MONTEREY — Investigators hired last year to investigate complaints at City Hall found Monterey’s city administrator at the center of most of the disputes, engaging in an abuse of power by “a model of conduct” that is retaliatory and manipulative – findings she strongly denies.
The summary report by lead investigator Corrinne Hood Greene, of Greene & Hafer Employment Law, also found ‘failure of leadership’ on the part of board members and a rift between the board and the trustee of the town, Melissa Noe.
Although provided to the city more than a month ago, Greene’s March 17 report, a copy of which was obtained by The Eagle, went nowhere quickly.
The select committee did not hold a closed session to take action with city employees and officials. He could discuss that on Tuesday, when he also explains why Greene’s bill now tops estimates at $5,140. This news brings the total cost of the investigation to $21,140.
A few factors contribute to the dropout.
Noe’s attorney, in a point-by-point rebuttal letter, said Greene’s report was ‘flawed and unreliable’ and told him it should be reviewed and the select committee should not accept the findings until they are corrected.
Board Chairman Steven Weisz dismisses the report as opinion. He says “the city needs to move on” and heal, and officially close the investigation and not accept the report as “fact.”
The other two council members disagree. John Weingold and Justin Makuc want to take counsel’s advice and hold one-on-one meetings with those named in the report and decide what action, if any, to take.
Weingold and Makuc tried to schedule closed meetings and say Weisz blocked them.
The city’s usual attorney apparently isn’t happy – he’s considering quitting.
Letter from the Monterey City Council
In light of the council’s dispute over how to handle the report, attorney Brian Maser, of KP Law, announced he was abandoning the town after the annual town hall meeting, which is Saturday.
Roots of conflict
The upheaval began last summer, but stems from more than a decade of conflict in municipal government. The unrest accelerated after an incident between Noe and clerk Terry Walker, and Walker’s subsequent complaint against Noe.
It snowballed into more complaints against Noe and others, including Weisz, Weingold and former board member Donald Coburn, for apparently trying to coerce Walker into dropping his harassment complaint. Noe filed three complaints, including accusing Walker of misrepresentation and council member Weingold of creating a hostile work environment.
Board member Justin Makuc filed four complaints against Noe, claiming she used her position to influence the investigation of complaints about her performance and behavior.
Out of 18 complaints, 13 were filed against Noé.
Voters approved spending money to hire an investigator last year as the number of complaints soared. Greene said tribalism among “witnesses” in town for or against Noe “unreasonably expanded the scope of our investigation.”
“What is the city ready to do?
In the report, Greene wrote that Noe’s wide range of involvements in city business — as well as his contract protection provisions — puts the city at legal and financial risk.
By “relying on Noe to do his job,” as one city employee told investigators, the board over the years had given up too much authority to Noe, giving him oversight of herself and others.
While there may be reasons to fire Noe, investigators said, they don’t recommend it, given an employment contract that entitles Noe to extensive benefits and significant severance pay.
Instead, Greene’s team, asking “what is the city willing to do” about all the behavior, said council should take immediate action to resolve complaints, follow a leadership training and professional mediation, as well as creating a code of conduct. They also say Noe should no longer be in charge of taking minutes of select committee meetings or responding to public records requests to the city. All of those recommendations — with the exception of changing the public records provider — are in the works, Weisz said in an email.
“The most effective action the SB could take with respect to Noe’s job would be to better and more narrowly define the role of city administrator,” Greene wrote.
Noe, who has worked for the city for 15 years, says the integrity of the results is fragile at best. In a written statement in response to questioning, Noe called the report “filled with inaccuracies.”
“One of the most significant being that the defendants and those who witnessed the events were never given the opportunity to be interviewed and to defend themselves or provide testimony that would have corroborated facts regarding some of the alleged incidents” , Noe said in an email.
“I have no power,” she added, in response to discovering her authority. The board governs policy and procedure, she said.
Before the wave of complaints arrived, Noe said she planned workshops and team-building events “to improve communication, efficiency and productivity,” and she hopes to continue doing so. She thinks the council should close the investigation and let everyone get back to work.
“So we can all move on without it hanging over everyone’s head,” she said. The leak of Greene’s report to the press, she said, “will further fuel a hostile environment that continues to depress morale.”
Noe criticized the board for their handling of the whole situation. She said an investigation into Walker’s work history shows she has caused discord in other workplaces – which Walker has denied and sees as a threat. In her report, Greene says digging into Walker’s past was an attempt by Noe and former board member Donald Coburn to discredit Walker and coerce her into dropping her complaints.
Council now in limbo
The board is now in limbo after a dramatic board meeting lasting more than two hours on Wednesday, in which Noe’s lawyer, Christopher Hennessey, was present on his behalf, but not Maser, the lawyer for KP Law. Weisz later said Maser’s absence was due to a scheduling conflict.
Makuc, the board member, refused to vote to end the investigation, despite repeated attempts by Weisz, and refused to budge in his demand that Maser be involved in the decision.
“I just want to talk with [town] attorney,” he repeated repeatedly, growing increasingly frustrated with what he said appeared to be Weisz’s rush to close the investigation. “I want to make sure we do the right thing and that’s it, and I don’t want to take any more motions.”
Makuc said the board should “confront the issues we face head-on, instead of just trying to move on.”
At the meeting, some residents said they didn’t care about the investigation; they just want to end the feuds that have gripped the town.
Others said the only way to build trust is for the report to be openly and fully reviewed and implemented, and for complaints to be properly resolved, as Makuc suggested.
Makuc handed the board a proposed “final written warning” for Noe on what Greene said was his “retaliation, intimidation and coercion” scheme, to be signed by all three board members.
Makuc alone signed it. Weisz refused, saying it would “isolate an employee.” He then praised Noe for his commitment to the city over the years. Weisz, who did not run for office and whose term ends in two weeks, went on to say that “everyone makes mistakes” and blamed the conflict, in part, on small town dynamics.
Board member Weingold attended last week’s meeting – as he has many others. When asked why, he told The Eagle he was outraged by the delay in acting on the report’s findings.
Weingold said he and Makuc voted on April 6 to hold a closed session on April 13, but Weisz never published the notice and did not advise Noe to attend the meeting – which Weingold finally did it himself through the sheriff.
Weisz later said he was “extremely disappointed with this whole situation”.
“My suggestion to ‘move on’ from the investigation is not to ‘hide’ it from the public, but rather to help ‘heal’ a small town,” he wrote in an email. mail.