City manager and some councilmen don't agree with grand jury's criticism
To see the Placer County Grand Jury report:
The grand jury report, “Lincoln City Government Transparency: What happened to our Police Chief? The people want to know,” can be viewed at http://www.placer.courts.ca.gov/grandjury/2016-2017/Lincoln_City_Governm...
A recent report by the Placer County Grand Jury criticized how the Lincoln city manager and City Council kept mum about the departure of former Police Chief Rex Marks a year ago. But City Manager Matt Brower and some city councilmen are defending the way that they kept the details private.
The report released by the 2016-2017 Placer County Grand Jury on June 23 said that city officials were not transparent in Marks’ resignation. The report urged the city of Lincoln to “make every effort to be more transparent with its citizens” and to “… be more transparent in providing additional information to City residents while remaining in compliance with legal restrictions on the release of confidential personnel information.”
Regarding what the grand jury reported June 23, The News Messenger asked Brower this week if he should have made the requested information available last year.
Brower said that the grand jury report “agreed with the city’s reasoning for not releasing nearly all the documents The News Messenger had requested. Also of interest is the report does not offer any suggestions for how the city could have been more transparent without violating state law. Ultimately, the city bears the full legal and economic risk when improperly disclosing an employee’s information to the public.”
The city manager balances his “intent to be transparent” with his “duty to comply with state law.”
Brower was also asked by The News Messenger if he was surprised with the grand jury’s findings.
“No but I was hoping for more insights of how the city could have been more transparent without violating state law,” Brower answered.
The grand jury gave the city of Lincoln two recommendations:
- “… adhere to all terms of employment agreements they negotiate and not make generous settlements when not required and justified.”
- “…release a copy of the settlement agreement they negotiated with the police chief to the public they serve.”
The grand jury questioned why Marks, according to his employment agreement with the city, was given almost $85,000 in severance payments after resigning. According to his employment agreement, Marks was not entitled to severance if he resigned. The city manager said last July, according to previous newspaper stories, that Marks resigned.
Brower said he intends to comply within the 60-day deadline (Aug. 31) of responding to the grand jury’s recommendations. City Council has until Sept. 30 to respond to the recommendations.
The News Messenger asked Mayor Peter Gilbert and City Councilmen Gabriel Hydrick, Paul Joiner and Dan Karleskint two questions this week: 1) In light of the grand jury report that came out last Friday (June 23), would you have asked the city manager to be more open with the information? Or is your opinion still that the information is confidential? 2) What do you think of the grand jury’s findings that Lincoln officials need to “make every effort to be more transparent with its citizens?” Their answers follow.
1) “I’ve taken some time to review the grand jury’s report and it seems the report agrees with the city’s reasoning for not releasing nearly all the documents The News Messenger had requested. The city was advised by the city attorney on this matter and it appears their legal advice was nearly right on. The only document it appears the report suggested should be released to the public was the settlement agreement. Interestingly, the report acknowledges that there are ‘differing opinions” on whether this document is protected by state law. As mayor, I have a duty to the public to be transparent but I also have a duty to comply with state law on the disclosing of protected information that involves personnel-related information.”
2) “I welcome the grand jury’s findings. The grand jury plays an important checks-and-balance role in our county. I can assure you the city always makes every effort to be transparent. And will do so unless state law precludes us from doing so.”
1) “There is a fine balance between making personnel information public and keeping it confidential, and as such, the city manager and the City Council followed direction of legal counsel.
2) “The council will be releasing a response to the grand jury, as is always done.”
“My understanding is that the city's response to the grand jury report is likely to be an agenda item coming to the council. Rather than risk a potential violation of the Brown Act by creating an unintended serial meeting of the council with the Lincoln News Messenger as a hub, it’s probably best I save my thoughts and comments for the council meeting.”
“Since I was elected to the City Council, I have completed courses on ethics and on the Open Meetings Act (Brown Act). In the Brown Act education seminar, it was stated and then reaffirmed (when I questioned it) that published writings of a council member in an arena where (in our case) one or more other members might also opine on the same item and that item is scheduled to come before the council, one has created a ‘serial discussion,’ which is against the Brown Act. That convoluted sentence and the fact that we must by law respond to and will discuss the grand jury report stops me from answering your questions regarding the report.
Because I stated my position regarding transparency during my campaign and it hasn’t changed, I will reiterate it. ‘I believe that any governmental body should be transparent to the maximum extent allowed by law.’”
The Lincoln News Messenger asked Councilman Stan Nader different questions because he was consistently quoted last year saying that city government should be transparent with its citizens and he wanted the public to understand about Marks’ departure. Nader was asked: 1) What do you think about the grand jury report that came out last Friday? 2) What do you think of the grand jury’s findings that Lincoln officials need to “make every effort to be more transparent with its citizens? 3) Do you think the grand jury report will make city officials be more transparent?
- “As I believe you know, (former Councilman) Spencer (Short) and I asked the city manager to release the information about the departure of Rex Marks as the city’s chief of police. The city manager refused to do so and was supported in that position by Councilmen Gilbert, Hydrick and Joiner. Council member Short and I contended that if Mr. Marks resigned, that he should not have received a severance as was one of the conditions of his contract. Because of that, I agree with the findings of the grand jury report and it will be interesting to see how the city manager responds to the report as he is required to do so.”
- “The report admonishes the city to be more transparent with its citizens and I could not agree more.”
- “Time will only tell if the grand jury’s report will make the city be more transparent and it will be interesting to read the responses that you receive from the city manager and Councilmen Gilbert, Hydrick and Joiner on this matter.”