≡ Menu

PARTISAN News Quiz 2015: No one will get all these right

110_F_66851562_fFaspr2gJRZ649D8HnBiDZyATXAzuOcPThe people of the Central Coast are an enlightened lot, but just how enlightened? To find out, we designed this quiz to test how well Partisan readers were paying attention in 2015. As always, go to the comment box at the end and let us know how you did.

A. Which of the following happened in 2015

  1. Monterey County District Attorney Dean Flippo retired
  2. The various Peninsula agencies agreed on a plan to increase groundwater storage and expand conservation efforts
  3. A sheriff’s deputy with no management experience became the head of  the county’s largest law enforcement agency
  4. The Salinas murder rate went down
  5. None of the above (hint hint)

B. Cal Am continued to make progress on

  1.  A test well
  2. Plans for a test well
  3. Plans to study a test well
  4. The hiring of consultants without conflicts of interest to study plans to study a test well

C. Which of these development projects continued to exist, at least on paper, despite demonstrably inadequate water supplies:

  1. Monterey Downs
  2. Ferrini Ranch
  3. Corral de Tierra shopping center
  4. All of the above

D. GOP political consultant Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

GOP campaign manager Brandon Gesicki

  1. Changed his registration to Democrat
  2. Went into partnership with campaign manager Alex Hulanicki to form the Icki Group.
  3. Was elected to public office
  4. Started taking a correspondence course to become a bail bondsman

E. Which of the following comics attracted record crowds

  1. Don Rickles
  2. Don Knotts
  3. Don Trump

F. A sequel was produced for which of these movies

  1. The Graduate/The Retiree
  2. Star Wars: Luke Skywalker/Star Wars: Luke Buys a Walker
  3. The Godfather/The Great-Godfather
  4. Groundhog Day/Groundhog Day

G. The Pebble Beach Co.

  1. Announced plans for more gates with entrance fees on a sliding scale
  2. Banned American cars
  3. Bought Del Rey Oaks for employee housing

H. The Transportation Agency for Monterey County chose as its top 2016 priority

  1. Construction of a roundabout at Highway 1 and Holman Highway
  2. A study of roundabouts on Monterey-Salinas Highway because it has been free of construction delays for several weeks
  3. Approval of a sales tax measure to finance additional study into the need for an additional sales tax measure

I. The following decided to run for Sam Farr’s seat in Congress

  1. Jimmy Panetta
  2. Jimmy Panetta’s offspring
520986e1f3cd9.preview-300

Howard

J. Howard Gustafson of the Marina Coast Water District said 

  1. The Surfrider Foundation should “go F— yourselves.”
  2. He had once been engaged to Jane Fonda
  3. He gets all his information from the Partisan
  4. Voters would be better off replacing him randomly

K. Two homeless men apparently died of exposure in downtown Monterey, leading to 

  1. A communitywide effort to build housing for the homless
  2. An outpouring of blankets and warm clothes
  3. Pretty much nothing

L. Officials at the Monterey County Weekly disclosed that the Squid Fry column

  1. Is written by Paul Miller
  2. Is edited by Dave Potter
  3. Is a repeat of the column from exactly a year earlier

M. Sand City officials announced plans to

  1. Rezone the beachfront light industrial
  2. Annex Seaside
  3. Eliminate sales taxes throughout the shopping district
  4. Cancel municipal elections

Beach campfire on lake with sand shore. burning wood on white sand in daytimeN. The city of Carmel eliminated beach bonfires and banned

  1. The sale or marketing of necessities
  2. Any public references to Jason Stilwell or Sue McCloud
  3. Children

O. The city of Marina approved plans for

  1. A citywide no-parking zone
  2. A gluten-free, cheese-free, meat-free pizza truck
  3. Shrinking the city limits to cover two walkable square blocks

SCORING: Because we attended Christmas Eve services at a Unitarian church, we encourage you to decide for yourselves which answers are correct. If you answered all 15 questions correctly, you are a liar and a cheat and need to know that there is plenty of time to take out papers for a seat on the Board of Supervisors. If you correctly answered 10-14 questions, you are Mary Duan, editor of the Monterey County Weekly. If you got 6-9 questions right, you’re more than qualified to start your own blog or, at least, write your own editorials. Fewer than 6 right? You had help from either Howard Gustafson or Paul Bruno

{ 13 comments }

Wooden mallet and diary on a white backgroundNEWSPAPER’S RESPONSES HAVE BEEN INAPPROPRIATE

This past June, the Monterey County civil grand jury published an investigative report regarding the management and governance of the city of Carmel. A recent editorial in the Carmel Pine Cone by publisher Paul Miller exudes strong disrespect for the grand jury. This is the second editorial penned by Mr. Miller making a personal affront to individuals participating in grand jury service. His June 26, 2015, writing described the grand jury’s work as stupid and worthy of contempt. Last week, he stated that “the grand jury set out to try to make things worse, instead of helping … Farewell, grand jury, and same thing to the horse you rode in on.” It’s apparent that Mr. Miller was hoping for an indictment of the former city administrators. He also took issue with the finding that the Pine Cone influenced the city’s governance. When the report didn’t meet his expectations, he chose to belittle the jury members instead of focusing on his opinion.

In America, we don’t serve the government, the government serves us. There are a number of ways that we have to ensure that this arrangement continues. I’m certain that Mr. Miller is familiar with freedom of the press. There are other ways, too—separation of powers, the right to vote, freedom of information, and yes, civil grand juries. Civil grand juries are mandated by the California Penal Code. The code grants powers to the grand jury to examine local governments, commissions and agencies, special districts, elected officials, etc. The grand jury does not have the authority to enforce its recommendations, but it does report its findings to the citizens. The citizens can then act as they see fit.

I fully respect Mr. Miller’s views regarding the city matters addressed in the grand jury report and his disagreement. I welcome his alternative suggestions to improve the city’s governance. His personal attacks on the jury members, however, are an affront to the democratic process. The 2014/15 civil grand jury was comprised of 19 educated and committed members. It included Ph.Ds, attorneys, CEOs, business school professors, and independent business owners. The members worked diligently to develop information that informs the public and effects sound choice. The grand jury did not choose to investigate Carmel. Carmel residents and the City Council made that decision. The work of the panel was performed honestly, competently, completely within the law, and with integrity. Whether Mr. Miller and the public agree with the findings or not, the panel members were honored to serve and continue to hold their heads high.

Panetta is a faculty member in the School of Business at California State University Monterey Bay and an adjunct faculty member at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He was a member of the grand jury committee that examined Carmel City Hall during the period leading up to the departure of City Administrator Jason Stilwell. Among other things, it concluded that his departure was sparked in large part by highly slanted reporting by the Pine Cone and the City Council’s failure to back him up.

{ 17 comments }
B2L4F4oIIAA0MME.jpg-large

Though the caption says this is Royal Calkins, it isn’t. It’s Paul Miller being interviewed on KSBW about media issues. For the record, Calkins is better looking.

Despite its down home name, the Carmel Pine Cone cultivates an image as an aggressive little newspaper, vigilantly protecting the public’s interest in open government. For the better part of two years, it waged weekly battle against Carmel City Administrator Jason Stilwell, accusing him of stealthily campaigning to eliminate conscientious city employees for inexplicable reasons and trying to cover his tracks by rejecting legitimate requests for public information.

That impression was severely undermined, however, by a report from the Monterey County grand jury two weeks ago. Defying most expectations, the grand jury found that the weekly paper had essentially manufactured crisis in City Hall through one-sided reporting, creating the community pressure that led Mayor Jason Burnett and the City Council to cut Stilwell loose last fall even though almost everything he had done was at their direction.

The grand jury found that Stilwell’s personnel actions were logical and legal and that the city’s decision to reinstate several of the employees after his departure was at least partly the result of political panic sparked by the news coverage.

Through it all, the Pine Cone portrayed Stilwell as a rogue outsider and itself as the hometown watchdog motivated only by a yearning for good governance and comity of the type it had enjoyed with previous administrators. The impression was turned on its head, however, by the grand jury’s findings, some of which are fleshed out by this week’s release of a series of text messages between the Pine Cone and the mayor while all that drama was playing out at City Hall.

The messages released in response to public records requests indicate that despite all its huffing and puffing, the newspaper enjoyed an uncommonly cozy relationship with previous administrations at City Hall and with Burnett even after Stilwell’s arrival. Even while Pine Cone Publisher Paul Miller clashed angrily and openly with Stilwell, the messages showed that Burnett regularly sought Miller’s counsel on parking and political issues and that the two routinely coordinated their efforts in support of California American Water’s desalination project.

The new texts, coupled with earlier correspondence between Miller and Stilwell, also indicate that Miller heaped praise on the mayor and offered him the ability to weigh in on the gist and tone of some news stories.

“You are working so hard and doing such a great job you certainly should have another term in office,” Miller told the mayor in one undated message. “But it wouldn’t surprise me if you didn’t want to. The city is lucky to have you.”

Interested in more? Here’s a link to a Royal Calkins column from 2013 about the early stages of the Miller/Stilwell relationship. A highlight: “You are a rookie in Carmel and you should respect what I have to say.”

The newspaper and its fan base have expressed great displeasure with the grand jury report although the paper, like the daily Monterey Herald, has provided almost no details on its substance. Though the grand jury delved much more deeply into city politics and functionality than anyone had expected, Miller and associates dismiss its detailed report as flawed but they have failed to provide any real examples of its supposed shortcomings. An editorial in today’s Pine Cone says the report has zero credibility but includes nothing to back up that opinion.

Regardless of what spin is being put on the report, the messages lend support to that old advice about not believing everything you read.

For instance, the top story in the Nov. 29, 2013, edition provided significant new information about Carmel’s investigation into city employees receiving unauthorized pay raises and providing sensitive information to outsiders, an investigation that Stilwell started and that would help lead to his downfall. The details were mostly supplied by Burnett, and most readers likely came away with the impression that the newspaper had pried them out of the mayor.

A different picture arises, however, from the text messages. For instance, in a text to Burnett three days before reporter Mary Schley’s story appeared atop page 1, Miller thanked the mayor for briefing the paper and added, “I’ll keep a very sharp eye on Mary’s story to make sure nothing is in there that you didn’t intend to be in there.”

Similarly, the messages put a different light on a story a month earlier about an unsuccessful legal effort by the paper to require the city to turn over the resume’ of the city’s new planning director. In that story, the paper patted itself on the back for its aggressiveness, and included some posturing from Miller.

“(I)t’s important to remember that government officials cannot be trusted to decide on their own what the public is allowed to see,” Miller was quoted as saying. But in a message to Burnett shortly before the article appeared, he wrote, “I completely rewrote the top six graphs of Kelly’s story. Can I go over them with you to make sure I have it right?”

The text messages were released by the city this week in response to public records requests filed by someone identifying himself only as Marshall Duncan, likely an alias of Stilwell, who resigned under great political pressure last fall. The messages cover the period starting with Stilwell’s hiring in early 2013 and ending this May. He is now working as a deputy city manager in Santa Maria and has declined to comment on the grand jury report that has rewritten recent Carmel political history.

Many of the text messages involve arrangements for meetings and briefings involving Burnett and either Miller or reporter Schley. In one message, Schley suggests that Burnett may want to stop having her tag along to private meetings in the interest of promoting candor. In a message to Miller, Burnett suggests that a City Council retreat might have been more effective if Schley had not been there because some city officials weren’t fully forthcoming in her presence.

Miller replied, “I you want to have council retreats without a reporter being there, you should let me know. I don’t see anything wrong with it specially if it would help council members speak freely once in a while.”

The texts contain references to efforts by Burnett to arrange conciliatory conversation between Miller and the administrator but there were no signs of success. At one point, Miller wrote to Burnett “Stilwell is so strange I’m actually afraid to talk to the guy.”

Later, he continued, “The only answer is for Stilwell to reinvent himself as a human being. Since he couldn’t do that even if he wanted to we’ll just have to suffer until he leaves. And then it will take 10 years to undo the damage.”

Burnett, bound by a non-disparagement clause in Stilwell’s departure agreement, has said little about the matter publicly but he did say after release of the grand jury report that he felt he had been deceived by Stilwell about the processing of some of the terminations.

To critics who say he put Stilwell into harm’s way and then threw him under the bus, Burnett said this week, “I supported him as long as I could.”

Oddly, Miller didn’t hold Burnett responsible for any of the difficulties he encountered at City Hall, at least according to the messages. They contained repeated references to private meetings between Burnett and Schley and coffee shop sessions between Burnett and Miller on topics including parking meters and the drought. In one message, Burnett said he wanted to discuss his re-election plans with Miller. After Stilwell’s departure, Burnett messaged Miller to suggest he meet with a candidate to replace the administrator.

Miller is a former broadcast journalist who has had unusual financial success at the helm of a small-town publication. His paper is thick with both advertising and news, most of it decidedly local. With the Herald largely abandoning coverage of city governments locally, the Pine Cone has had the Carmel market mostly to itself. Miller has used his pulpit on the editorial page, and elsewhere at times, to bash environmentalists and bureaucrats and boost California American Water at every opportunity. In editorials, he has accused the Herald of publishing “lies” in an attempt to thwart Cal Am’s desalination project but he has not provided specifics.

At times, he has used his editorials as a battering ram. When a Pine Cone article on teaching salaries prompted a letter of complaint from a local teacher, Miller called her incompetent and worse while severely mischaracterizing and misquoting her letter even though it was published in the same edition. When former Carmel City Councilman Steve Hillyard spoke up in defense of Stilwell after the administrator’s departure, Miller responded with a highly loaded news story and an entire editorial criticizing Hillyard. In it, Miller added an unsubstantiated charge of nepotism onto the list of Stilwell’s purported sins. In a text to Burnett, Miller asked, “Is Hillyard stupid?” Burnett’s response was not recorded.

Hillyard did not respond to the Partisan’s calls for comment.

 The text messages between the newspaper and the mayor hardly paint a complete picture of that relationship but they do indicate a surprising level of cordiality during such seemingly tense times.

Miller and Burnett were united in opposition to Measure O, the June 2014 ballot measure that would have launched a public takeover of California American Water’s local operations. Burnett has taken the political lead in Cal Am’s effort to build a desalination plant to serve the Peninsula.

Shortly before Measure O’s defeat, Miller sought some advice from Burnett.

“When do you think my next, and probably final, No on O editorial should run?” he asked.

Next week, Burnett replied.

Burnett, young, ambitious and rich through his family, the Packards of Silicon Valley fame, seemingly has hitched his political career to the desalination issue. On the plus side, he has demonstrated both leadership skills and a willingness to take a risk in the volatile arena of water politics, something that other area politicians have avoided. It has won him heavy support from the hospitality industry while costing huge points among environmentalists and others who are concerned about the costs to the consumer. Those are points he likely could win back, though, if the many obstacles to a desalination project can be overcome

Asked how he might reassure supporters put off by his role as a Cal Am booster in league with Miller, he said, “Our efforts to find a new sustainable water supply are, at their core, about stopping the illegal pumping of the Carmel River and restoring the habitat. I’m proud to have had a role in bringing together diverse interests to help solve the water problem in an environmentally responsible manner. We have groups representing major portions of the environmental, business and farming communities all supporting the same path forward. Our project is being held out by environmental groups across in the state as how to best pursue desalination; conservation first, subsurface intake, care regarding brine discharge and possibly landfill gas to power the pumps.”

In another text message exchange with Miller, the mayor cheerfully reported that a judge had ruled in favor of Cal Am on a key issue involving test wells, ruling against the Ag Land Trust and the Marina Coast Water District, both of which had sought to delay the testing.

What’s next, Miller wanted to know.

“Now we need to change the dynamics on their boards so they stop wasting everyone’s time and money,” Burnett replied.

{ 26 comments }

The Monterey County civil grand jury has rewritten the script on the controversy that has consumed Carmel City Hall in recent years. Its recommendation, essentially, is to forget most of what you thought you knew about it, particularly the parts you read in the Carmel Pine Cone.

The old script, written largely by the weekly paper, had now-departed City Administrator Jason Stilwell bungling his job by arrogantly and even illegally dismissing solid employees before a grassroots community uprising drove him from office.

The new script, backed up by personnel records and interviews with numerous City Hall insiders past and present, portrays Stilwell as a highly competent if imperfect administrator operating at the direction of a mayor and City Council that wanted to eliminate the cronyism that had flourished under the former mayor, Sue McCloud.

In a remarkably detailed and wide-ranging report released Friday, the grand jury found that Stilwell operated professionally and legally but was cut loose for purely political reasons when the newspaper, a vigorous booster of the McCloud administration, began a series of lopsided articles taking up the cases of city employees who, for the most part, had been appropriately terminated.

3d people - man, person and directional sign.True or falseThe grand jury paints City Hall under McCloud as a monument to her power with few checks and balances. Though Carmel employs a city administrator, technically making the mayor little more than president of the City Council, the grand jury found that McCloud essentially functioned as the chief executive with often unquestioned authority. As a result, city employees and many of those on the council never learned their proper roles and felt unable to challenge McCloud, a retired CIA agent.

After young Jason Burnett succeeded McCloud as mayor in April 2011, Stilwell was assigned to modernize government functions. His task was greatly compromised by short-staffed departments, years of informal decision-making processes and a public that knew little about City Hall except what it read in a newspaper openly disdainful of the new administration, the grand jury concluded.

Rather than provide Stilwell with the support he needed to carry out the council’s wishes, “the actions of the mayor and City Council appeared to place more importance on avoiding public criticism, unfavorable media exposure and the threat of litigation than on conscientious oversight and governance,” the jurors concluded.

To a large extent, the jury continued, Stilwell’s departure last October was driven by news coverage that “heightened or escalated local concern by echoing the one-sided viewpoints of terminated employees since the city was prohibited by law from disclosing its reasons for terminations.”

One example was a long Pine Cone piece trumpeting the military and municipal experience of the city’s longtime building official who had been terminated by Stilwell. The article complained that he had been unfairly dismissed despite years of strong service, “and the city won’t even say why.” The implication was that the city was being unfair to the employee by not making the grounds public and even that the city might not have informed the employee. The fact of the matter, fully known to Pine Cone publisher and editor Paul Miller, was that the city was legally prohibited from disclosing its basis for termination.

Burnett denied Saturday that he had felt pressured by the news coverage. He argued that the administrator had brought on his own troubles by not following proper personnel procedures while claiming otherwise internally.

Specifically, Burnett said, Stilwell falsely claimed to have used “progressive discipline” before terminating employees. That refers to the practice of warning employees about substandard performance and following that with corrective action and discipline of increasing seriousness before any termination. “I was deceived,” the mayor said.

Although not legally required, progressive discipline has become standard practice in most bureaucracies. Unfortunately for someone attempting to reshape an organization quickly, as Stilwell was expected to do, it can be a slow process made more difficult when an institution has little history of documenting employee transgressions.

“We did not have the full picture,” Burnett continued. “That came to us subsequent to the resignation” of Stilwell.” The grand jury, he added, did not have access to complete information.

Burnett added that several of the recommendations from the grand jury have already been put into place.

The grand jury report says that by not following formal disciplinary and termination procedures of the type used by most government agencies, Stilwell provided the departed employees obvious grounds for litigation. The grand jury concluded the processes he followed were appropriate but that they also created drama that might have been avoided.

Stilwell, who has been hired as deputy city manager in Santa Maria, could not be reached to comment Saturday. Miller, who nominated his City Hall reporter for a Pultizer Prize, did not respond to an emailed request for a response.

Through the courts, the grand jury received highly unusual access to city personnel files, allowing it access not available to the Pine Cone or others. On several subjects, however, the jury received limited information because city officials including City Attorney Don Freeman declined to waive attorney-client confidentiality.

Despite some limitations on its access, the grand jury performed an unusually detailed, seven-month inquiry into the city’s hiring and firing practices, its contracting procedures and other areas. Its report asserts, among other things, that security procedures for the city’s computer system are horribly deficient and need to be revamped immediately.

The grand jury also reported, with little detail, that a 150-page forensic audit of the information technology operation, costing more than $383,000 and pointing out some 800 security issues, has disappeared.

The report portrays Jason Stilwell as a victim of the crony system that existed when he was hired in 2011 and a victim as well of a largely untrained and naïve administration that came into power after McCloud’s departure. Its numerous findings undoubtedly will be spun widely, and even wildly.

It seems unlikely that the Pine Cone will object to its portrayal as a civic shot-caller if not a bully, but it undoubtedly will seek to diminish the findings, positioning it as a somewhat unlikely ally of Burnett. Burnett’s political ambitions have suffered because of the turmoil surrounding Stilwell’s rise and fall and the grand jury findings could amount to an even larger blow.  Longtime City Attorney Don Freeman, who performs the same role in Seaside, is portrayed as surprisingly distant from the governance and even the legal issues of the city, so some no doubt will question why he remains in office.

The grand jury started its inquiry in late 2014 at the request of city residents alarmed by word-of-mouth complaints from City Hall veterans and what they had read in the Pine Cone. Some asserted that City Hall was in meltdown, that employees were being treated unfairly and that Stilwell’s administration was ignoring public records requests in order to mask his failings.

With tensions growing rapidly, Burnett and the council joined in the request for grand jury investigation into the adequacy of internal controls and the effectiveness of recent corrective actions.

The grand jury says it reviewed the city code, state law on municipal governance, minutes of all council meetings from January 2012 to November 2014, significant correspondence, city contracts, attorney agreements and billings, newspaper articles, investigative reports, court records, employee emails, and records obtained via subpoena

Interviews were conducted with 24 people including past and present city officials but City Attorney Freeman and private counsel told some of the subjects not to answer questions involving personnel matters.

Unavailable to the grand jury was the 150-page audit report, commissioned by the city in 2013, into the city’s information technology system, an inquiry that also touched on a criminal investigation into allegations that the city’s former information technology chief, Steve McInchak, had illegally accessed employee emails and other off-limits materials. The grand jury report says the audit report, listing more than 800 vulnerabilities within the city’s computer system, could not be found.

The grand jury report provides some new background in that area. It says Stilwell discovered that computer security was almost nonexistent and that several employees reported that their computerized files and emails had been viewed without their permission.

The lost audit report found that security updates for the computer system had lagged seriously, the city’s networks were accessible via wi-fi to passersby, and many computers were not password protected

A subsequent investigation found that some employees had gained unauthorized access to the city’s system from home. Among the information obtained were police payroll matters, personnel documents including medical records, and performance appraisals.

This week the city announced it would pay $275,000 to the widow of McInchak, who died of a heart attack while on leave from his position as informational technology director. His family had contended he was unfairly kept under lengthy suspension during the criminal investigation into computer security issues, an investigation that failed to result in any criminal charges.

The grand jury says it also was hampered by the city’s refusal to waive attorney-client confidentiality in some areas. Through a laborious courtroom process, the grand jury was, however, able to review a considerable number of personnel files that generally would be deemed off limits.

The report says, “Although the city has not fully cooperated in providing information that would conclusively corroborate certain of the findings, the (grand jury) nevertheless believes that this report is accurate and complete.”

The following summarizes the jury’s findings and should be attributed to the report issued this week:

Until as recently as 2011, the City Hall staff was collegial but city business was conducted “in a quietly unorthodox manner. Many city policies were outdated, ignored, or didn’t exist,” especially in the areas of finance, personnel and administration.

City Council members from that era lacked a clear understanding of their roles and the roles of the mayor and the city administrator.

“City Council members also consistently explained that they had had no authority regarding the actions of the city staff, despite the fact that the Carmel Municipal Code clearly cites the city council’s supervisory responsibility over the city administrator, city attorney, city engineer and city treasurer.

“None could explain why the treasurer was not involved in the tracking of contract disbursements, a chronically troublesome area.”

Former City Administrator Rich Guillen left the city in 2011 and was replaced by Stilwell, who had considerable local government experience, mostly in Santa Barbara County. A little over a year later, he hired an assistant of sorts, former colleague Susan Paul, who had 30 years experience in city government elsewhere. Though the Pine Cone repeatedly attacked Stilwell for hiring Paul, the grand jury found that she was hired through a competitive process in which he did not participate.

As instructed by the council, Stilwell and Paul dug into the way things were being done. They discovered “compliance violations, mishandling of contracts and payments, human resource issues, network security breaches, and other procedurally deficient activities.”

They “also uncovered employee behavior that they judged to be improper or dishonest, that put the city at risk, or that was a misuse of the city’s resources for personal gain. Such behavior was dealt with swiftly by Ms. Paul, sometimes resulting in terminations, or in suspensions followed by terminations.”

The jury credits Stilwell and Paul for aggressively dealing with problems but mentions a couple of trouble spots. They seldom made use of “progressive discipline,” and Stilwell, despite his technical skills, was not as adept at communicating, failing to recognize the power of the longtime culture at City Hall. And Paul, meanwhile, could be loud and blunt.

Structural defects they inherited continued to cause technical and professional difficulties as they were trying to correct problems, and the flurry of personnel actions led to time-consuming litigation and media attention.

Unfortunately for Stilwell, the mayor and City Council largely failed to provide oversight or guidance during this difficult period, the report concludes.

“And when the public pressure to remove Mr. Stilwell and Ms. Paul and to rehire previously terminated employees became overbearing, it appeared that the mayor and City Council chose public appeasement over problem solving.”

The grand jury found that, before Stilwell’s arrival, raises were granted without proper approvals and employees without experience or training were assigned to personnel functions. Missing from city records were explanations for discipline.

After Stilwell’s arrival, six employees were terminated and one was placed on indefinite leave. Two people resigned.

“Some employment terminations were preceded by a period of administrative suspensions with pay; others were done swiftly. All of the terminations occurred after extensive review by, and with advice from, outside legal counsel, hired at significant expense to the city by Mr. Stilwell.”

Managers had sought some of those terminations years earlier.

“When Ms. Paul arrived, personnel actions moved to the front burner and, with the endorsement of outside counsel, went forward.

“Although the Carmel Municipal Code has a discretionary progressive discipline process, according to witnesses this process was largely unused either before or after 2012. … The city administrator has the exclusive authority to administer employee discipline, including terminations, and the City Council has the right of inquiry into these matters before they are made final. Several witnesses reported that the mayor and City Council were made well aware of the circumstances surrounding these termination issues. However, most council members erroneously believed that an inquiry into these employee matters was not permitted until a termination was complete and litigation was threatened or filed against the city.

“Most suspensions, terminations, and resignations during this period were made public by articles in the local media (primarily the Carmel Pine Cone). As noted earlier, only the employees’ versions of the acts or omissions leading to the adverse employment actions were reported, since the city was restrained by law from reporting the employer’s side to the local media concerning any individual employment matter. This one-sided reporting was instrumental in defining the public perception that most of the involved employees were treated unfairly and that the city was losing valuable talent and ‘institutional knowledge.’”

The grand jury concluded that the employee conduct that led to terminations “violated commonly accepted employment standards and/or specific provisions of the CarmelMunicipal Code. The terminations and suspensions that followed took place with the assistance of counsel and followed an appropriate process.”

The grand jury reported serious concerns about the rehiring of some of the employees following Stilwell’s departure. Three were hired with back pay, retroactive benefits and damage payments.

“In at least one case, the salary at rehire was significantly higher than the new position would otherwise warrant.”

The misimpression created by the rehiring was that the employees had been wrongfully terminated and were victims of the “Stilwell/Paul administration.”

“That conclusion indicates (in the jury’s opinion) a desire to quell political unrest rather than address serious employment issues.”

An issue repeatedly addressed by the Pine Cone was the city’s response to public records requests.

The jury found that until late 2011, after Burnett became mayor, there was no process for logging requests or recording the information provided. There was no formal procedure for determining whether something was public information.

Stilwell established procedures but eventually was overwhelmed by requests as controversy grew over his tenure.

“As the threat of legal actions grew, requests swelled to the point where a timely response was almost impossible. Outside counsel and other advisers were brought in to assess and edit requests and relieve city staff of the additional workload.”

The grand jury made 21 findings. The first six apply to the time before Stilwell was hired and, for the most part, before Burnett was mayor.

FINDINGS

  1. City operations were undisciplined, as policies were outdated, nonexistent or ignored. Employees worked hard to keep up and paid little attention to standard municipal procedures
  2. There were serious flaws and vulnerabilities in network system security, placing the city at risk financially and legally.
  3. Contracts were mismanaged with regard to public bidding, purchase order processing, and services provided with expired contracts.
  4. The City Council was not provided with contract payment schedules or accumulated payment tracking reports.
  5. The Human Resources process was mismanaged with regard to pay grades, progressive discipline, and proper staff training, and was lacking in leadership.
  6. The Public Records Act request process was unstructured, noncompliant, and ad hoc.
  7. The mayor and City Council did not fully execute their responsibilities of inquiry and oversight.
  8. Neither the mayor nor the City Council members received any formal training or substantive orientation on the responsibilities of their positions.
  9. The mayor and the City Council members were more responsive to political pressure than to the need for effective governance.
  10. Stilwell was a well-qualified city administrator who recognized and diligently addressed widespread city management problems and tried to implement shifting City Council priorities, maintaining a professional attitude in spite of external pressure and criticism. “He may have avoided much of the upheaval surrounding his administration by having a clearer perception of the nature of small-town government and exercising a more thoughtful and measured approach to change.”
  11. Paul quickly recognized areas of mismanagement and risk and implemented solutions within what she understood to be her areas of authority with due diligence and proper municipal procedure but “her  decisive by-the-book actions and abrupt manner caused resentment among longtime employees and city residents.”
  12. There was no credible evidence to support allegations of contract splitting, cronyism or any other wrongdoing under Stilwell or Paul.
  13. The general law/weak mayor structure was often misunderstood by Carmel citizens and the City Council.
  14. The local media provided easy access for city employees to vent their side of a story when the city’s hands were tied.
  15. The governance and administration of the city is unduly influenced by the reportorial and editorial practices of the Pine Cone.
  16. The position of city treasurer is underutilized and so provides little benefit to the city.
  17. The treasurer was isolated from any meaningful role in the contract/invoice disbursements and tracking system.
  18. There was no evidence of any systematic review of contracts in excess of $25,000 by legal counsel as to form or content.
  19. A significant amount of money is spent on outside counsel as it supplements the city attorney position in numerous matters including but not limited to labor and employment concerns, public records requests, general business and facilities, joint powers agreements, municipal law, and miscellaneous lawsuits.
  20. Historical averages of amounts spent on outside legal services over the past five years would support a full-time city attorney and staff.
  21. The City Council seriously failed to exercise its power of inquiry in its decision-making process regarding rehires, by excluding the city’s outside defense counsel from the process and by negotiating hasty settlements of claims in the early or pre-litigation stages, which precluded any meaningful scrutiny of these employment issues.

{ 17 comments }

500_F_53293135_27J85jZn71YPw8YyiI93FVhmRFHQ1gFuThe 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:

  1. 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;
  2. describe, to the greatest extent possible, the harm suffered by individuals targeted by the foregoing actions that caused the harm;
  3. 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
  4. 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.

{ 7 comments }