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Lathrop sets final hearing in Browne case
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LATHROP — Lathrop city officials have confirmed that the City Council will discuss then vote at their regular meeting on Tuesday, June 23, as to whether former chief building official Matt Browne should be reinstated to his former job and awarded back pay and other compensation.

Those were among the recommendations made by the hearing officer who presided over Browne’s wrongful termination complaint against the city.

The final step in this long drawn-out public employment saga is expected to take place at the council meeting which will begin with a closed session followed by a public hearing on the matter.

Browne through his legal counsel, San Francisco public employee attorney Ellen Mendelson, has asked the city that they be present at the closed-session deliberations but their requests were turned down.

During the public hearing portion of the deliberations, that begin when the council starts at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, both legal representatives for Browne and the city officials will have equal time to address the council on behalf of their clients. It is not known whether Browne will himself address the council. However, as with any public hearing procedure, members of the public will be allowed to come to the podium and give their own comments on the issue.

Hearing officer Douglass Barton of San Francisco released his conclusions and recommendations on the Browne case on Good Friday, April 10. His report was a sweeping victory for Browne and his attorney. Barton ruled that Browne be reinstated to his position as chief building official with back pay plus health and vacation benefits from his firing in February 2008 to the date of his reinstatement to his old job.

Mendelson has adamantly insisted from the very beginning that her goal is “to get (Matt Browne) back to work. Whatever happens subsequent to him getting back to work is a whole another issue. I’m not concerned about anything right now except getting Matt Browne back to his position at City Hall – inspecting, building, and being Matt Browne, the amiable, hard-working, honest civil servant.”

Among the hearing officer’s conclusions:

• That former City Manager Yvonne Quiring denied Browne his due process before she fired him in February 2008 and that her decision to terminate his employment “does not comply with the city’s personnel rules and regulations concerning employee conduct standards, progressive discipline, and dismissal.”

• That Quiring failed to respond to Browne’s repeated requests for any explanation or documentation regarding the notice that he received about his impending termination, and that when he finally got a response he only had a two-month window to respond to the charges.

• That short response time “effectively deprived” Browne of any “meaningful” opportunity to review the documents and respond to the city manager before she made her decision to fire him.

• That in the six months Quiring placed Browne on paid administrative leave, “she and her staff assessed additional evidence of alleged misconduct and attempted to induce (Browne) to resign;”

 • That allegations of misconduct “developed” while Browne was on paid administrative leave were “for the most part, not supported by substantial evidence;

 • That Browne has never been disciplined before he was fired and that, in fact, he had “an excellent record of employment with the city” receiving “quite laudatory” evaluations;

His report included other damning conclusions based on testimonies gathered from more than a dozen witnesses for the two sides which also mentioned Browne’s immediate supervisor, Community Development Department Director Marilyn Ponton.

Quiring is no longer employed with the city. The former city manager resigned just before the November elections last year. Ponton was laid off recently as part of the city’s solution to the $2.5 million budget deficit.