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City manager still not disclosing former chief’s salary

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Whether Lincoln City Manager Matt Brower will give The News Messenger former Police Chief Rex Marks’ severance agreement is still in question.

The Lincoln News Messenger sent Brower a letter July 29 asking that the document be provided by 5 p.m. last Friday. The July 29 letter from the newspaper was in response to the city manager’s July 25 letter turning down the newspaper’s first request made July 15 for the severance agreement.

Instead of providing the severance agreement last Friday, interim city attorney Leslie Walker emailed the newspaper that “The City is reviewing the request and will respond to the request by August 12, 2016.”

Since the last week in June, discussion between the newspaper and the city manager centers on what is disclosable under the California Public Records Act Request for Marks’ severance agreement.

Depending on who’s talking, the city is either required or not required by the California Public Records Act to produce the severance agreement.

 “Their response indicates unlawful compliance with the California Public Records Act,” said Nikki Moore, the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s legal counsel. “It improperly designates a date beyond the 10-day period. While this is a technical violation, it signifies the broader problems the city has complying with the Act.”
But Walker said Wednesday that the city wanted until Aug. 12 to respond “to give due consideration to the letter that The News Messenger gave us and we’ll provide a written response by Aug. 12.”

The News Messenger asked Walker why Brower gave the newspaper an itemization of severance payments for Marks on July 12 but not the severance agreement.

Walker responded that “will be addressed in the letter Aug. 12.”

Lincoln Mayor Spencer Short has concerns about the lack of transparency involved in the process, including with City Council members.

“Accountability needs to start with the council and the council has not yet been provided with the severance agreement you’re seeking and the (Marks) internal investigation. It appears some City Council members may not even want to see those documents,” Short told The News Messenger. “We have the same facts you have and I feel strongly that it’s the council’s job to oversee the city manager but we cannot determine any of the facts of the chief’s departure.”

The severance agreement is disclosable, according to media law attorney Kelly Aviles.

 “These types of agreements that relate to city employees are disclosable. The public has a right to know who the city is hiring and firing,” Aviles said, “and how much public money they’re spending doing it.”

Marks resigned on July 1, according to Brower in the July 7 newspaper. When The News Messenger asked Brower for the severance agreement on July 5, Brower instead gave the newspaper a copy of Marks’ employment agreement that said no severance would be paid if he resigned. On July 12, Brower gave the newspaper an itemization of severance payments for Marks. It is unclear whether Brower resigned and what he was actually paid.

“A breakdown of figures is not good enough,” Aviles said. “The public is entitled to see the record, not just take the city’s word for it.”