Ding Dong! Summer Reruns and Better Call Saul?

556920_497264096977712_385366256_n Ding Dong!

How does that song go? Well, no time to gloat, but in case you’ve missed the news, Simi Valley finally took action with regard to long standing issues involving City Attorney Baxter.  The City issued a press release on Monday announcing that Baxter was voluntarily resigning, and that the City would be paying Baxter a severance of close to $100G’s.

So, how is it that one can “resign” from the City and receive walking change close to One Hundred Big Ones?  Well, you can’t.  It doesn’t happen that way.

What does happen is that sometimes a contracted employee, like the City Manager and the City Attorney, have contracts that define the relationship between the employee and the employer.  Sometimes, those contracts have clauses which pertain to termination.  Such as the contract between Baxter and the City.  Take paragraph 1.a., which reads in part, “City may terminate this Agreement without notice or cause at any time . . ., any termination pursuant to this subjection (a) shall require the payment by the CITY to BAXTER of 50% of BAXTER’s annual salary and benefits.”

So, if Baxter was making $177,00 per year, half that is $88,500. Now keep in mind, there is no provision for a payout if Baxter merely resigns.  She must be terminated to get her payday.

And, when you combine the reported $7,600 settlement Baxter appears to have negotiated as a part of her “just go away” deal, it looks like she gets to walk with a check for over $96,000 combined.  And yet, it gets better, because the above figures to not calculate 50% of her annual “benefits.”

My “in box” has been overflowing with outrage that Baxter gets to resign and get paid to go away, but to this casual observer, it looks like characterizing her termination as a resignation was just part of the deal.

Either than, or the City just gifted public funds to sweeten a retirement package.  But I don’t think that’s what happened.

______________

Summer is the time for reruns, and this summer seems to be no different than any other.

For some that have followed my infrequent columns, you would know that I have taken up the task to represent K & J Auto, corner of Tapo and Cochran here in Simi Valley, in its fight against local political “stuff” stirrers who wanted to create trouble where there was no trouble to find. To encapsulate, last year about this time there was a local City Council election.  Opponents of one of the candidates raised an ethical issue regarding a renovation grant issued by the City to K & J Auto.  The grant was in the amount of $70,000.  The money was not issued by the City until K & J Auto had provided documentation to the City’s satisfaction.  Nothing to see here, right?  Except that the opponent of one of the candidates had mistakenly identified the owner of K & J Auto as the campaign manager for said candidate, which was not true, and then the fun began as the opponents threw mud and “stuff” at the K & J people.  Things got so cantankerous that a former City Council member and a current City Council member held a press conference demanding that the City investigate the K & J Auto grant, implying all sorts of nefarious misdeeds.

Then on December 4, 2012, a committee of concerned citizens, including Barbra Williamson, Ted Mackel, Tom Mackel and Louis Pandolfi met with City officials, complete with pitch forks and torches, demanding that the City investigate this grant!

And, it turns out, the City did do an investigation into the K & J Auto grant and it found that there was nothing to see here folks.

But wait, us here folks were never told that the City found no wrong doing! Wha, wha, what!!!

That’s right.  On March 5, 2013, Connie Henes-Baird, Interim Director, Administrative Services, sent a memo to Brian Gabler, then Acting City Manager, regarding the “Review of K & J Auto Payments.”  This memo came after the February 28, 2013 meeting K & J Auto reps met with the City wherein all requested financial records were reviewed, discussed and explained.  The City concluded that of $108,869.05 work of records the City requested to review, all but cash payments amounting to $4,625 were accounted for, and of the $4,625 in cash payments, K & J was unable to secure contact with one particular vendor to provide a declaration re payment.

The bottom line was, upon review by the City K & J would have still been eligible for the $70,000 grant that he did received and then returned due to the harassment of the local “stuff” stirrers.

So, nothing to see, right? You would think that the local “stuff” heads would be satisfied, right?

Nope.  In response, the City did NOT publicize its finds, and “someone” made a call to the District Attorney’s “Public Integrity Unit” to re investigate the issue. This, too seems to be going nowhere. Then again, how many times does one need to be exonerated before everyone gets that there is nothing to see here?

And yet, once again, the “stuff” heads decide to stir up the same “stuff,” as exemplified by the September 5, 2013 Public Record Act request submitted by Tom Mackel to the City, requesting (get this),

1) “All direct written email, fax and letter correspondence between the City Clerk’s department and Mitchell Green from October 1, 2012 to present;

2) Copy of all claim for damage to person or property filed by or on behalf of Kelly Kolarek and/or Kelly Kolarek dba K&J Auto Exchange from October 1, 2012 to present;

3) All summons and complaint for damages documents and any other documents naming Kelly Kolarek and/or Kelly Kolarek dba K&J Auto Exchange as a plaintiff;

4) All meeting agendas for closed session or executive meetings related to Kelly Kolarek and/or Kelly Kolarek dba K&J Auto Exchange from October 1, 2012 to present – All public reports related to actions taken in closed session or executive meetings related to Kelly Kolarek and/or Kelly Kolarek dba K&J Auto Exchange from October 1, 2012 to present – Copies of any contracts, settlement agreements or other documents that were finally approved or adopted in closed session related to Kelly Kolarek and/or Kelly Kolarek dba K&J Auto Exchange from October 1, 2012 to present;

5) All K&J – Memo and Documents related to an email from Mary Berns to Brian Gabler dated 3/19/2013 9:44 a.m.; and,

6) A copy of all documents, reports, notes and communications related to an independent audit performed on the grant administration with a report prepared on the results from November 1, 2012 to present.

Now, that’s a lot of requesting from the “stuff” heads, and it begs the question, why now?

How many times do the “stuff” heads need to be reminded that there is nothing to see here?

Now, just to make it sporting, perhaps Mr. Kolarek needs to submit an endless tide of Public Record Act requests addressed to the City regarding the business Mr. Mackel runs?  Maybe that would be interesting, huh?

______________

What’s new is that on Tuesday, September 10, 2013, I had a chance to speak to the Simi Valley Unified School District about the contract renewal the district was entertaining to engage in with the its counsel, Robert Thurbon of Gold River, California. That’s up somewhere around Sacramento.  (Nothing like making your attorney accessible, huh?)  Mr. Thurbon had his contract up for renewal with a 20% pay raise buried in the details.  Had I not spoken about the contract, it would have been approved on a “consent” calender, where matters are all approved without discussion.

I, however, wanted to talk not so much about the pay raise in times of fiscal red ink, but rather the surprising admonishments received by this attorney from a sitting federal judge in a matter called Lynn v. Gateway Unified School District, United States District Court, Eastern District of California, Case No. 2:10-CV-00981-JAM-CMK.

In the Lynn case, United States District Judge John A. Mendez outline numerous and severe ethical violations by Mr. Thurbon, such as “possibly violated California Penal Code Section 496, receiving stolen property;” “possibly violated California Penal Code Section 502, a felony, for use of information from a computer base without permission;” ““Thurbon’s conduct arguably suppressed evidence of a crime in violation of his ethical duties;” and, “violated his ethical duty of confidentiality owned to his client [name omitted] in order to try and assist his other client, [name omitted].”  Thurbon was ordered disqualified as counsel in the Lynn matter.

Thurbon was also, apparently, disqualified as counsel from another case, Jody Thulin v. Gateway Unified School District, also for ethical breaches, such disqualification upheld on appeal in an unpublished decision on August 14, 2012 by the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Third Appellate District.

When I brought up the ethical challenges surrounding the district’s attorney, Mr. Collins, the Board President, agreed to take the issue off the consent calendar and table it for further discussion re renewal or possible rejection of the renewal of the contract.

But will the people ever get to hear a discussion on why the Board continues to use Mr. Thurbon?

Perhaps not.  It seems that on Thursday September 12, 2013, Superintendent Scroggin sent out an e-mail that reads in part,

“Regarding Mr. Thurbon’s contract…

Mr. Thurbon has agreed to leave his rates as they were for last year and for about five years previous to that.

There will be no change in the contract other than the year(s) it covers.”

Does that mean no discussion?  Just sweep ethical and/or potential criminal issues of the district’s counsel as noted by a sitting federal judge under the rug?

Better Call Saul?

Have a great weekend Simi Valley!

Mitch

 

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