The Orange County District Attorney's office is taking legal action against the city of Garden Grove over "alleged Brown Act violations and other possible criminal misconduct" related to the hiring of the former mayor Bruce Broadwater's son as a firefighter and a secret employment deal with its former fire chief, according to a closed session agenda posted late Monday.
The city has been dogged by criticism for alleged nepotism in the hiring of Jeremy Broadwater and a secret deal for 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.
Interim City Manager Allan Roeder was handed the letter by a representative from the Orange County District Attorney's office earlier that day, according to Mayor Bao Nguyen. Nguyen said he has not seen the letter himself, but was informed of it by Roeder, who could not be reached for comment.
The closed session description reads:
Threat of litigation pursuant to Government Code Section 54956.9 (d)(2) by the Orange County District Attorney's Office regarding alleged Brown Act violations and other possible criminal misconduct relating to (1) the hiring of the son of the previous Mayor of Garden Grove as a Fireman for the City of Garden Grove, and (2) the employment contract that the City of Garden Grove entered into in 2014 with the previous Garden Grove Fire Chief. (one potential case).
Last month, Nguyen called on council members to join him in writing a letter to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and state Attorney General Kamala Harris asking them to investigate both incidents.
That letter has yet to be written, although council members have slated a discussion for their Feb. 24 regular meeting. Nguyen said that even if council members will not support a joint letter, he will ask for an investigation himself.
The District Attorney's Office could not be reached Monday evening.
Voice of OC first reported that Jeremy Broadwater was likely to be hired as a firefighter despite failing a crucial oral exam with battalion chiefs and a string of misdemeanor arrests.
Once hired, Broadwater has been called "unsafe" as a firefighter, with the department protocol changing so that a second firefighter would always double-check the readings when Broadwater took the vital signs of patients, according to the Orange County Register.
Broadwater was ultimately taken off calls and transferred to a desk position, where he continues to work.
Under pressure from the city fire union, fire chief David Barlag publicly resigned in Sept. 2014. But privately, Barlag never left the city.
Two weeks before Barlag resigned, he and former city manager Matthew Fertal negotiated a secret settlement giving him two years of additional employment in exchange for dropping any litigation against the city.
Open government experts told Voice of OC that the deal was likely made in violation of the state's open meeting's law, known as the Ralph M. Brown Act.
City officials have defended the deal as the settlement to a legal dispute, a cost-saving resolution to an ugly ordeal that had consumed the entire city.
After Barlag's deal was reported in the media, the city placed Barlag's employment deal on the city council agenda again and voted to approve publicly.
Both Barlag and Broadwater still work for the city of Garden Grove.
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