Monday, April 20, 2015

[Monterey County] Carmel releases personnel files to grand jury

CARMEL >> The Monterey County civil grand jury has received permission to look at the personnel files of seven Carmel employees in its investigation of city operations during the tenure of former city administrator Jason Stilwell.
The city had been resisting the grand jury’s request for the files, citing the employees’ right to privacy under the California Constitution.
Last month Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal ruled that the grand jury must present sufficient cause in her chambers why it needed the files. That ruling came after Carmel City Attorney Don Freeman’s move to quash the grand jury’s subpoena for the files.
The request for the files came from Louis Panetta, chairman of the grand jury’s Carmel investigation committee.
On April 8, Villarreal denied the city’s move to quash the subpoena and ordered the city to turn over the files within a week. They were delivered on Wednesday.
Freeman had argued that the California Constitution guarantees city employees the right to privacy and cannot be violated by a grand jury.
The grand jury, represented by Deputy County Counsel Leslie Girard, argued that the grand jury has the right to see any records.
Villarreal said her ruling involved finding a balance between the employee’s right to privacy and the grand jury’s role as government watchdog.
Freeman requested that if the personnel files were released, anyone reviewing them would have to sign a protective order ensuring the files are returned to the city and that any copies be destroyed. Villareal granted Freeman’s request.
“The city’s concern,” Freeman said, “was protecting the integrity of the process.” Now that the issue is resolved, he said, “It’s a win-win for the employees, the city and the grand jury.”
The grand jury requested information from the personnel files of Margi Perotti, Leslie Fenton, John Hanson, Art Black, Tim Meroney, Susan Paul and the late Steve McInchak.
McInchak, the city’s former IT director, was placed on administrative leave with pay while he was being investigated by the Carmel Police Department. The investigation was dropped and he was not reinstated. He sued the city but died last October of a heart attack at age 63. A judge has ruled that his widow can pursue the lawsuit.
Paul, former administrative services director, left the city last fall. Hanson, Fenton and Perotti were fired and rehired. Meroney and Black left their city jobs.
In November, Carmel Mayor Jason Burnett requested a grand jury investigation of the city, as did a group of Carmel residents.
The investigation stems from a series of events during Stilwell’s administration. Longtime employees were fired or put on administrative leave with pay. There were questions about overpayments to city contractors and lawsuits and grievances filed by city workers.
Among the complaints the grand jury is looking into are cronyism, unfair treatment and termination of workers, lack of transparency and non-responsiveness to Public Records Act requests; loss of institutional memory and deterioration of city services; and fiscal irresponsibility regarding legal exposure and expenses.
Stilwell resigned in October and is now working for the city of San Luis Obispo.
The grand jury is expected to release its report on June 30. It’s recommendations are nonbinding.
April 19, 2015
Monterey Herald
By Tom Leyde

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