Atascadero settlements costing taxpayers

April 26, 2011


An impending $1.9 million budget shortfall has several former Atascadero officials questioning the city’s alleged mismanagement of its police department which has resulted in more than a half million dollars in controversial personnel settlements.

“Its clear that the city manager, the city clerk and the city attorney are trying to obfuscate the issues surrounding the expenditure of thousands of tax dollars toward employee settlements, but I believe and am resolved in demanding that they answer to the public,” said former Atascadero mayor Mike Brennler.

The city of about 27,000 people has paid more than $550,000 in settlements to four former city law enforcement officers because of an array of controversial situations which have largely been hidden from the public, according to city settlement agreements and financial records.

In addition, Atascadero has also paid more than $100,000 for paid administrative leave while these city and law enforcement disputes were being addressed.

In January, City Manager Wade McKinney asked former Atascadero Police Chief Jim Mulhall to resign or face termination. Mulhall’s inside knowledge of the inner workings of the city apparently saved him from being fired without compensation.

As part of Mulhall’s 2007 employment agreement, if fired for cause Mulhall would not be entitled to any severance pay or compensation. If terminated without cause, the city would be required to pay him severance pay equal to six months pay and benefits, approximately $99,000.

In the end, both sides agreed on a settlement contract that said the parties wished to amicably sever Mulhall’s employment with both parties agreeing not to “disparage” the other verbally or in writing unless forced to do so by a court order. The agreement also says the city is to pay Mulhall $126,000 within five business days, according to city documents.

However, the city paid Mulhall $161,000 for agreeing to its privacy demands and his promise not to sue in the future. The payout included settlement, vacation time, unused holidays and administrative leave.

When asked how the city came to the $161,000 severance, Marcia Torgerson, city clerk and assistant to the city manager, said that it was a personnel matter and refused to explain.

In another contentious settlement agreement in 2009, the city agreed to pay Lt. Carole Robinson $262,894 following a reverse discrimination claim that embroiled the department in controversy for almost a year.

In 2008, a group of white male officers alleged Robinson promoted her live-in police officer girlfriend while passing over more qualified men on the force. Robinson, with more than 20 years under her belt, was the department’s longest-serving officer and had maintained an unblemished record.

When McKinney hired new Police Chief Mulhall in early 2008, Mulhall was instructed to start an immediate internal investigation into the matter. Mulhall eventually ordered one of the two officers, labeled lesbians, to resign.

Neither complied and Robinson retained San Luis Obispo based attorney Jeffrey Stulberg to represent her while the two officers remained on paid administrative leave for nearly six months.

At a November 11 mediation to discuss Robinson’s situation, the city was rebuked for its behavior and told to fork out the sizeable sum to Robinson.

A few months later, Police Sergeant Brian Dana filed a grievance after he wasn’t promoted to Robinson’s former police lieutenant position. City officials placed Dana on paid administrative leave in May 2009 after asking him to resign.

In the end, the city agreed to pay Dana $65,000 for pain and suffering and accrued sick and vacation time under a severance agreement. Again, in order to receive a settlement the employee would have to keep quiet about problems in the department.

Another controversial settlement is the city’s 2004 resignation agreement with former chief of police Dennis Hegwood following allegations of rape, of which he was subsequently cleared. It was later determined he had consensual sex with a business acquaintance’s wife while on city time.

After first asking him to stay, city officials determined Hegwood should resign because ‘he had lost his moral authority,” and agreed to support Hegwood’s plan to apply for industrial disability, according to the resignation agreement.

In addition, Hegwood’s sick day payout is inconsistent with the city’s own resolution which states that after five years of continuous service, employees are eligible for 50 percent of non-used sick leave.

However, when Hegwood left the city paid him for every available sick day since his date of hire which amounted to $30,000. His total payout for health benefits, sick and vacation leave was $64,650.

When asked to explain why the city went against its own resolution and paid Hegwood for 100 percent of his possible sick days, Torgerson said it was a personnel issue and the city is not required to divulge how it came to the amount.

“In a time when the city is faced with a huge deficit these payouts are very painful and the public has a right to question why the city manager has authorized the payouts,” Brennler said. “Certainly his management style should come under public scrutiny.”



  1. Nancimeek says:

    Who are the attorneys representing the officers and how much are THEY walking away with?

    (3) 3 Total Votes - 3 up - 0 down
  2. SewerHeightsRez says:

    The days of tax revenue being used to provide infrastucture and services to taxpayers is long gone, and instead your tax dollars are used to provide salaries and bennies and ealry gold plated retirement and lifetime medical to union members and political hacks who do nothing but protect their own best interest and despise you, the tax paying slaves.

    Nine trough feeders in Atrashcadero consume over $1.5M, over 8% of the entire GF. None could get anywhere near that, if anything at all, in the private sector. They are professional pubilc piggies who create nothing and add no value whatsoever, never have never will. They exist soley to suck as much of your hard eaned into their personal accounts as possible, and they know all they have to do is take your money, because they can.

    (18) 24 Total Votes - 21 up - 3 down
    • easymoney says:

      I cut out an article from the fishwrap from last week, listing the Atascadero’s 50 top-paid public employees and it’s an eyefull. And guess what is the highest in the number one slot? The city manager of course at $157,318, #6) asst city manager at .$127,057, #26) asst to the city manager at $97,224, #36) zoo director at $86,477.
      No wonder they have a problem coming up with enough money to fix the roads and other infrastructure…

      (14) 14 Total Votes - 14 up - 0 down
  3. SewerHeightsRez says:

    The days of tax revenue being used to provide infrastucture and services to taxpayers is long gone, and instead your tax dollars are used to provide salaries and bennies and ealry gold plated retirement and lifetime medical to union members and political hacks who do nothing but protect their own best interest and despise you, the tax paying slaves.

    (12) 16 Total Votes - 14 up - 2 down
  4. Nicol873 says:

    Really? How sweet.

    (8) 8 Total Votes - 8 up - 0 down
  5. SewerHeightsRez says:

    This is very surprising as A-Town, the land of the female moustache, is my favorite place to eat and get the sh*ts whilst trying to keep the locals off my wife.

    (-6) 18 Total Votes - 6 up - 12 down
    • NorCoMod says:

      If you want the locals to quit hitting on your wife, just have her quit shaving a week or so before your next visit. Actually, I’ve seen your wife and laying off the day before should do the trick.

      These days you don’t see that many ladies in A Town with moustaches. If you do see one, they’re usually trying to dial in their hormone replacement creme after their visit to the day spa in SLO. Cut ’em a little slack will ‘ya.

      Come to think of it, are you sure you’re not confusing A Town with Santa Maria?

      (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
    • RU4Real says:

      SewerHeightsRez, I, too have seen your “wife” & she’s a bit PASTY looking for most people’s taste. I’m sure you’re kidding us about people “hitting on her”. REALLY! She’s not a looker at all!

      (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
  6. pasoparent5 says:

    As I’ve posted before, I used to think Mike Brennler was an arrogant jerk. I’ve never met the man but it really bugged me that he kept digging here and there, trying to be Atascadero’s muckraker. Who did he think he was?

    Well, years have passed and I was so wrong. Brennler’s about the only guy in that city who has the cajones to stand up and speak the truth. O’Malley & the others just do not want Brennler shining the light of truth on their backroom deals… Small town corruption at its worst.

    (30) 32 Total Votes - 31 up - 1 down
  7. rallyraid says:

    Has anybody dug into Wades past service with Shafter if im correct which was know as one of the valleys alleged most corrupt towns while under his rule?

    (21) 23 Total Votes - 22 up - 1 down
  8. Cindy says:

    The only way we are going to see any change is to elect a CC that serves it’s people rather than it’s appointed city manager. Our CC knows darn well that they have been kowtowing to McKinney for many years and the result has been nothing but one cover-up and excuse after another. While they may object to the word “cover-up” I’ll politely agree that they can play any semantic game they want, in the end they are derelict of duty.
    We are going to have to vote out the two ring leaders, Jerry and Tom. They are “Good Ole Boy’s” by nature and I don’t think they even realize it half the time.
    By the way, why are we still paying for an assistant city manager?

    (29) 31 Total Votes - 30 up - 1 down
    • pasoparent5 says:

      oh…don’t be so hard on them…after all, they really didn’t know Geahart was a crook…and they truly thought the Carlton was going to save their downtown…and Jim Lewis deserves his generous salary because he works sooo hard trying to get new businesses to come to A-town. (*sarcasm*)

      (18) 22 Total Votes - 20 up - 2 down
  9. Citizen says:

    It’s obvious to people outside Atascadero that the City Manager has to go. How long will it take for the good people of Atascadero to get rid of Wade McKinney.

    (30) 32 Total Votes - 31 up - 1 down

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