LATHROP – There was a time when Lathrop’s chief building inspector had to fight simply for the opportunity to come to work.
Now the same municipality that tried to force him out – which is almost completely remade of new administrative faces – is trying everything that they can to keep him from leaving.
On Monday, the Lathrop City Council voted unanimously to pass an ordinance that will request that Matt Browne, who is set to retire at the end of the year, be allowed to return to work shortly thereafter so that he can continue to assist special clients with the institutional knowledge he has accumulated during his tenure in the city’s building department.
According to the revamped rules of the California Public Employees Retirement System, retirees that come back to their previous employer can only do so after 180 days, and the city is hoping that the ordinance will show that losing him for that long of a stretch, and especially as building is once again picking up in the city, would be a hardship.
In a presentation made by City Engineer Rebecca Willis, Browne was painted as somebody with “unique knowledge and abilities” that come as a result of his tenure with the City of Lathrop and the relationship that he has been able to forge with the clients and customers that have either located to the city during its expansive years or are in the process of doing so.
The words of praise are a far cry from the unexpected firing that came at the hands of a long-departed City Manager that sparked a bitter legal dispute that eventually ended with a settlement, the restoration of the back pay that he lost during the multiple years that the case drug on and mountains of legal debt that the city had to swallow. The then city manager alleged that Browne had committed time card and worker’s compensation fraud, but his personnel file – which was made public during the legal proceedings – showed that he had an exemplary record.
In a letter that Browne wrote to the council when asking for his reinstatement, and following the ruling of a judge that said he had legal grounds to ask for it, he surmised that the disciplinary action came only after pointing out that the sewer at Lathrop High School didn’t appear to be going in as scheduled. That letter, which he never got to finish in its entirety because of time constraints, was made available to The Bulletin and claims that he was told shortly thereafter to “cease all city business.”
The city is currently overseeing two major renovations on existing properties including the abandoned Anderson Truss facility on Louise Avenue, and Browne is expected to help oversee both of them in his new consulting role whenever CalPERS makes its ruling. The city expects to hear back by Jan. 12, 2015.