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Insurance not enough to pay $1.7M settlement to Browne
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LATHROP – The City of Lathrop has insurance coverage of $1 million that could go into a settlement in the two-year wrongful-termination Matt Browne case.

Still, that would not be enough to cover the $1.7 million that reportedly is the counter-offer from Browne’s legal camp. The remainder would be the responsibility of the city.

According to Bulletin sources, the city’s initial “golden handshake” to Browne was $1.3 million.

Also, the Bulletin has learned that the $1 million insurance coverage is being proposed to be paid in two installments: $500,000 payable during the 2009-10 fiscal year and the remaining half to be paid the following fiscal year.

None of the above settlement figures have been confirmed. However, when asked about the $1 million insurance coverage and payment method via e-mail, City Attorney Salvador V. Navarrete responded in kind by sending the Bulletin a copy of the City’s Memorandum of Coverage with Employment Risk Management Authority, which is an insurance pool comprised of several cities that includes Lathrop and Manteca.

“This document provides full detail of relevant insurance coverage available to the City and limitations thereon,” Navarrete explained.

The settlement offer from the city was confirmed by Browne himself in the address he prepared to deliver during his public hearing before the council on June 23 but was never able to present in its entirety due to time constraints. However, his entire statement was published in the online Manteca Bulletin web site at www.mantecabulletin.com.

In his prepared address, Browne stated:  “A point I would like to make to all of you tonight is that despite the recent settlement offers made by your management and legal counsel, there is no price the city can pay to fully restore me to where I once was. This long, deliberate and callous process was carried out with the sole purpose of sullying my reputation, ruining my career, my name, and forever destroying my future. My sincere wish is for the council to realize this fact and acknowledge the city’s transgression in blackening my good name and reputation.”

Council members at the June 23 meeting were supposed to vote on the hearing officer’s recommendations. That meeting also was supposed to be Browne’s public hearing according to the procedure adopted by resolution by the council in 2008. However, because the meeting was not televised, Browne’s attorney Ellen Mendelson, along with other concerned citizens, questioned whether the city’s former chief building official was cheated of his right to a real public hearing. Some residents actually complained to the council that the reason they did not show up at the council meeting was because they were expecting to watch the hearing streamed live into their homes via Cable TV. Mayor Kristy Sayles’ announcement before the council went back into closed session following the public hearing was also questioned by several concerned citizens including retired Lathrop-Manteca Fire  District Chief Jerry Sims.

Sims, at a recent council meeting, blasted the mayor for putting the news media present at the public hearing on notice that they don’t have to stick around until after the closed session because there won’t be any announcement to be made. Sims went on to say that the mayor’s action was illegal.

As to whether a resolution of the Browne case was forthcoming at the council meeting on Aug. 4 as indicated by Bulletin sources, Navarrete’s response was to provide this newspaper with  a copy of the council’s resolution.

In his accompanying explanation, Navarrete stated, the resolution “indicates that City Council has the ability to meet in open and/or closed sessions until a final decision is made. However, there is no timeline requiring the final decision to be made by a specific date.”

He concluded by saying, “I understand, however, that the Council is working diligently on this matter.”

In his wrongful-termination complaint, Browne stated that he was placed on administrative leave with pay in June 2007 and then fired in February 2008 by former City Manager Yvonne Quiring without any verbal or written explanation. During his administrative leave, the city hired a private investigator which followed him for four days with a video camera, including a visit to the men’s room in the Manteca Golf Course when Browne went there to play golf.

After two-weeks’ worth of hearing testimonies in September and October 2008, the administrative law judge hearing officer recommended that Browne be reinstated to his old job with back pay and other benefits.