Councilman questions handling of city manager’s leave
City Councilman Doug deHaan took some of his dais-mates to task Tuesday night for the way they handled a December 28 closed-door decision to place Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant and City Attorney Teresa Highsmith on administrative leave. He said he was surprised the leave decisions were being made that night and that the council has gotten conflicting legal advice about how a situation like this one should be handled.
The council voted unanimously on that night to put Highsmith on leave after discovering she had taken a second job as interim city attorney for Barstow. A reason for Gallant’s leave has not been given. The council was required to let her know whether they planned to extend her contract 90 days in advance, a deadline that was approaching.
DeHaan, who voted to place Highsmith on leave but against Gallant’s leave, said he’s concerned the city doesn’t have what he called the “corporate memory tank” the city needs to combat a $100 million suit from former Alameda Point developer SunCal Companies and that the city is spending a quarter of a million dollars for staffers who aren’t working for the city right now. And he questioned whether Gallant and Highsmith’s decision to instigate a leaks investigation against Councilwoman Lena Tam – which he characterized as a whistleblower effort but Tam’s supporters have deemed a witch hunt – should also have been considered.
“I think we’ve got to be open and honest about what’s transpired. This didn’t happen overnight,” deHaan said.
DeHaan said some members of the council got legal advice in October on a similar matter that was different from what the outside attorney the city hired to investigate whether the decision to put Gallant on leave was handled properly. That attorney, Edward Kreisberg, said the decisions didn’t violate the Brown Act, the city’s charter or Gallant’s contract, as some have alleged.
Kreisberg rose from his seat at one point to remind the council not to reveal confidential personnel information discussed in the December 28 meeting.
A bevy of City Hall regulars queued up to offer their views on the leave, with Gallant’s proponents saying they think the decision violated the City Charter and the Brown Act, which offers rules for open meetings, and backers of the council majority who made the decision – Mayor Marie Gilmore, Vice Mayor Rob Bonta and Councilwoman Lena Tam – saying they made the right decision and that the council needs to move on.
Bonta read a city-issued press release into the record Tuesday about Kreisberg’s findings, though deHaan said it lacked details. He later said council members need to find common ground and work together.
“We need to move forward in good faith,” said Bonta, who stopped to shake deHaan’s hand at the close of Tuesday’s meeting. “We won’t always agree, and that’s healthy. But we need to listen. And we need to be civil.”
Speakers at Tuesday’s meeting did agree on one thing: They said council members should put partisan issues aside and move forward with the city’s business.
“You need to set aside partisan issues and start working with city staff for the common good,” resident Ewart “Red” Weatherill said.