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Lathrop makes golden handshake offers to Browne
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LATHROP – Fired former Chief Building Official Matt Browne has been offered settlements of unknown amounts by the city in connection with his wrongful termination case. Each time, Browne, through his attorney, turned those “golden handshake offers” down.

This information was part of the prepared statement that Browne had planned to read during the open session of Tuesday night’s special council meeting, a copy of which was obtained by the Bulletin.

None of the council members or the city manager were available for comment at press time about the amount of the settlement offers and what were included in the monetary offers. However, the Bulletin has also learned that along with the settlement, the city wanted Browne to sign a waiver that would state that he agrees to indemnify and hold harmless the city. In layman’s terms, that means he would not sue or hold responsible the city or other city officials, nor seek additional compensations for whatever reason in the future.

Browne stated in his prepared statement 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.”

Instead of delivering the message that he prepared, Browne opted to speak extemporaneously due to the imposed time constraints. He was only given 10 minutes to speak his piece.

Holly Whatley of Colantuono & Levin, PC who appeared on behalf of Michael Colantuono, in her presentation, stated that the council should approve a six-month probation for Browne and to “defer” issuing his back pay “to determine the appropriate amount and to avoid waiving any available insurance coverage.”

Browne’s legal counsel, San Francisco public employee attorney Ellen Mendelson, for her part insisted that her client “needs to be back to work (and) get back on the payroll. Insurance has nothing to do with it. This is about Lathrop making right what was wrong.”

No final decision from council
Tuesday night’s special hearing was scheduled specifically to have the council discuss and make a determination on the recommendations submitted by the administrative law judge who presided over Browne’s wrongful termination hearing in September and October of last year. Foremost among the recommendations made by San Francisco judge Douglass Barton was for the city to re-instate Browne to his position as chief building official along with his back pay, health and other benefits from the time he was fired in February 2008 to the day he reports back to work. His recommendations though have to be approved by vote by the council members.

After the special meeting, which was not televised to the disappointment of Browne and his attorney, the council along with City Manager Cary Keaten and City Attorney Salvador Navarrete went back into closed session for further deliberation. But before they did so, Mayor Kristy Sayles gave members of the press present the heads up that there will not be any announcement made when they come out of closed session.

“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” said Browne’s legal counsel, after the mayor’s announcement.

But, she said without elaboration, “I need a written (council) decision to take to court.”

In the staff report prepared by the city attorney for the special meeting, it states that “the council is not required to issue a final determination on June 23, 2009 and may take this matter under submission for future action.”

Testimony in support of Browne
Several residents stepped forward to speak in support of Browne and to share other comments on the former building official’s long-drawn wrongful termination fight against the city.

“If you hold a grudge against somebody, then that’s a personal thing,” commented Rosalinda Valencia, alluding to previous statements made that the case against Browne was a personal vendetta on the part of former city manager Yvonne Quiring, who fired Browne, and his former supervisor, then-Planning Department Director Marilyn Ponton who was recently laid off as part of the city’s budget cuts.

“He (Browne) could go to court and get some more (money from the city); I hope he does. I’m tired of this whole Matt Browne thing,” added Valencia.

She added she wants to know who at City Hall okayed the hiring of the private investigator who followed Browne for several days during his administrative leave with pay, how much money was involved and if taxpayers’ money was used.

“I want to know where my tax dollars went,” Valencia said.

J. “Chaka” Santos said, “Mr. Browne didn’t do anything wrong,” while directing a comment to Browne in the audience, “I want to thank you for inspecting my home. I haven’t had any problems.”

Longtime Lathrop resident and retired school teacher and U.S. Air Force soldier Tosh Ishinara said he did not know Browne, but based on what he heard about his case that evening, he said, “here’s a gentlemen who, if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t be where we are now.”

He added, “Let’s say we made a mistake; we all make mistakes. Let him get his job back and let’s continue with our city (business).”