12,948.

The two issues of the BLF become overcharging and double charging on the number of sub-contractors per job.

Two weeks ago at a meeting with Interim Finance Director Bill Yoemans and City Manager Jerry Gruber, I was informed, state law does have a statue of limitations. So I would suggest sending a letter to the City Manager that you wish to have your Building License Fees evaluated and any surplus repaid to you. It you are submitting in the near future, submit with a letter.

Council will determine a policy and will have a closed session discussion Wednesday night. If you have any comments or suggestions, please email me.


Charles Marsala

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