Fire Chief Kyle Shipherd — who hasn’t been terminated nor has he left city employment — has filed a claim against the city alluding he may be entitled to more than $1 million in retirement compensation and up to $800,000 in legal fees.
Those are the damages Shipherd is alleging he could be due in a claim filed last week with the City of Manteca using the same attorneys former Police Chief Jodie Estarziau used to file her own claim.
Filling the claim alluding to monetary losses is essentially a pre-emptive strike of sorts designed to stop the city manager from either terminating — or trying to terminate — his employment with the city.
The action followed efforts by City Manager Miranda Lutzow to relocate the administrative staff for the fire department into the city hall complex in a bid to improve collaboration and communication with other departments
It is not the first time such a move has been talked about. More than a decade ago a similar move was batted around in a bid to streamline the permitting process and making the city more responsive to addressing the needs of citizens.
The filing of claims is the first legal step in a process that could lead to the filing of a lawsuit against the city by either Shipherd or Estarziau.
Just like with Estarziau’s claim, Shipherd says he is not an “at-will” employee. It is a position the city contends is incorrect.
The lawyers —John Girardi of Los Angeles and Lawrence Lennemann of Palos Verdes Estates — in the latest claim contend the “City has improperly and repeatedly retaliated against (Shipherd for his) purported opposition to and/or assistance with and/or participation in Chief Estarziau’s claim and his own protected activities.
The claim contends Lutzow on Aug. 13, 2020 provided Shipherd with a memorandum dubbed “City Manager/Fire Chief Relationship & Path Forward” including wording that the city manager “had reason to believe that (Shipherd) had been working with a lawyer of another departed employee to build a case against The City.” The reference was to Estarziau.
The memorandum, according to the claim, “then continues by defining a ‘path forward’ via which City manager Miranda Lutzow ‘needs to be able to trust that (Shipherd is) not conspiring with previous disgruntled employees’.”
The claim states Shipherd was not conspiring but instead his actions — or perceived actions — are protected by California law.
On Sept. 1 Shiphed received an email from Lutzow detailing that she was relocating the fire chief’s office and his administrative assistance to office space within the city hall complex that had been occupied by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office on a $1 a year lease.
The same space is where the in-house city attorney’s office will be located.
The goal was to have all department heads at city hall.
The claim makes a point of inferring that the fire chief should be working in office space at an actual fire station as opposed to city hall.
There are five fire stations that the fire chief oversees.
A parallel example is the public works director. While he oversees the wastewater treatment plant, streets division, water operations, and solid waste among other municipal functions his primary office is at city hall.
Based on various public presentations, the backbone of Lutzow’s efforts to reorganize the city’s executive team to set the stage for more innovative collaboration, making the city more nimble and responsive, and to enhance communication is to have department heads readily accessible to the city manager’s office and each other.
The fire chief’s office is just over a mile away on Union Road.
This past summer, Community Development Services was relocated to leased space a block away from city hall at Center Street and Union Road. The move was predicated by the city losing its lease on Cherry Lane office space that housed human resources as well as information and technology creating the need to move them to the main campus.
Having the city’s technology hub and support staff on the civic center campus instead of in rented space was considered a higher priority as was having the department that deals with personnel concerns and risk management issues.
Plans are to move the Community Development Services back onto the campus once existing buildings are remodeled and expanded.
The claim also contends Shipherd was told on Sept. 24, 2020 by the city manager that every time a current or prospective council member asks to speak with him that she be advised.
Given Shipherd is still employed, the claim states “should” he be wrongfully terminated that it wiould impact the amount of retirement he would receive for the rest of his life that is estimated at more than $1 million. Shipherd is also considered about the prospect of using roughly 2,000 hours of sick leave that he could 50 percent to service credit and 50 payment to a retirement health savings plan if he is not able to “continue working until his chose retirement date.”
The list of potential witnesses include former Police Chief Dave Bricker, Estarziau, Estarziau’s former administrative assistant Debbie Davis, Mayor Ben Cantu, downtown merchant Brenda Franklin, former Police Chief Nick Obligacion, former City Manager Tim Ogden, retired City Attorney John Brinton, council member and retired fire captain Dave Breitenbucher, former Public Works Director Mark Houghton, Lutzow, police officers Ian Osborn and John Machado, fire marshal Lantz Rey, police officers Stephen Schuler and Josh Sweeten, Cassandra Tilton from the city clerk’s office, former finance director Jeri Tejada, former Community Development Director Greg Showerman, Deputy City Manager Lisa Blackmon as well as council members Debby Moorhead, Gary Singh, and Jose Nuño among others.
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