By Amanda Frye and Mark Gutglueck
Future Redlands city managers will not get the same luxuriant accommodations on the public employee gravy train as their predecessors were entitled to as a consequence of the increasingly contentious divorce between the city and former City Manager Nabar Martinez.
Since Martinez’s November 6, 2018 firing, the city council and other city officials have learned of a secret, backroom deal Martinez brokered in 2016 with the city’s then- human resources director/risk manager, Amy Martin, that conferred upon Martinez and two of his children lifetime medical benefits.
The city has refused to provide those benefits to Martinez, his son, Enrique Anatoly Maryshev-Martinez, and his daughter, Marianna Valentina Marysheva-Martinez. Nevertheless, the trio collectively followed up with a $1.5 million claim against the city, indicating they would relinquish their rights to those benefits only upon the city making such a cash payout. The city rejected that claim and Martinez, Maryshev-Martinez and Marysheva-Martinez filed suit against the city and City Attorney Dan McHugh.
The city, represented by the law firm of Best Best & Krieger, is constructing its defense against the suit on multiple grounds, rejecting the suits primary allegation of fraud and negligent misrepresentation, while pointing out that the lifetime coverage was part of a deal worked out by Nabar Martinez and Martin. Martin, who now goes by the name Amy Hagan, left the city over a dispute with Martinez, in which she claimed he was subjecting her to undue, unreasonable and improper demands and pressure. The contract, therefore, is theoretically void given that its terms, which were arrived at by Martin under Martinez’s prompting, were unduly influenced by Martinez. Martinez had direct authority over Martin, and could therefore dictate to her to put into the contract provisions that were inconsistent with the city’s best interest. Martinez, in his role as city manager and Martin’s direct supervisor, was therefore engaged in a conflict-of-interest in either or both dictating the terms of the benefit or ratifying it, according to the city. Under California law, any public contract tainted by a conflict of interest is void. Moreover, Martinez, as the city manager at the time that the deal to provide Martinez and his children with the medical coverage was arrived at, is therefore a party to the fraud and negligent misrepresentation he is alleging, according to the city.
Additionally, the city contends that the plaintiffs failed to allege a specific factual basis in support of the contention that McHugh sought “to deceive, vex, annoy or harm” Martinez or his children.
Additionally, the city maintains through Best Best & Krieger it is not liable for injuries caused by any misrepresentation Martin engaged in by proffering Martinez the medical coverage.
Yet up in the air at this time is whether the defense the city is making in the face of the lawsuit will suffice. Martinez, Maryshev-Martinez and Marysheva-Martinez are represented by Sanford Kassel, who is anticipated to assert that a deal is a deal when consenting parties are involved, no matter the circumstances or authorities of those negotiating such a contract as long as those parties have standing within the entities they represent and have been duly appointed to those capacities, and that under the principles of contract law, a signed and ratified contract is binding. Also, potentially to be brought to bear in the matter is Martinez’s possession of a so-called “black book,” in which he made a practice of entering detailed accounts of closed door and private remarks and statements by the council, variances between public pronouncements by the council and action taken during closed door votes, miscues by council members individually and the council collectively, as well as both illegal and simply embarrassing acts by council members since shortly after his 2007 hiring.
When he was fired in November, there were reports that Martinez was to receive a severance package of $888,920.43, consisting of 18 months of his $350,896.08 annual salary & add-on pay and 18 months of his annual benefits of $78,383.94, which totals $643,920.43, along with a cash buyout of his accumulated perquisites including unused sick leave and vacation time and equipment and vehicle allowances totaling roughly $245,000. That payout of nearly $890,000 was rumored to have been brokered with the understanding that it would end any further claims Martinez would make against the city and buy his silence forever with regard to untoward acts by current and former city officials. The Sentinel was informed by the city’s chief spokesman, Carl Baker, however, that the report of the $888,920.43 payment to Martinez was in error. In actuality, Baker said, the total salary payout to Martinez was not 18 months but 15 months at $364,182, accrual payouts of $42,451.67 and $11,205.60 for 80 hours of unused administrative leave, totaling $417,839.27.
Whatever the precise case, some dissatisfaction on Martinez’s part endures, and he believes himself in a position to do something about it.
One year ago, Martinez was riding high at Redlands City Hall, and had the confidence of all of the city council, senior staff and McHugh. In any disputes with city residents, lesser city staff, or other entities, the city council reflexively sided with Martinez. Essentially, he found himself undone when Martin-Hagan, who had left the city unofficially in December 2017 and officially in January 2018, threatened legal action over the city’s refusal, as would prove similar in Martinez’s case, to honor her claim to an entitlement to a so-called “medical bridge” program giving her medical coverage until she she reached the age of 65, conferred upon her in her separation agreement from the city, signed by her and Martinez on January 5, 2018. That medical coverage was in addition to a cash settlement of $133,981.25 Martin-Hagan was given to leave, derived from providing her with six months’ severance pay in the amount of $84,500 along with a $49,481.25 cash conversion of her accumulated 609 hours of vacation, illness and administrative break leave.
It was in the city’s defense against Martin-Hagan’s claim, which was filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, that a number of issues relating to Martinez were revealed that ultimately led to his being put on paid administrative leave in October and then being cashiered in November.
In the seven months since Martinez has left, city officials have discovered the degree to which high ranking city staff members have been given nearly unfettered license to write their own tickets, conferring upon themselves lavish salaries, benefits and perquisites, with only the vaguest of oversight or constraint by the city council, several members of which have themselves been beneficiaries of city managers’ and top staff members’ provision of favors and municipal services not routinely provided to members of the public.
With the object demonstration of how Martinez exploited his cozy relationship with members of the city council in the recent and mid-range past, both the city attorney and members of the city council have been feeling vulnerable. On Tuesday, June 18, the city council considered an item brought before it calling for amending the Redlands Municipal Code to give the city council far greater flexibility in dealing with the city manager in terms of hiring, termination, compensation and the provision of authority and perquisites. The changes were formulated and recommended by McHugh.
The city council had rushed to fire Martinez on November 6 of last year, which was election night. That hurry was necessitated by the previous city code prohibiting the city manager’s firing “during or within a period of thirty days next succeeding any general municipal election” in which a council member is elected. Had the council not acted that night, Martinez would have remained city manager, officially if not in actuality, at least until December 6.
By its action this week, the council voting unanimously did away with that restriction on its discretion. The council also dispensed with the city manager’s authority under the municipal code to hire department directors without council input and ratification. The council further attenuated the city manager’s purview with regard to authority, compensation, and the latitude for claims for expense reimbursement.
The changes do not absolutely prohibit the council or a future council from entrusting the city manager with the same level of authority that Martinez and his predecessors enjoyed, but it requires that such power be specified in the city manager’s contract rather than in the city code.
A review of the city manager’s authority had not taken place for some 15 years, which was some three years before Martinez’s hiring as city manager.
At present, Assistant City Manager Janice McConnell is serving in the role of acting city manager. The city council’s action this week ensures that when a full-fledged city manager is hired, his or her lines of authority will be clearly demarked.