Compton Cites Brown Act Violations In First Of Two Suits Vs. Colton

(October 9) Former Colton City Manager Stephen Compton has struck back at the city council that fired him without stating any cause earlier this year, filing a lawsuit claiming the city engaged in Brown Act violations. He lodged an additional unlawful termination claim against the city.
The claim is the precursor of a lawsuit, under consideration, which will likely be filed unless the city elects to make a payout on the claim.
The lawsuit, filed October 9, is in the form of a verified complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief combined with a petition for writ of mandate under the Ralph M. Brown Act.
Compton went to work for Colton in March 2013 after holding, over a period of 32 years  varying finance and administrative positions with Ridgecrest, Fountain Valley, Indio, Soledad and Omnitrans in California and the city of Richland Center and the village of Sturtevant in Wisconsin and the city of Greenville in Texas. During the latter part of his first year at Colton’s helm, he came across a number of operational and accounting anomalies in the city’s public works division and  capital projects. He utilized his authority as city manager, under which he could enter into contracts of up to $25,000 without first obtaining city council approval, to initiate reviews of the public works department and the city’s capital works operations and funding.
Among the issues explored in those reviews were what appear to have been  unauthorized expenditures of funds on projects which benefited property owned by at least two of the council’s members, councilman Frank Gonzales and councilwoman Susan Oliva. This information, however, was secondary to indications that there had been multiple unauthorized diversions of reserve funds to cover cost overruns on public works and capital improvement projects.
Alarm over the information Compton had procured triggered several closed session evaluations of Compton’s performance by the city council this spring. After three such discussions in April and May, the council again met on June 3 to discuss and evaluate Compton’s performance in secret. As before, the council emerged from the June 3 meeting to have the city attorney report that it had taken no reportable action.  But toward the close of the business day on June 5, Compton was confronted in his office and told he was being put on administrative leave and was then ignominiously escorted out of City Hall by a plainclothes policeman.
Compton remained on administrative leave for more than two months while an investigation into his action by then-city attorney Christina Talley and another attorney, Ontario-based Kathy M. Gandara, was ongoing. In the meantime, rumors and unsubstantiated reports abounded that Compton was to be terminated for exceeding his spending authority in carrying out the review of the public works department and the managerial decisions of public works director Amer Jakher.
The Sentinel has learned that three members of the council – Gonzales, Oliva and Mayor Sarah Zamora – were pushing to have Compton terminated with cause.  On August 4, Gandara gave the city council an oral briefing of her findings, which showed that Compton had expended roughly $48,000 on various different outside work orders for consulting services including the review of the public works department, some $23,000 more than his $25,000 independent expenditure limit. This reinforced the public perception that elements on the council were preparing to fire Compton with cause, which would obviate the necessity of conferring upon Compton any severance pay.
Gandara’s public report, however, was selective in its presentation and did not clearly delineate that the $48,000 worth of expenditures entailed a multitude of work orders, none of which exceeded Compton’s authority to engage in individual expenditures up to $25,000 each. No action with regard to Compton’s status was taken on August 4.
Ultimately and abruptly, on August 21, the city council terminated Compton, but cited no cause in doing so, triggering the necessary payment to him of four month’s salary as part of his severance in his employment agreement. At least four of the council’s members – Gonzales, Oliva, Zamora and councilman Isaac Suchil – were firmly in favor of the termination.
Throughout  his ordeal, Compton maintained his silence. Within the last fortnight, however, he and his attorney have initiated action which indicate Compton will spiritedly contest the action the city took against him and shed light on his now declared belief that he was driven out of his position because his reviews and request for a performance and financial audit was on the verge of, or already had, uncovered activity that related to improper or  unlawful activity at City Hall, including the possible diversion of city resources to benefit council members.
The lawsuit, filed by attorney Cory Briggs on Compton’s behalf this week revolves around violations of the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, which Compton claims was disobeyed when the council met to discuss his performance on June 3, at which time it  took a vote which ended in a 4 to 3 decision to suspend him. The Brown Act requires that any vote on action taken during a closed session be disclosed at once. The council, however, allowed the city attorney to report that “no reportable action” had been taken.
In his claim against the city, Compton portends at least one of the causes of action that will stand at the heart of the next lawsuit he will file, one for unlawful termination.
“On 8-21-14, on the advice of Colton’s city attorney (Christina Talley), the city of Colton and the Colton mayor and city council wrongfully terminated claimant in breach of his employment agreement and in retaliation for his reports to them of unlawful activities, including misappropriation of public funds by elected city officials, overstated account balances, improper use of the general fund to balance excessive spending by public works, and after he informed them that he needed to conduct an investigation on those matters,” the claim states.
Compton has yet to be provided with his four months of severance pay, and he maintains that because the city’s action in terminating him was illegally done, he remains as city manager under the terms of his three- year contract, which was entered into in October 2013 and runs from November 1, 2013 until October 31, 2016.
Talley is no longer employed as Colton city attorney. Efforts to obtain comment from her replacement, Carlos Campos, were unsuccessful at press time.

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