Old Morro Bay council improperly changed contracts of city manager and attorney
September 25, 2013
The former Morro Bay City Council violated the Ralph M. Brown Act in November 2012, when it increased the severance pay of the city manager and city attorney in closed session without notifying the public. [Tribune]
In a a November 1, 2012 closed session meeting, the council increased the severance pay of both City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Rob Schultz from six months to nine months. The current council is considering firing Lueker and Schultz and hired outside counsel Tuesday to explore doing so.
At the time of the Brown Act violation, the council consisted of Mayor Bill Yates and council members Carla Borchard, Nancy Johnson, George Leage and Noah Smukler. Mayor Jamie Irons and Councilwoman Christine Johnson have since replaced Yates and Borchard and, along with Smukler, have moved forward with plans to fire Lueker and Schultz.
The Brown Act requires bodies to disclose the content of closed session meetings in advance and to announce any action taken after the meeting concludes. The state’s open meeting law prohibits agencies from discussing public executives salaries in closed session and from discussing compensation in special meetings.
Executive Director of the California Newspaper Publishers Association attorney Tom Newton said the closed session meeting on severance pay was conducted illegally.
“They can’t even have a closed-session discussion, let alone action, on matters associated with compensation under code 54957,” Newton told the Tribune. “The law allows these limited closed sessions to protect the privacy interests and potential embarrassment of employees, but once you start talking about compensation, the public interest overrides the employee’s interest.
Two days prior to the closed session meeting, the city released a notice describing the agenda as “Discussion regarding Personnel Issues including (2) public employees regarding evaluation, specifically the City Manager and the City Attorney.”
The notice did not mention any possible contractual discussions.
Yates told the Tribune that the failure to notify was “a total error.”
“It was just a goof,” Yates said. “There was no malice there. We were not trying to hide anything from anybody.”
A 90-day statue of limitations exists on Brown Act violations, so it is too late for a citizen to file a complaint requesting that the council correct the action. It will cost more than $300,000 in severance pay and legal fees for the current council to fire Leuker and Schultz without cause.