Former Manhattan Beach City Manager Geoff Dolan has filed a claim (see attached PDF) against the city for $500,000, alleging city officials broke a contractual agreement to not disparage him.
The claim, filed last Thursday, could lead to a lawsuit if rejected by the City Council.
"The claim is based on the fact that he simply cannot get a job anywhere," said Pat Barrera, Dolan's attorney. "He's been trashed in the media and it's a result of the city releasing personnel documents that shouldn't have been released."
Those documents—Dolan's "Resignation and Release Agreement" (attached) and an anonymous letter (attached) alleging inappropriate conduct by Dolan while on an overnight outing with city staff—were released as part of the city's March settlement with plaintiff Richard McKee of the government watchdog group Californians Aware. McKee had sued the city for violating the California Public Records Act and the state open-meeting law known as the Brown Act when the City Council initially refused to disclose any documents related to Dolan's separation.
"This claim has nothing to do with Pismo Beach [site of the outing with city staff] or has nothing to do with what led up to the agreement between Geoff and the city," Barrera said. "This case is about what happened after that agreement was entered into. There was an agreement, and the parties decided to resolve their issues. There's a nondisparagement clause in there, there are certain terms, and Geoff honored those terms and the city has not."
The agreement between Dolan and the city reads, "Dolan and the city agree not to disparage each other in any fashion either in response to any inquiries or otherwise. The parties agree that to the extent determined by law this Agreement and its contents shall remain confidential."
Dolan and then-Mayor Portia Cohen signed the document on Dec. 13, 2009, when the city and Dolan ended their employee-employer relationship, with Dolan walking away with $195,000 in severance pay.
In an interview with Manhattan Beach Patch, Barrera contended that the city broke the contract when, on Dec. 28, 2010, then-City Attorney Robert Wadden filed a motion in court in the McKee lawsuit to seal the anonymous letter.
"The issue of whether or not it [the anonymous letter] should have been released, that mistake was made by Wadden back in January  when he first disclosed there was a letter," Barrera said.
Prior to that, the anonymous letter had been kept confidential.
"It was a strategic move, it was a tactical move that he [Wadden] made without consulting with anybody," Barrera said. "Nobody looked at his pleadings, nobody was asked. He certainly didn't consult with Geoff."
After the existence of the anonymous letter came to light in January, Dolan "started receiving calls and inquiries about rumors and so forth," Barrera said.
Barrera told Patch that Dolan was close to landing a couple of jobs with California cities when "all this blew up" earlier this year and was "told that they couldn't hire him because he was too hot to handle."
Barrera said the city should have paid for Dolan to have his own attorney in the McKee case. Barrera said he wrote to Wadden twice but didn't get replies.
"We were prepared to go in and deal with these issues in the McKee litigation," Barrera said of his March hiring by Dolan. "And then the city settled it. We weren't parties to the settlement. In fact, we requested that they not release the documents because it is a personnel matter."
While the City Council members who were seated at the time of Dolan's departure issued a formal statement to Manhattan Beach residents that said there was an investigation into the anonymous letter's allegations, Barrera said, "Our research in our investigation shows that they did not investigate."
"The letter doesn't say that much," Barrera said. "I think more was made out of it before it was released than after. So I think Geoff suffered more harm from the innuendo and the speculation and the rumors that were going around before it was released.
"We weren't going to take any action initially," Barrera said, "but Geoff can't get a job, and it's all a result of all the bad attention that's been focused on him and this dispute."
Manhattan Beach City Manager David Carmany declined to comment, noting the legalities of the matter.