View Mobile Site

Lathrop council making rules in deciding Browne case

Text Size: Small Large Medium
POSTED February 3, 2009 4:36 a.m.
LATHROP – In anticipation of the filing of the report from the hearing officer who presided over the wrongful-termination appeal of former Lathrop chief building officer Matt Browne, the Lathrop City Council tonight will consider a resolution outlining the process that they will use in reviewing the recommendations.
The resolution is seen as a cost-cutting measure in a personnel case that has dragged on since Browne was placed on paid administrative leave – and without official explanation – since July of 2007. That was followed by his termination in Feb. 2008 with no prior verbal warning nor written notice or explanation as required by law, which has been the contention from the start of Browne’s lawyer, San Francisco public employee attorney Ellen Mendelson.
“Adoption of these procedures is intended to assist in minimizing incurred costs” associated with this matter, city staff stated in the council report.
Since Browne filed what he has consistently maintained as a name-clearing wrongful-termination appeal in connection with his firing by then-city manager Yvonne Quiring, the cost for the city has reached about a quarter of a million dollars taken from the general fund. These costs, according to the staff report, are coming from the current fiscal year’s budget. Some of these expenses are payments for the city’s legal services. The city has contracted with the law offices of Michael Colantuono as its legal counsel in the Browne case.
As recently as late last week, the city’s public information officer Mike Esau said, “We have no idea when the hearing officer is going to submit his conclusions to the council; he hasn’t given us a clue yet.”
But staff is putting the council on notice that hearing officer Douglas H. Barton’s report is “expected shortly” although no exact date is mentioned. However, Mendelson said in late December that she expected Barton to present his conclusions by the end of January or early February.
Barton’s conclusions would be a summary of the facts and findings gathered during roughly two-week’s worth of hearings held from September through October. The hearings were held behind closed doors despite Browne’s repeated request through his attorney that all proceedings be held open to the public and the news media, saying he has nothing to hide.
Among other things, the proposed resolution designating the process for council review calls for:
• Copies of the transcript of the hearing held in September through October to be made available to the public for review after the transcript has been “redacted” or edited by both the attorneys for the city and Brown. A phone call to the city’s public information officer as to what part or parts of the transcript would be “redacted” and what the term means exactly in this regard was not immediately returned.
• Deadline to be established for council to schedule an open session meeting following receipt of the hearing officer’s report.
• Time limits – 20 minutes, unless the majority of the council allows for additional time - for legal counsels of city management and Browne in presenting their comments, charges, complaints or any justifications made regarding the actions of the then city manager on Feb. 8, 2008 when Browne was fired.
Time limit of 5 minutes for members of the public to make their comments during the open-session hearing.
The city has accused Browne of, among others, time-card falsification and worker’s compensation fraud, citing these as the reasons for his termination. These were denied by Browne with proofs and evidences presented during a hearing before an Employment Development Department administrative law judge over the city’s denial of his unemployment insurance benefits. The judge ruled in favor of Browne who finally started receiving his unemployment checks months after his initial EDD application.
Until his firing, Browne has been a 17-year employee of the city.
Browne’s lawyer has argued from the beginning that her client was fired by the former city manager without following due process as required by law, and that she expects no less than a return of her client to his old job plus full compensation of lost wages and benefits.
“They should have followed the law,” Mendelson said.
Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...