The following is a letter from Bill Hood to the Monterey County grand jury, which is looking into the personnel actions and other issues that have rocked Carmel City Hall in recent months. Hood lives in Carmel and is a former executive director of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments.
I am a former full-time resident of Carmel, and currently live on the Peninsula as a part-time resident. I am a semi-retired member of the California Bar and follow closely the actions of local government agencies, including the city of Carmel. I have spoken out, both personally and in the media, about issues relating to lack of leadership relative to realization of a reliable water supply, transparency in decision-making, and prudent management of public funds.
This past week, an article appeared in the Carmel Pine Cone calling for an immediate response to the grand jury, given the fact that the above-referenced investigation is currently underway. I respectfully request that this letter be distributed to the jury members and staff, and that it be incorporated as part of the record that is being compiled during the investigation.
The Pine Cone article states that Mayor Jason Burnett sent a letter in November 2014 requesting the grand jury to “review our organization, our corrective action and make any additional recommendations.” While his request, taken out of context, would seem to be a prudent action, when considered within the context of the history of Jason Stilwell’s time as city administrator, it is very telling, indeed.
Mr. Burnett’s letter and the request therein can only be interpreted as a too-late attempt to cover the fact of his and his council members’ continuing failure to exercise any reasonable level of oversight in the face of numerous actions taken by Stilwell and his senior staff that would have raised red flags to even the casual observer.
While I am focusing on the belief that those involved negligently failed in their official responsibilities, the possibility exists that the actions of Stilwell and some of his staff were actually in response to direct orders to do so. If that is found to be the case, then negligence, while still unacceptable, would not be involved, and the level of breach of the public trust would become more serious.
Interestingly, when the string of Stilwell decisions first became public knowledge, and in spite of the immediate concern and indignation that arose in the community, Mr. Burnett’s first reaction was to praise Stilwell. And, importantly, the mayor’s request, in looking to the future by asking for “recommendations,” ignores the past. Past failures in responsibility that actually caused harm to others, and which are proven by your investigation, clearly cannot be overlooked. Such failures demand appropriate and relevant responses that are not confined to “Yes, you made a mistake; we are not going to punish you, but will simply tell you what not to do in the future.”
Recommendations for future corrective action are necessary, but it would be a whitewash to completely allow harmful actions already taken to get by with a slap-on-the wrist and no more. The “corrective actions” to which Mr. Burnett refers are a valid request, but, once again, on their face they ignore any responsibility for all of the time in which prior harmful actions took place, but no “corrective actions” (“oversight,” from my perspective) were to be found.
For example, Burnett, the council and the city attorney apparently sat idly by while undeserving staffers were fired by Stilwell’s assistants, out-of-area consultants were hired and paid exorbitant amounts, rubber-stamped by those who were elected or appointed to protect the public trust. To the extent they looked the other way or asked no questions regarding Mr. Stilwell’s questionable actions and the results that flowed from them during the time when they took place, the mayor, council members, and even the city attorney abdicated their responsibilities, and by doing so, violated that trust.
Some have told me that the city attorney was deliberately kept out of the loop with respect to much of what Stilwell did. That may be true. But, in his capacity as city attorney, I would have hoped that person would have immediately realized that reality, and spoken up as to what his position should expect of him.
As an attorney who has served as in-house counsel for several major corporations and government agencies, I did not need to be told that my responsibilities included primary involvement in the careful selection and ongoing management of outside counsel. And, with respect to both lawyers and other consultants, I routinely reviewed contracts and other legal documents binding my clients for legal accuracy and to ensure that questionable or detrimental provisions were properly addressed.
Under Stilwell’s tenure, available information seems to indicate that the city attorney was not asked to undertake that important role or that he did not exercise his own initiative to demand that he do so. It is once again very telling that, this late in the game, he has been asked to go back and review and evaluate contracts entered into by Stilwell with respect to consultants and law firms. A normal and necessary procedure would be for an in-house counsel (which the city attorney is for the city) to review communications and billing documents from outside counsel on a regular basis as part of hands-on oversight. If the city attorney failed to do so, for reasons not his fault, then the mayor and council should assume responsibility for their failure in not requiring him and Stilwell to follow that procedure on every occasion.
Their collective failure to do this has, in part, led to the situation that has triggered your investigation.
Therefore, I respectfully request that your investigation:
- identify all persons within the city’s governmental structure who had any element of responsibility for Stilwell and/or his staff’s actions that resulted in harm, but failed to do anything about them; or, in the alternative, specifically directed Stilwell and/or his staff to undertake those same actions;
- describe, to the greatest extent possible, the harm suffered by individuals targeted by the foregoing actions that caused the harm;
- take into account the harm caused to the greater Carmel community and to the city’s reputation as a result of the foregoing actions; and
- recommend corrective actions not only to prevent future recurrence of such failures, but also as to appropriate sanctions that should be levied upon those found guilty of any failures so identified.
In addition, in order for the investigation and its conclusions and recommendation to be acceptable and relevant, it must be undertaken in a completely objective and fair manner, with respect not only to those who may be targets of the investigation, but also to the public, which has already suffered harm as a result of the events that transpired.
Thank you for your time and consideration.