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Council confers with legal counsel over Browne case

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POSTED October 6, 2009 3:45 a.m.

LATHROP – Fired chief building officer Matt Browne’s next move could be a lawsuit against the City of Lathrop.

In his letter to the editor in today’s edition (Opinion, Page 4), a frustrated Browne mentions his next legal move after nearly two-and-a-half years since he was placed on administrative leave with pay in July 2007 by then-city manager Yvonne Quiring followed by his termination in February 2008, both without any official written explanation. Both actions resulted in his wrongful-termination complaint against the city.

In the letter, he writes: “The only reason we have not yet filed with the Superior Court is that a lawsuit for damages cannot be filed without all administrative remedies being exhausted; this means the City Council must make some sort of decision to reinstate or not reinstate and under what terms. The only lawsuit we have at our disposal at this time is to ask the Court to compel the Council act. Only after the Council acts (or is forced to act), can we ask a Court to fully ameliorate the situation.”

Browne’s legal counsel is highly regarded San Francisco public employee attorney Ellen Mendelson who argued her client’s case before Administrative Law Judge Douglass Barton during public hearings held in September and October of 2008. On April 10 this year, Barton submitted his recommendations to the City Council based on the results of those hearings. Among his recommendations were for the city to reinstate Browne to his old job, full back pay from the time he was fired to the day he officially returns to work, plus vacation and other benefits.

The next step after Barton’s recommendations is for the council to vote whether to approve all that the hearing judge had recommended, or make amendments to some of them. Six months after the judge submitted his report from the public hearing where testimonies were heard from more than a dozen witnesses for Browne including current and former city employees, the council still has to make any decision.

Meanwhile, the city’s cost on this wrongful-termination complaint continues to rise, with the latest estimates at more than a quarter of a million dollars.

Several Lathrop citizens have gone before the council several times asking for an end to what they call a financial hemorrhage of taxpayers’ money. The city has hired the law offices of Michael Colantuono to represent the city manager in the Browne hearings and is being paid separately.

Lathrop’s city attorney is representing the city and the council in this legal matter.

At the last council meeting, former mayor Bennie Gatto informed the council that the only option to an immediate resolution to the Browne case could be a recall against all council members.

Lathrop business owner and city Planning Commissioner Dan Mac Neilage however said that election time constraints may not make a recall possible but he said the council members will definitely be pressured by frustrated taxpayers.

The city and Browne are currently in a nonbinding mediation, with the city making an initial offer of $10,000 to Browne plus his job back and benefits. That amount though is a far cry from a reported $1.3 million to $1.7 million settlement but which the city has not confirmed. What has been confirmed is that the city has a $1 million insurance coverage for instances like the Browne case in the San Joaquin Valley Risk Management Authority which is composed of cities including Manteca.

The mediation continues with both the city and Browne’s legal camp making offers and counter offers via telephone and e-mails.

During the closed session prior to the 7 o’clock regular meeting tonight, the council will have a conference with the city’s legal counsel on the Browne case.

To contact Rose Albano Risso, e-mail ralbanorisso@mantecabulletin.com or call (209) 249-3536.


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