(Editor’s Note: The following is the full text of the speech that former Lathrop Chief Building Official Matt Browne prepared for the June 23 public hearing of his wrongful termination complaint against the city. However, due to time constraints, he was unable to deliver his entire speech.” A copy of the statement was provided to the Manteca Bulletin.)
Members of the Council, and for those of you who are not familiar with me, please let me introduce myself.
My name is Matt Browne. I am a 52-year-old father of two adult children and the grandfather of two beautiful grandchildren.
After working odd jobs to put myself through junior college, I started work as a union carpenter at the ripe old age of 20. I served my apprenticeship under the tooling of local 1622.
I moved to this city of Lathrop from the Bay Area in the mid-1980s. I’ve been a resident and property owner in the city for numerous years now and have volunteered my services to the community since moving in.
I’ve coached Little League and umpired for three years, and provided my services quietly mostly for youth activities associated with my children.
I came to Lathrop City Hall for the first time over 18 years ago, not to seek employment but to assist a neighbor in resubmitting his plans for a room addition he was doing to his home. My neighbor’s English was rather broken and my Spanish wasn’t much better. Yes, there was some difficulty communicating the city’s plan check comments. However, we resolved the issues at the Building counter, and within 25 minutes my friend had a building permit.
Lathrop’s Building Official at the time, June Rhodes, who was at the counter during our plan check discussion, asked me afterwards if I would accept a position with the city in the Building Division. After a pending surgery, I accepted the offer.
I went to work for the city as an hourly employee, performing building and code compliance duties while working many hours of overtime to assist with catching up the building division. I was happy to be a part of the community.
After leaving Lathrop because of the early and mid-1990s housing downturn in Lathrop, I went to work for the City of Stockton at a higher rate of pay.
After a brief period of time, Lathrop phoned me and asked if I would return to work for the city. Having ties to the community in which I lived, I did not hesitate to accept the position and the reduction in pay.
Shortly after my return, I accepted a supervisory position within the building division. I continued to work many hours over the standard 40 hours per week as an hourly and salaried employee. I responded to residential and commercial structure fires after office hours and on weekends. I have never asked for compensation.
Council did compensate me for the additional hours during the design and construction portion of the new City Hall building – those additional hours were performed in order to expedite the construction and occupation of the building. I did not ask for the compensation, nor did I expect it. But I was very grateful for it.
(Former mayor and Planning commissioner) Bennie Gatto and I also worked several hours after the completion of the building installing the picture railing, monument plaques and other miscellaneous tasks. Again, this was done on my own time.
I have worked on several other projects for the city outside of office hours without the expectation of compensation.
Why, one might ask. Because Lathrop is my community too.
I have worked many off days on complex projects such as Fuel Total Systems, Daimler/Chrysler,Swiss American Sausage, Home Depot, and countless others. I have never asked for, nor demanded compensation of any kind.
More importantly and not to a lesser degree, I have always carried my city cell phone after hours and on many occasions assisted several homeowners who have needed late inspection work, mostly due to their commute hours, and I have answered questions arising from their homeowner projects after hours and on weekends.
As an employee of the city, I have attended regular council meetings, special council meetings, council workshops and planning commission meetings on a regular basis. As for the additional duty projects, I have been appointed to the Senior Center, the new City Hall building and the Community Center, to name a few. I have never refused or fussed over being appointed to perform the construction, management or any service to those projects. I have gladly provided my service in addition to my regular duties for each of those projects.
Some of you on this council were here during the renovation of the Senior Center. You sat on council during my appointment when we were urged to complete the project on time or face the wrath of the seniors.
You were aware that the major portion of the renovation project was the installation of new sub-flooring and the installation of new laminate flooring throughout the senior center. Home Depot provided the flooring and the volunteers to help with the installation.
You appointed me to this project as the construction management, not the project manager. You can imagine my surprise when I met with the Home Depot volunteers on the scheduled day to install the flooring and discovered that none of them, with the exception of one, had any experience installing flooring.
As much as I enjoyed them all (the cashiers, forklift operators, warehouse manager, shelf stockers, etc.) this was a major blow to the deadline of this project. After informing my supervisor of the situation, she instructed me to install the flooring with some additional city staff volunteers.
With the exception of a few city staff volunteers who were expected to help but did not show up to volunteer for whatever reason, namely (then-city manager) Yvonne Quiring, (then-Community Development Director) Marilyn Ponton, and Charlie Mullen, the project was substantially completed on time.
Again, countless hours of after-hours and weekend work on yet another project. Because of the no-show volunteers and the grand opening time factor for this project, Fred Manuel and myself were forced to do the concrete-removal task for this project. We were fine with doing the work for the community.
Just like I was happy to do my job above and beyond for Fuel Total Systems, Daimler/Chrysler, Swiss American Sausage, Nestle, Med-Line Industries, Longs, Home Depot, Swift Trucking, In-N-Out Burger, Hughes Corporation, Lathrop Industrial Park, Pannatoni Centre Point Logistics Center, Save Mart, Country Kitchen, Utility Trailer, Lathrop Busienss Park Super Cheaper, River islands, TCN, and countless others including several residential subdivision builders, thousands of re-roofs, room additions, home renovations, and remodels, and hundreds and hundreds of swimming pools.
Take a look at all of the buildings and structures around you in Lathrop. If it’s not older than 17 or 18 years and has never been renovated, then I have worked on it.
All of those buildings and structures in nearly the last two decades, and how many times has the Building Division caused the City of Lathrop any grief or be sued? NEVER.
Why? Because I have continued to keep myself abreast and updated with the changing codes and building regulations. That is my job and I took it very, very seriously.
And when the long-awaited high school started to grade the high school project site without sewer, I did my job and I informed my supervisor and the city manager. Shortly thereafter, I was placed on administrative leave and instructed “not to conduct any city business.’
What I am asking you now is fairness and justice. I have waited for what seems an eternity for this day. The journey I have taken during the past few years I would not wish upon my greatest enemy.
With the help of my attorney, my family and friends, I have persevered to be here before you today. Without their help, I am afraid the precious city manager, Community Development director, and special council would have succeeded in ruining my life.
I do not intend to rehash the details of the hearing judge’s recommendation, nor the true facts that surround the alleged case the city had against me. Unless you so wish, I believe the hearing judge was accurate in his decision. I do take exception to the recommendation of continuous review.
I have spent several years of my life in the service of the City of Lathrop. I have worked for Lathrop with countless police chiefs, three fire chiefs, four city managers, five community development directors, four public works directors, eight mayors, countless council and Planning Commission members, and the list goes on. I was one of the most commended and appreciated employees the city had. My last evaluation, which is a matter of record now, was nearly flawless.
When asked to go beyond the call of duty I always, as I have explained here tonight, said yes. The accusations made about me from your previous city manager are infuriating to me and others who know me.
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.
I am unable to find work, not because of the troubled economy but because of the charade that was perpetuated by your staff and attorneys.
Please restore me to my job as directed by the hearing judge so I can begin the healing process. You should do so free and clear so I can continue to perform the job I was doing before while earning the exceptional evaluations I have received in the past and the respect of my peers.
I will continue to serve the community with the highest regard as I have done in the past because that’s how I am as a person and as a professional.
I would like to thank our witnesses who were willing to testify under sworn oath during the hearing. I apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused them, especially those witnesses who were still employed by the city at the time of the hearing.
And finally, I am asking you keep in mind the reason I am here before you tonight. I am here not just for myself but for the former dedicated, hard-working employees who, in the past two-and-a-half years, have gone through, and I quote the Manteca Bulletin here, “the Lathrop City Hall revolving door.”
I am one of many employees who have been pushed through that revolving door….
When you aggressively beat a dog into the corner, it either runs, cowers down into submission, or fights back in righteousness.
I have been beaten with overtly aggressive behavior into the corner like an animal, just as those before me have been treated. But I will not run and I will now cower down.
Thank you for allowing me, after two-plus years, to finally speak to you.
And now, please let me apologize to my family and friends and to my attorney for dragging them all through this. Honestly and with all sincerity, I was informed that this would be a two- to three-day hearing and would have been done and over with a long, long time ago….
And now, for the most difficult task you have set before me: As a God-fearing man, I will have to spend the rest of my life attempting to forgive those who have done this deed to me.