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Browne will be subject to pay cuts, furloughs
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LATHROP – The $480,000 settlement, which includes back pay and benefits, awarded to Matt Browne at the conclusion of his two-and-a-half years’ wrongful-termination battle with the City of Lathrop will not be subject to a 10 percent cut.

However, his salary as chief building official upon his return to work will be subject to the same 10 percent pay cut that was imposed on all city employees including those in management, and like everybody else, he will be part of the furlough program, said City Manager Cary Keaten.

The city instituted the salary reductions and the closure of City Hall on Fridays, along with the elimination of 15 positions in May, as part of the still ongoing effort to bridge the $3 million plus deficit in the 2009-10 fiscal year which started on July 1.

The city also is not being stuck with the entire $480,000 settlement tab, according to the city manager. However, the portion to be paid by the city will come from the Lathrop’s general fund which is taxpayers’ money that pays for such services as police and fire.

The total settlement payment is distributed in the following manner, as explained by the city manager: $300,000 covers Browne’s back pay plus pain and suffering; $140,000 is for his health, vacation and other benefits accumulated during the time he was involuntarily kept away from his job; and $40,000 for his attorney’s fees.

According to the provisions of the settlement agreement that was approved by the council and signed by all parties involved, Keaten said:

•The city will pay $50,000 of the benefit package with the remaining $90,000 to be paid by the insurance company.
•The city’s Risk Management Insurance Company will pay $45,000 of Browne’s $300,000 back pay with the lion’s share to be paid by the city.

As for the city’s legal expenses, Keaten said all of that will be covered by the city’s insurance.

Lathrop’s city attorney, Sal Navarette, provides legal counsel for the council and the city at large and, therefore, could not legally represent the city in the Browne case. The law office of Michael Colantuono, which is also the city’s land-use management legal counsel, represented then-city manager Yvonne Quiring and then-Community Development Director Marilyn Ponton in the wrongful-termination charges filed by Browne against the city. Quiring was the one who placed Browne on paid administrative leave from June 2007 to February 2008 when she fired the chief building official. In both instances, Browne said in his testimonies before two administrative judges – one for his wrongful termination hearing, and the other for his appeal to EDD over his unemployment application that was turned down by the city – he did not receive verbal nor written explanations as required by law.

The settlement agreement also outlines that the award payments to Browne be made within specified time frames, from seven days up to a month.

Browne did report to work on Monday. However, he requested personal time off to “deal with some personal issues” and will be back to work on Monday. This time, his position will be in the Public Works Division since the city has eliminated its Community Development Department as part of the budget cut backs instituted in recent months to reduce the budget deficit.

During Browne’s two-and-half-years’ absence from the job, the city hired a national consulting firm, Wildan Company, which supplied the personnel that acted as the city’s chief building official, the city manager said. He added the city did not contract for two people with Wildan; however, when the one person who was put on the job was either sick or on vacation, “another gentleman replaced him” who was also provided by the consulting company.

Quiring, whose resignation the week before the November 2008 elections was approved by a split 3-1 council vote, was hired last month as city manager of the City of Fillmore in Southern California.

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