Garden Grove city council members appear to be backpedaling on a questionable contract approved in secret for former Fire Chief David Barlag, now placing the item on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
Their actions follow a Voice of OC report noting that the city approved the deal in violation of the state’s open meeting’s law and in violation of a limit on the city manager’s contract authority, which is capped at $50,000.
Barlag, who resigned amid controversy over his management of the department and hiring of mayor Bruce Broadwater’s son Jeremy as a firefighter, first threatened the city with litigation in early August.
At a closed session on Sept. 23, councilmembers directed the city manager to sign a settlement deal with Barlag arranging for his continued employment, but failed to report their decision out of closed session and approve the contract -- worth at least $431,208 for two years of salary plus benefits and a pension hike -- in an open meeting.
Tuesday’s city council agenda includes a resolution that would officially create Barlag’s new position, add it to the list of central management roles, and approve the “previously authorized settlement agreement” with Barlag.
His new position as Public Safety Administrative Officer, a sworn public safety position, comes with a $215,604 annual salary, a $10,488 annual increase from his role on fire chief.
That salary boost will also hike his pension, which is calculated at 3% a year of his highest salary upon retirement in 2016.
Excluding the use of a car, Barlag is also entitled to all the benefits given to central management employees, such as cashing out vacation hours at any time during the year.
Although scheduled right before the Thanksgiving holiday, the meeting is expected to be a heated one as many residents are outraged and have called the city council to revoke the deal altogether.
“All of our seated council members signed off on this agreement prior to the recent elections. However, the public was kept out of the information loop,” wrote Garden Grove Neighborhood Association president Maureen Blackmun on the group’s Facebook page.
“Sure, we could be home making Thanksgiving preparations, but we can't afford to perpetuate the notion that we are not watching or do not care.”
Although firefighters, who were active in pressing for Barlag’s removal, were incensed by news of Barlag’s continued employment, the fire union doesn’t intend to weigh in on the issue of his settlement package, so long as he no longer holds authority over the fire department.
“If that proves to be different then we will get involved, otherwise we feel it is up to the city to defend this agreement…and the lack of transparency involved and explain it to the citizens,” Kuhlman wrote in an email.
The city has defended the deal as a cost-effective settlement to avoid litigation, and a way to retain the chief’s expertise before he retires.
In a press release circulated late last Friday, titled “Valuable Experience Won’t Be Wasted,” the city announced Barlag’s retention for the first time.
Barlag will be a project manager overseeing the construction a new fire department headquarters, the remodel of the current headquarters, and the modernization of two other fire stations.
His “experience and know-how has inherent value to the City,” the press release notes.