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Mayors husband suing city
Is Tom Sayles running for Lathrop council?
TomSayles 2a
Tom Sayles stands next to his wife as she was being installed as mayor after being re-elected to the post in the November 2008 elections. Administering the oath of office is the Sayles’ friend and pastor, Tim Vogdt of the Lathrop Lighthouse Community Church. - photo by Bulletin file photo
LATHROP — A civil suit has been filed against the City of Lathrop by Tom Sayles, the husband of Mayor Kristy Sayles.

According to Bulletin sources, the suit was filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court Thursday when the city was served with the legal papers. Tom Sayles is reportedly seeking damages for “mental anguish” and his inability to obtain employment as a result of the physical altercation between him and two other men in March of last year inside the Council Chambers at City Hall while volunteers were accepting and hanging entries for the annual Mayor’s Art Purchase Competition and Show.
The filing of the lawsuit was confirmed by Cornelius Callahan, an attorney with the Borton and Petrini Law office in Modesto.

“I represent the City of Lathrop. We’re retained by the joint powers that the city is part of,” said Callahan. The joint powers he referred to is the insurance pool comprised of several cities in the valley which provides coverage for lawsuits such as the one filed by Tom Sayles. The same insurance joint powers paid the major portion of the recent $480,000 settlement in the wrongful-termination complaint filed by former chief building official Matt Browne. The process took nearly three years with the city paying several hundred-thousand dollars more for attorneys’ fees.

Callahan also confirmed that the attorney representing Tom Sayles is Nathaniel Potratz of Fair Oaks, Calif. Messages left in telephone calls made to Potratz’s office and cell phone seeking comment were not immediately returned Thursday afternoon.

Callahan declined to give any other details about Tom Sayles’ lawsuit and referred all questions to the plaintiff’s attorney.

When contacted on her home phone Thursday afternoon for comment, Mayor Kristy Sayles said, “I’m working and I can’t talk right now.” Asked when would be a good time to call, she said, “anytime after six.”

When contacted again on the phone in the evening after six, nobody answered. A phone call was also placed on the Sayles’ home phone number with the intention of contacting Tom Sayles but the phone went on ringing.

City Manager Cary Keaten could not be reached for comment on Friday because City Hall was closed for Friday furlough days. A telephone message left on his work cell phone was not returned as of press time.

City Hall is closed every Friday as part of the wide-ranging effort instituted by city officials during budget discussions last year to eliminate the estimated $2.5 million deficit in the current 2009-10 fiscal year. All city employees across the board received a 10 percent pay cut as a result of the Friday furloughs. Additionally, a dozen employees were laid off and five unfilled but funded positions were cut back. The city, which contracts its police services with the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, also “returned” three deputies assigned to Lathrop which shaved off nearly $500,000 from the nearly $5 million 2009-10 contract this fiscal year.
 
Reactions to Tom Sayles’ lawsuit
Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal declined to say anything about Tom Sayles’ lawsuit saying it’s “too early” to comment, adding, the case is “in the hands of the attorney.”

“What’s he suing the city for?” was Councilman Robert Oliver’s first reaction when contacted. “So a suit has been filed. Oh, my goodness. That’ll be out in the public.”

However, he added, “Our attorney would be in charge of defending the city, and our city insurance should defray the cost of defending (the city) in court. That’s what the city insurance is for,” which is what happened in the Matt Browne case.

Oliver also said that Tom Sayles told him he plans to go after his council seat when he retires next month.

“He told me at the (Lathrop) Chamber installation of new officers (in January) he was going to run for my seat on the council. We were seated at the same table. As far as I know, there is nothing to prevent him” from doing that, Oliver said.

“We have a policy in the city that we don’t hire couples working in the same area, but I don’t know the restrictions as to who the voters can elect,” Oliver added.

Oliver’s last day as councilman is March 17 when his retirement officially takes effect. He will continue to attend council meetings until then. His term ends at the end of this year. The council still has to decide if Oliver’s successor should be elected via a special election or appointed. They can also decide not to do either alternative and let the seat remain vacant until the November elections.

Councilman Chris Mateo said Thursday he was not aware that Tom Sayles has filed a lawsuit against the city. However, he has heard about that possibility about two months ago.

As for the lawsuit, “What can I say? Anybody – everybody – can sue anybody. Let the legal system do what it’s supposed to do,” he said.

At the same time, he is concerned about the city’s financial problems. “We try to, as much as possible, save money for the city,” he said. But the city also needs to “protect (its) integrity. So, as far as I’m concerned, let’s go to the Supreme Court if we have to, to protect our integrity.”

Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo could not be reached for comment, and a phone call seeking comment was not returned.

The two men involved in the physical altercation with Tom Sayles at City Hall were just as surprised to hear about the filing of the lawsuit.

Dan Mac Neilage, a member of the City Planning Commission, said it’s “unfortunate that it happened; I’m sorry it happened at City Hall and I’m embarrassed with myself.”

But, he said, “the court threw out the case” when Tom Sayles filed a criminal complaint after the incident last year.

He called the lawsuit “ridiculous” and “laughable,” saying, “I don’t know how anyone would like to go after our city for something like that.”

The other man involved in the altercation was Ron Rhodes, husband of former two-time Lathrop mayor Gloryanna Rhodes who is currently the head of the Head Start program in San Joaquin County and a board member of the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District.

Rhodes was just surprised as Mac Neilage about Tom Sayles’ lawsuit.

“I don’t anything about it. I thought it’s over and done with. If he wanted an apology, I’ll do it. But I won’t go to his house and be accused of escalating it. The District Attorney rejected (Tom Sayles’ complaint) and I thought it was all over. The DA looked at all into consideration and it was rejected. I’m just sorry about everything. I’m embarrassed myself for whatever happened at the art show.”

But, he said, the city needs to move on and “get a clean slate; we need to get refreshed and we need to clean up things. We’re such a good city, we have such potential and we have such a good central location. We need to do good stuff and not garbage. That is why Manteca is getting all the jobs and we’re getting nothing. We need to move on.”

The altercation last year at City Hall happened when Mac Neilage confronted Sayles, who was appointed by his wife to the arts committee, over his involvement with the group. During the confrontation, Rhodes saw Sayles staring at Mac Neilage’s chest area and thought Sayles was about to “head-butt” Mac Neilage. Concerned about what such physical force could do to Mac Neilage who just had an open-heart surgery at that time and was still under doctors’ care, Rhodes said he simply reacted to “save a friend” from harm and pushed Sayles away from Mac Neilage. In the process, Sayles was pushed against the wall before falling to the ground. Sayles then called his wife and the police.

The incident happened on the first day of accepting entries to the annual art show, so several people – including some artists and members of the art committee as well as other volunteers – witnessed the altercation.