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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."

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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