City Council Apologizes to Residents for Silence in Dolan Case

Five council members involved in City Manager Geoff Dolan's decision to step down in 2009 explain their actions as records related to the case are made public.

Current and former members of the Manhattan Beach City Council who were in office when City Manager Geoff Dolan abruptly stepped down in December 2009 have issued a letter to residents explaining why they have been silent for more than a year about the events related to Dolan’s departure.

"In retrospect, we were given legal advice previously that was based on concern for Mr. Dolan's privacy to the detriment of the community's legitimate interest in knowing why we, as a council, made that decision,” the letter states. “We hope that you will forgive us for relying on legal advice that resulted in our silence. We now want to set the record straight."

The legal advice the council members received came from City Attorney Robert Wadden.

The letter comes a week after the city announced it had settled a lawsuit filed in April 2010 by Richard McKee, vice president of the nonprofit government watchdog group Californians Aware. McKee alleged that the City Council violated the Brown Act and California Public Records Act when it held meetings to discuss Dolan’s employment status and appointed an interim city manager without proper notice to the public.

As part of the settlement, the city will reimburse McKee's estimated $70,000 in legal fees; release all public documents related to the case, including an anonymous letter that moved the council to make decisions on Dolan's employment (attached as PDFs); require some city staff to be trained on the California Public Records Act within 90 days; and require training on the Brown Act—the state's open-meeting law—within six months for individuals serving on the City Council and city boards and commissions.

The letter issued Tuesday was signed by the five council members who were on the City Council when Dolan's separation took effect: current members Richard Montgomery, Nick Tell and Wayne Powell and former members Mitch Ward and Portia Cohen, whose terms ended March 15.

"In November 2009,” their letter states, “the city of Manhattan Beach received an anonymous letter accusing Mr. Dolan of certain improper actions. In our role as employer, we began an investigation and sought advice from a labor lawyer. During that process, however, the Council's discussion broadened to include whether the city would benefit from new leadership after 15 years"—the length of time Dolan had been employed by the city.

"Based on legal advice,” the letter continues, “Council entered into a separation agreement as the best way to accomplish [Dolan's] separation from the city."

Wadden, who had been advising the City Council after the anonymous letter surfaced, was replaced in that role about three weeks ago by attorney Christi Hogin of the law firm Jenkins & Hogin LLP. Hogin represented the city in the settlement.

“It’s always better to tell more,” Hogin told Manhattan Beach Patch.

Kelly Aviles, McKee's attorney, said she was pleased that the city sought a second opinion.

"If you don't get the right advice, you're at a disadvantage,” Aviles said. “They [City Council members] did the right thing by getting a second opinion.

"The City Council had courage. Once they became aware of what they'd done and how they'd violated the law, they really did the right thing,” she said.

Aviles said that as part of the settlement, McKee, a retired Pasadena City College professor, agreed to give up his request that the city rescind the severance agreement it made with Dolan in December 2009, which included a payment of $195,000, equal to six months of Dolan’s salary.

Aviles said she'd heard from a large number of Manhattan Beach residents during the litigation.

"I think that it's great when people actually get involved,” she said. “You need to stay on top of it so that these types of situations don't occur."

Phil Reimert March 23, 2011 at 08:34 PM
Wadden's head should roll for this!
Gerry O'Connor March 24, 2011 at 03:01 AM
Phil, I couldn't agree more. My letter calling for Council to now fire our City Attorney should be in tomorrow's Beach Reporter. Looking forward to the next step, our City ought reevaluate whether the City Attorney should remain a staff position or be contracted to outside counsel on an as-needed basis -- as it was before Wadden was hired. Our City must also review and clarify the respective roles of City Council and the City's legal counsel. Sadly, the McKee case is but one representative example of a Council that, all too often, has blindly taken poor legal counsel as *direction*, rather than mere *advice* -- much to the detriment of our community. Most unfortunate are the statements from Mayor Montgomery and Councilmember Powell in the related Daily Breeze article (http://www.dailybreeze.com/news/ci_17674045), wherein they each suggest the matter to now be closed and the city to be "moving on". How offensive for them to erroneously and illegally hide this mound of public information for almost a year and a half, only to then expect the community to accept, digest, and dismiss it in less than 24 hours. One can only conclude that neither of them have yet learned a thing from their very own momentous screw up. So much for the moment of humility expressed only in one written, undistributed letter of apology to the community. Clearly they've already moved on from *that*, too! Change is underway, fellas. Lead, follow, or get the heck out of the way.
bob johnson March 24, 2011 at 05:31 AM
What is Gerry O'Connor talking about? The "undistributed" letter of apology is in every newspaper and all over the Internet. Apology accepted and thank you for your honesty.
Gerry O'Connor March 24, 2011 at 07:01 AM
Mr. Johnson, I join you in accepting the Council's apology and thanking them for their honesty. I'll just add that I am infinitely more interested in seeing continuous improvement in their associated actions and processes. Thus my call for replacing the City Attorney -- it's now been made abundantly clear that he's insistent on working from another playbook. Apologies if I was unclear on the minor point of the letter's distribution; thanks for the opportunity to explain further. Appropriate distribution for any 'Open Letter to Manhattan Beach Residents' from the City, let alone a sincere apology for City wrongdoing, would, most importantly, include prominent posting on the City website and e-mailing to those who have signed up on the City website for City distribution lists. Neither of these have yet occurred. Nor does the letter appear in our only local daily newspaper, as you suggest (the Daily Breeze article includes only excerpts, hardly a substitute for residents receiving a letter from Council). This isn't about you or me, but when I send an important letter to a specified audience, I sure don't just send out a press release and then simply hope the intended recipients see it ... and I doubt you would, either. I hope my choice of the word "undistributed" makes a bit more sense to you now. (At the very least, I hope we could agree that the letter is *still*, as another day passes, 'under distributed'.)
Gary Osterhout March 24, 2011 at 03:24 PM
I concur with Gerry. To really demonstrate a commitment to the public, there should have been a much broader distribution and posting of this apology than what is in effect just a letter to the editor. Thanks and compliments to Patch for posting the full pdf text, which seems alone in all our media sources to do so (at least, to date). Does anyone know if the settlement agreement with McKee and Californian's Aware is public information? Seems strange Californian's Aware would agree to sealing it. Has anyone seen the official text?
Liz Spear (Editor) March 24, 2011 at 03:25 PM
Dear Readers, The letter from City Council is here on MB Patch as is the anonymous letter that triggered the process that led to Dolan's abrupt departure. In fact, all records related to Dolan's departure (pay calculations, car lease, etc.) are attached to this article so that the public may review them. Manhattan Beach Patch will continue to provide updates to this entire unfortunate episode, on numerous fronts, in Manhattan Beach history.
Gary Osterhout March 24, 2011 at 04:00 PM
Nancy, the shadowbox at the Daily Breeze site is to the anonymous letter (which I frankly care little about), not the letter of apology. I have been told that staff has been directed to post the apology letter on the City website. Further, the apology letter sure reads like an official letter with the references to "City Council" and "we," and using their titles. I am certainly glad that the council is coming clean; but I am also asserting that it could have been done much better if they really wanted to reach out to the community. And I don't think they should be criticized by nitpickers either.
bob johnson March 24, 2011 at 06:55 PM
Hey, Gary. I searched the City web page and found the letter you talk about. It seems it was put up early this morning. this really was a mess what with an incompetent City Attorney handling it. How would you have done it differently? Seems there was confusion with "noticing" these agenda items. Agendas are looking more "transparent" lately. So things are changing, and the newest agenda for Friday says they are discussing termination of an employee.
Gary Osterhout March 24, 2011 at 08:26 PM
Hi Bob - I received notification of the letter posting at 10:18 through my e-mail subscription to City Hall meeting notices (anyone can register for these on the City's Homepage). I am hopeful things are changing,too. And I hope you are right about the agendas (but the City might also take a look at the recent School Board agenda postings, which are pretty slick). But time will tell. Web access to pre-2005 meeting materials would be even more appreciated. As for newest agenda, I see almost the same exact agenda (including the employee termination discussion) was noticed for the council's closed session meetings held on 3/4; 3/11 and 3/22. How would I do things differently? Not certain what particular aspects you are asking about, but off the top of my head I would have liked to make certain of the widest distribution or access to all materials on a concurrent basis. I would have made sure residents had available what general items were discussed (without violating closed meeting rules) on what dates during this process. I would have encouraged a Town Hall meeting to formally and publicly apologize, explain what occurred, and take all questions (and, if necessary, some lumps). I would have reached out for advice on roll-out in advance to those members of the community who are especially concerned with open government, and/or a PR professional. The alternative is to chance this won't fester in the community for many years.
bob johnson March 25, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Gary, you say: "I would have reached out for advice on roll-out in advance to those members of the community who are especially concerned with open government, and/or a PR professional. " I am not sure what you mean by "roll-out." Which members of the community are you referring to that you would reach out to? You think the City Council needs to hire a PR person? Hopefully we won't resort to that elitist method of suppressing the truth. Also, wondering why this would fester for many years. A guy got let go, it happens. He was, embarrassing for him, trying to get some and was rejected (how many times did that happen-so he is a looser).He's been seen around town looking scraggly, then he complains that he can't get a prestigious job. Unpleasant things were also said about him in his former job in Longmount, The guy just seems like a l-o-o-s-e-r. We should be glad to be rid of him.
Gary Osterhout March 25, 2011 at 07:30 PM
Bob: I find it more important to focus more on the process than the ultimate result. I don' t do "ends justify the means" so well. So the end fact that the council decided to separate with the old city manager or why they did means far less to me than how the council communicates their respect for public participation. Most who know me know there is no way I was advocating "suppressing the truth" by hiring a PR professional. I meant this in respect to accessing someone attentive to how and what the active community would expect to see, be spoken to, and be provided in order for community to truly accept the contrition and decision and look forward to better days. These days, that process generally means (within legal constraints) complete and wide-spread disclosure, making appropriate access for questions, full acceptance of blame, etc. And not to make those statements Gerry O'Connor discusses above. At the moment, I think there are still a lot of concerns outstanding in the community. As to my use of "roll-out" (one definition being "the initial public exhibition of a new policy"), I meant it in respect to the current staging of compliance with the McKee settlement and the related public disclosure of subject events. My impression is that most in-town are fine with changing City Managers at this time, but many aren't so fine with how that was done. And residents still grouse about the manner in which a M.B. city manager was let go in the early '90's.
Nancy Daylen March 26, 2011 at 03:55 PM
Gary Osterhaut has no respect for our community. We're satisfied with the explanation and apology. Dolan, Wadden and Osterhaut are the real problem.
Jane March 27, 2011 at 12:02 AM
How can this be any less criminal than what went down in the City of Bell? Both were a case of deceiving the voters.
pat March 27, 2011 at 12:19 AM
Have you no shame, Jane. comparing Bell to MB, really? People like you should and Gary Osterhout should seek help. Your comment is absurd and beyond belief!
Gerry O'Connor March 27, 2011 at 04:54 PM
City attorney Wadden's annual performance appraisal has now been on the agenda of *six* closed session Council meetings (March 1, 4, 11, 15, 22 and 25), yet no action has yet been made public. The next open session Council meeting is April 5. Perhaps we need bring torches.
cathy March 28, 2011 at 05:44 PM
"take" torches, unless you are there already. I don't think they will fire Mr Waddel. He has served the city for many years and always has good advice that supports anything the city wants to do.
William Morgan March 29, 2011 at 06:58 PM
I just came across these comments. You are right, Gary, not much of an apology. This city council seems like an arrogant bunch for sure. The city attorney has been the subject of SIX closed door sessions? Maybe they don't have cause to let him go. What kind of games are they playing with our tax dollars. I am going surfing, the waves are gnarly today.
Gerry O'Connor March 29, 2011 at 08:17 PM
Ohhh, there's plenty of cause -- but even if there wasn't, our City Attorney is an 'at will' employee ... so our Council is free to release him 'at will'. Today at 1:30 is the *seventh* closed session City Council meeting with our City Attorney's annual performance review on the agenda (March 1, 4, 11, 15, 22, 25 and 29), with no action yet reported. Hopefully seven is the lucky number -- if not, we the stakeholders are being made to be the April Fools.
Liz Spear (Editor) March 30, 2011 at 01:21 AM
City Attorney Robert Wadden was placed on one week's administrative leave today by City Council after a closed session that began at 1:30 p.m. The vote was unanimous with council members Amy Howorth, Nick Tell, Richard Montgomery and Wayne Powell voting in favor of the administrative leave. Councilman David Lesser was not present. City Council will reconvene in closed session on Tuesday, April 5 at 1:30 p.m. in council chambers at city hall. City Council meets that night at 6:30 p.m. for a regularly scheduled meeting.
Eleanor Feiner April 15, 2011 at 08:54 PM
To Gary Osterhout: Contrary to your misinformed ignorance, most everyone in town are fine with the change in the City Manager and City Attorney, and in the proper legal way in which it was conducted. However, everyone is unhappy that all of your numerous posts are blatent negativism and arrogance. Have you no shame. Please stay off of Patch until you have something constructive to say.
Gerry O'Connor April 16, 2011 at 02:58 PM
Eleanor Feiner certainly doesn't speak for me, and I sincerely doubt she represents the opinion of "most everyone in town". In fact, our City Council doesn't even agree with Eleanor Feiner's suggestion of "the proper legal way in which it was conducted" (as defined by the McKee settlement in which they finally conceded to admitting their own violations of both the Brown Act and the California Public Records Act, for instance). If Feiner is so insistent on uncovering "misinformed ignorance", a better start might be with a mirror. But hey, we're all better off if we now turn our focus to future improvements in transparency and open governance here in MB.
Eleanor Feiner April 17, 2011 at 01:38 AM
Too bad there are a couple of habitual naysayers like Mr. O'Connor and Mr. Osterhout who refuse to take their blinders off and see reality. Everyone knows the public does NOT share their views. They're not fooling anyone. Move on.
Gerry O'Connor April 18, 2011 at 02:18 PM
'Eleanor Feiner' continues to lay claim to what 'everyone knows' and 'the public's views', and continues to freely and negatively label any who hold alternate views. For someone who leaves no trail of ever before having participated in the public process, these are some very strong statements. Sure sounds to me like the rhetoric of a certain self-important local politician. New voices are always welcome, and in fact encouraged ... but those who attempt to hide behind transparent pseudonyms tend to only dig their holes yet deeper. In any case, and as I previously stated above: "we're all better off if we now turn our focus to future improvements in transparency and open governance here in MB." This is the direction in which I, a thirty year resident and homeoner who admits to being a habitual *participant*, will continue to "move on". And you, 'Eleanor Feiner' ? Please, do tell -- what is your plan for constructive participation?
Cyndi April 21, 2011 at 04:53 AM
Except for all the MONEY that we've leaked, who cares?
Gerry O'Connor April 21, 2011 at 03:47 PM
That's just it, 'Cyndi' -- allowing bad process is always costly in the end. Privately conducting public business is analagous to anonymously posting to discussion boards -- they both provide an avoidance of accountability. The most meaningful and productive dialogues occur under the cleansing light of public scrutiny.


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