Atherton sends out bills for Obama visit

April 22, 2013 7:44:23 PM PDT
It's not unusual for political candidates to drop by the exclusive town of Atherton on the Peninsula for fundraisers. But Atherton is sending out bills to cover the expense of President Barack Obama's visit earlier this month.

The town of Atherton wants $8,100 in reimbursement for planning and providing security for two events the president attended. The amount pales by comparison to the $32,000 cost to attend one of those events. But the question is whether taxpayers should be stuck with the tab.

This is not the first time that Atherton has sent out bills to cover expenses when a dignitary comes to town, but the response is always the same.

"It's great to have a dignitary like that coming through your community, you should be welcoming their visit as opposed to requesting reimbursement, and I'm sorry, but no, we're not going to reimburse you for the expense," Atherton Town Manager George Rodericks said.

Atherton has wealthy residents living on spacious estates, often behind walls and gates. Last year, they gave almost $6.5 million to political causes, parties and candidates.

But the town's argument for reimbursement is its tiny size and its limited police force.

"We've got a police chief, a lieutenant, a sergeant and a couple of officers on the day shift," Rodericks said. "When we have an event like this come through, that diverts those officers from their regularly scheduled duties, and we've got to call in personnel on overtime. That's an impact on the local budget."

Bills have gone out to the White House, the Democratic National Committee and to the two Atherton residents who hosted the fundraisers. ABC7 News contacted the White House, which referred us to the Secret Service, which hasn't returned our call.

Now compare Atherton to San Francisco and San Jose. Neither city charges for beefed-up security for dignitaries. San Francisco police spent $62,000 on the president's visit earlier this month.

"We do not seek reimbursement for the service provided; he comes with a large security detail anyway," San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said.

"With all the safety precautions that we're cognizant of these days, we want to provide that," San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said. "And the public wants to see it. If the pope came in, I'm not so sure we'd be charging everybody. We welcome a lot of our international leaders, as well as our president."

One person who strongly disagrees is Chuck McDougald, chair of the San Mateo County Republican Party, who says taxpayers should not support security for political fundraisers.

If Atherton succeeds in getting reimbursed, it could set a precedent for many other cities.

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