Fontana won’t release records explaining $1.1 million payment to former city manager – San Bernardino Sun

Fontana appears to have violated the Brown Act when it passed a settlement with former City Manager Ken Hunt in 2019 and now refuses to release any records showing why officials were hired. elected to pay him more than $1.1 million to leave his post three years early.

Hunt’s departure was initially defined by Mayor Acquanetta Warren as retirement, but the city manager’s employment agreement made it clear that Hunt would not be fired if he left that way. Even when City Council voted to terminate his contract without cause, his severance package only asked for 12 months of pay, but Fontana paid him 18 months through a settlement agreement. arrange.

A question yes stay for a while since: What exactly is the settlement city?

Hunt’s full payout no widely known until July 2021, when the state controller’s public pay database ranked the former city manager as the highest-paid employee of 2020. However, Hunt left City Hall in October 7 in 2019 and not working a day in Fontana the following year.

The settlement requires Hunt to take paid leave effective July 12, 2019 and stipulates that he will “not report to Employer facilities or perform any duties or on behalf of the Employer in any capacity”. Paid leave will continue until he formally resigns on January 31, 2020. When he steps down, the city must pay him 12 months of base salary, plus a life and continuation bonus. continue to provide him with health benefits for at least one year unless he has found another job. The terms allow Hunt to reach 30 years of community service.

In total, the city paid Hunt $1,127,378 as part of the settlement, but to date, city leadership has never said why and continues to struggle to determine it. reason.

In return, Hunt waives his rights to any possible claims against the city, agrees not to defame the City Council, and declares that he will not share “the main opinion”. his concerns regarding the negotiations (settlement), the terms of this agreement or his previous employment. ”

Concerns about privacy

In July, Fontana spokeswoman Monique Carter suggested the City Council choose to settle with Hunt to avoid litigation, though she would not say what the lawsuit is and adjourned questions to her attorneys. city.

“Fontana City Council met in closed session on July 9, 2019 to discuss the potential for significant exposure to lawsuits (Hunt),” Carter wrote in an email. “At this point, the City Council has unanimously authorized the City Attorney to negotiate a settlement with Hunt. There was no reportable action from this Conclave as the agreement was not signed that evening. “

Since then, attorneys for the city have acknowledged the existence of a file detailing the closed-door meeting in which Hunt’s deal was approved, but they have declined to disclose it, alleging. that it would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of individual privacy”. The city does not have a record of any of Hunt’s complaints to suggest that he has a complaint against the city.

However, attorneys have stated that the city is withholding at least one complaint against Hunt for privacy reasons. State law requires the release of claims if there is reason to believe the allegations are nontrivial. In an email, one of the city’s attorneys said she “believes that standard applies here.”

One lawyer suggested that the problem might be performance related. The Council Agenda lists three performance reviews for the city manager between February 2019 and June 2019.

In a brief interview, Hunt declined to elaborate on the settlement. He denied the city had a reason to terminate his employment.

“I have never received a negative official performance review, nor am I aware of any complaints against me,” he said.

If the city has terminated Hunt’s contract, under his contract it will have to provide him with 30-day written notice of cause and give him an opportunity to hear. The settlement waived the need for either.

Mayor Warren did not return a request for comment.

Meeting in violation of the Brown Act

In a conversation with Southern California News Group, Fontana’s attorney admitted the closed session in which Hunt’s deal was approved was improperly listed on the agenda, apparently in violation of California’s open meeting law, Brown Act. State law would require the city to publicly disclose known “facts and circumstances” about potential litigation based on the program item listed.

Instead, Fontana’s attorneys said the correct reason for the closed session discussions was that “events and circumstances could lead to litigation against the local authority, but the local authority believe that the plaintiff or potential plaintiffs are unknown”, an exemption in which a public authority is not required to disclose any details.

According to Kelly Aviles, an attorney specializing in open government law and general counsel for California Aware, an attorney who specializes in open government law and is likely to void the settlement with Hunt — if the statute of limitations applies. not over yet. nonprofit organization that advocates for government accountability.

Aviles successfully sued a similar case against Pasadena City College, in which a court overturned a settlement with a former president because it had not been formally drawn up and was not publicly approved. declare.

“It sounds to me like they have violated the Brown Act and are now trying to cover their tracks, because disclosing any information as to why they entered the closing session only to confirm that they didn’t do it according to the book,” Aviles said. “It wasn’t a mistake, it seemed like it was a deliberate way not to warn the public about what was going on.”

Best, Best and Krieger, the city’s law firm, cited Pasadena City College in a warning about potential Brown Act violations in a blog post on the school’s website.

According to Aviles, if the city is negotiating a settlement with Hunt, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t aware.

“I’ve never seen a case that was really accurate in all my career,” Aviles said. “I have seen it claimed many times and each time it turns out that it is not really true.

“This is not a mistake. It seems like it was a deliberate way not to warn the public about what was going on,” she said.

Taxpayers are entitled to information that explains why the city is spending public money on this, she said.

“It’s not just the city’s money to do what they want in secret,” Aviles said. “They have to make the decisions, but they have to be held accountable and you can’t be held accountable if you don’t have to tell anyone what you did and why.”

A series of emails warning about ‘rumors’

The emails released through a public records request show that the city’s department heads tried to reassure employees and cut off any rumors of leaving.

The day before the deal was struck in July 2019, Sheriff Billy Green and Chief of Human Resources Rakhesha Thomas sent a series of similar emails to their staff about Hunt’s imminent departure. Thomas warned employees to keep matters private and professional “because rumors will spread like wildflowers.”

“We all know that individuals fill in the blanks of the unknown,” writes Thomas. “I ask our department to refrain from sending such messages.”

Green urged his officers to “focus our efforts on issues where we have influence rather than wasting time on issues we don’t.”

“As in the event of any of these major changes, rumors will fly across various social media platforms, conversations that are not as productive as cool water will take place, and stories on potential news stories, all perpetuated by those who choose to craft a satisfying story for their own benefit,” writes Green. “The Fontana Police Department will not participate in any such messages.”

Hunt is loved by many people and works as a city manager In 20 years. Since he left, the position has changed hands three times in less than three years. The city hired Michael Milhiser as interim city manager a few days after Hunt left. City Manager Mark Denny then took over Milhiser on a more permanent basis in April 2020, but then resigned 18 months later in October 2021 to take the private sector job. His deal won’t expire until April 2025.

Former Baldwin Park City Manager Shannon Yauchzee is currently serving in this role temporarily while the city searches for its next leader.

Last year, San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford hired Hunt to serve her Chief of staff. Fontana won’t release records explaining $1.1 million payment to former city manager – San Bernardino Sun

Curtis Crabtree

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