Circumstances of Santa Ana City Attorney Departure Remain Murky

Santa Ana City Attorney Joe Fletcher is leaving the city's employ on Dec. 31 with $142,000 in severance pay along with a pension, unused sick and vacation pay and, if he chooses, unemployment benefits.

That much is clear. But much remains unclear.

First, no one at City Hall will actually say whether Fletcher retired or was fired. Also unclear is how much his final payout will actually be. It could be a lot if he gets as much in accrued sick and vacation time that a 2002 resolution indicates he does.

Mayor Miguel Pulido told Voice of OC last week that Fletcher was retiring. Then, the Orange County Register reported on Friday that he was going to retire with a severance package.

Yet there is no mention of Fletcher retiring in his severance agreement. In fact, it indicates strongly that he was fired.

When confronted with the contradiction, Pulido responded with a blank stare. Councilwoman Claudia Alvarez uttered more words, but did little to clear up the confusion.

"You have all the information in your hands," Alvarez said. "We don't give money away for free -- so figure it out."

Other terms of the severance agreement and his hiring resolution indicate that Fletcher will be leaving with much more than just retirement benefits and severance pay.

A 2002 amendment to his employment terms stated the following regarding his vaction time:

... [Fletcher] shall accrue vacation at a rate as though his date of appointment with the City of Santa Ana was August 1, 1983 and be authorized for unlimited accumulation of unused vacation.

And regarding his sick leave:

Upon leaving employment with the city, said official shall be able to convert unused sick leave as though his date of appointment was August 1, 1983.

City officials wouldn't say on Monday how much in unused time Fletcher is cashing out.

Speaking of severance packages, as Voice of OC reported earlier, City Manager Dave Ream is eligible to receive a minimum of $524,000 in severance pay -- two years' worth of salary -- but only, according to his contract, if he is fired.

Ream said at the time that he was at a stage in his career where he would simply retire and that the severance package wouldn't "come into play."

Monday, Ream wouldn't confirm the possibility that he could retire with his severance package like Fletcher. However, he said he "wouldn't be interested in it" and that his situation would be different. "Hopefully, they wouldn't want me to go."

Ream also said he doubted that public officials would be retiring with severance packages in the future.



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