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Council member says city violates Brown Act

Peter Hill accuses city manager of overstepping authority
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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Rocklin City Council member Peter Hill said at last week’s council meeting that he was upset to learn a proposed Voluntary Separation Program had been offered to city employees without council’s approval. By doing so, the public could assume a secret meeting took place, even though there is no evidence of that, Hill claimed. “Somebody on this staff had better start reading the Brown Act,” Hill told council members at their Aug. 23 meeting. “We have not adhered to the Brown Act on any of this.” Hill later stated that he felt the city manager had overstepped his authority. The city manager denies any wrongdoing. The state’s open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown Act, calls for city council deliberations to be conducted openly or face penalties. The voluntary separation program is a proposed cost-savings measure, informally introduced by city staff during the council’s June 7 budget workshop. The program is designed to give city employees extra pay in exchange for their voluntary resignations. “I was surprised to find out the employees have received an e-mail not only announcing the program, but also providing an application form to sign up,” Hill said. The Placer Herald has acquired a copy of the Aug. 15 citywide e-mail survey detailing the proposed program to city workers. According to the proposed VSP Implementation Guidelines, the program is being implemented on a pilot basis as approved by the council on Aug 9. It states that eligible employees could receive a maximum of 16 weeks of pay based on their tenure. According to the survey, only six positions have been identified as meeting the qualification as outlined in the implementation guidelines. Three of those positions would be eliminated. The net potential savings for FY 2011/12 is approximate to $214,000 and for subsequent years is approximate to $350,000, according to the report.   Hill told the council that the Aug. 9 official approval never happened. “I am very upset about this,” Hill said. “I believe distributing this material, particularly the application, constitutes an offer of employment benefit to city employees that is supported by taxpayer money. I don’t believe the city manager has the authority to make such an offer without council approval.” Mayor George Magnuson thought the program material in the e-mail went too far. “Sending out a letter like that is an implementation to me,” Magnuson said. Council member Scott Yuill said he remembers the Aug 9 meeting differently and said the council approved a budget reduction for the program. “There were a lot of assumptions made,” Yuill said. “I presumed this is exactly how it would transpire. How does the city manager know if anybody wants to take an offer unless they put an offer out there?” The Aug. 9 minutes approved by council on Aug 23 specifically states the “Council action requested by motion and minute order to authorize staff to prepare a budget amendment based on the recommendations, which included implementation of the Voluntary Separation Program.” Horst claims he has done nothing improper. “The documents that went out are, for the most part, the same documents used by the city before,” Horst said. “The documents also have disclaimers throughout that say, ‘ there is no guarantee you’ll be approved.’” Hill stressed the approval process skipped some steps, including public input. “As far as I can tell, this needs to be put on an agenda by name,” Hill said. “There has to be a description of what we’re going to do and the material has to be available to the public and then we take action. Until we do that, I don’t think we’ve done it right.” Terry Francke, founder of California Aware, a non-profit government watchdog group which advocates for Brown Act compliance, said that after reviewing the documents he found no violation of the Brown Act. “I’m not sure what further discussion or authorization by the council was required, but there does not appear to be any deliberate effort to catch the public by surprise,” Francke said. In fact, the council discussed the program at its June 7 budget workshop as well as its Aug. 9 and Aug. 23 meetings. It’s unclear when the program is expected to return to the council for public input and a final vote.