Garden Grove Council to Cooperate with DA Probe Into Nepotism, Ex-Fire Chief’s Deal

Bruce Broadwater
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Garden Grove City Council members voted unanimously Tuesday night to waive their attorney-client privilege in an ongoing Orange County District Attorney investigation into “allegations of Brown Act violations and other possible criminal misconduct” into the hiring of former Mayor Bruce Broadwater’s son as a fireman and a secret employment contract for the former fire chief.

The city council’s vote Tuesday opens up closed session conversations between previous council members and their attorney to District Attorney investigators.

The city has been dogged by criticism over alleged nepotism in the hiring of Jeremy Broadwater and the deal with former Fire Chief David Barlag, who resigned publicly but continues to work for the city in a new position that pays a six-figure salary.

Shortly after news of Barlag’s new position came to light, City Manager Matthew Fertal resigned, council member Dina Nguyen termed out, and Mayor Bruce Broadwater was unseated, leaving three sitting council members who participated in closed session discussions about the deal.

Councilmembers met during a special closed session Tuesday evening to discuss a letter from the District Attorney’s office delivered last Friday to Interim City Manager Allan Roeder, which requested that the city cooperate with its ongoing investigation — the first news of any such investigation to city officials.

The District Attorney’s office declined to comment.

City Attorney Thomas Nixon, who advised the previous council on Barlag’s deal, did not participate in the closed session. Fountain Valley City Attorney Alan Burns took his place.

The council voted 4-0 to cooperate with the DA’s request. The waiver would only apply to Broadwater’s hiring and Barlag’s employment contract.

Read the District Attorney’s Letter to Garden Grove Officials.

Phan, who is returning to work as a deputy District Attorney next week after a more than eight month hiatus to run his unsuccessful campaign for county supervisor, recused himself from both the closed session and the vote.

Barlag publicly resigned in Sept. 2014 after facing pressure from the city fire union, which protested Broadwater’s hiring and Barlag’s management of the department. But privately, Barlag never left the city.

Two weeks before he resigned, Barlag and former city manager Matthew Fertal negotiated a secret settlement giving him two years of additional employment with a $214,614 annual salary, in exchange for dropping any litigation against the city, an agreement that only came to light when Voice of OC reported it.

Barlag never filed a lawsuit and the city was not served with any written notice.

City officials explained the deal as the best possible resolution to a contentious situation.

With a vocal fire union blaming Barlag for Jeremy Broadwater’s hiring, then-Mayor Bruce Broadwater said the former chief was pushed out of the fire department by union politics and management issues that were, in part, the fault of city officials as a whole.

He also said that the legal settlement would be cheaper than facing Barlag in court, and allow the fire department to move forward without conflict.

Broadwater has since left office — losing the last election by 15 votes — while Fertal announced his resignation the day after the long-term mayor called off a recount.

Meanwhile, both the mayor’s son and Barlag are still employees of the city.

The DA Investigation comes as the new city council faces renewed pressure from residents to resolve their concerns over Broadwater and Barlag.

Last month, Mayor Bao Nguyen called on council members to sign a letter asking the DA and state Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate, actions that have been slow to materialize.

Longtime resident Verla Lambert called on the council Tuesday to see the investigation through to the end.

“No matter what has happened in the past, the damage has been done in Garden Grove. It won’t ever be the same with the legacy that many former council members and staff have left in their wake. Your legacy has begun,” said Lambert. “In moving forward in dealing with the past, you are making history and fulfilling the legacy.”

We often report breaking news as it unfolds. View older posts on the subject below.

2/10, 2:21 PM DA Asks Garden Grove to Cooperate With Probe into Nepotism, Fire Chief’s Deal

2/9, 10:45 PM DA Moves On Nepotism, Fire Chief’s Deal in Garden Grove.

Contact Thy Vo at thyanhvo@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter, @thyanhvo.

  • billy strikero

    Bruce has got to be among the biggest clowns around. He used to defer to his military background and seniority as an advantage over the younger candidates. His hijinks clearly show his mastery of deceit and BS’ing such as the other clowns holding their council seat for too long.

  • John Claxton

    Broadwater’s son should resign and not put his dad through the ringer. He never would have passed a back ground investigation and he is a stain on all the other men who proudly serve and wear the uniform.

  • Mike Tardif

    While possibly a violation of public policy (if such a policy exists in GG) – since when is nepotism in public employment illegal?

    • Roderick Powell

      You may be missing the point. Nepotism is a slimy act that may be illegal, (I am not sure) but the crimes possibly committed, (and probably) are many. I know that Bruce Broadwater told me years ago at a Claim Jumper in Santa Ana that he would only run for Mayor so his son could get on the fire department. When I offered to pay for lunch, he said boastfully that he was paying for lunch out of campaign funds. This is not a moral or nice man. Who really cares about Harbor blvd. Is it that you are in favor of nepotism?

      • Mike Tardif

        Not in favor of nepotism per se – I just don’t believe that it is illegal.

        Would it be fair to disqualify an otherwise qualified employee just because he or she is related to a current employee or public official?

        • Roderick Powell

          Perhaps not. However, in light of what has happened in GG with both the former mayor and the former city manager, I can see why a policy prohibiting the hiring of city council members and high level city employees family members is prudent.