Voice of OC is suing the city of Westminster for refusing to release a claim against the city filed by former police chief Kevin Baker, who alleged he was retaliated against by Councilwoman Margie Rice for being a whistleblower.
Baker, who was appointed chief in 2012, retired on May 1 after more than six months on medical leave. In late May, the city and Baker’s attorney executed a $100,000 settlement to resolve his threat of litigation and a $400,000 contract to settle a worker’s compensation claim.
Under the California Public Records Act, government bodies can generally withhold certain documents if they are related to ongoing litigation. Once the matter has been resolved, however, most of those documents must be made public.
But the city, citing a number of exemptions to the Public Records Act, denied Voice of OC’s request for the complaint that forms the basis of the settlement, as well as communications with Baker’s attorney.
Voice of OC’s attorney, Kelly Aviles, said the exemptions don’t apply in this case.
“There are times when there’s a legitimate question about when records are disclosable. This is not that time,” said Aviles. “Claims and correspondence from a potential litigant to the city is never attorney-client privilege and have already been found by the courts to be disclosable.”
Westminster has seen high turnover in its executive staff, with eight different city managers and four police chiefs since 2000.
While city officials refused to release Baker’s claim, they did release emails from Baker’s attorney, Dennis Wagner, which contain allegations that Rice spread lies about Baker’s personal life and voiced her desire to fire him several times, after he reported illegal acts.
In the emails Wagner also states that Rice has violated the state’s open meetings law by using “certain city personnel to inquire other council members to move things for her agenda.”
“The chief has been retaliated against on a regular and continuous basis up to the present for being a whistleblower,” Wagner wrote in a email on December 23, 2015. “The city of Westminster is a mess and looks like the city of Bell.”
Recent complaints and threats of litigation against the city have shared a common theme: a work environment where employees are constantly subjected to harassment and retaliation.
Baker’s complaint follows a lawsuit by former City Clerk Robin Roberts, who alleged harassment and retaliation by Rice and other city staff after she reported a number of alleged illegal acts. The city paid Roberts $175,000 to settle her claim.
Another former employee, Tenna Chon, alleged in a 2006 lawsuit that she was harassed and discriminated against by a supervisor, Vicki Morgan, related to her pregnancy and that Rice made disparaging remarks about Asian people. Chon received a $25,000 settlement.
Two other employees, housing coordinator Tami Piscotty and fleet superintendent Kevin Beach, have recently filed complaints or threatened potential litigation over workplace retaliation that they say has damaged their careers.
Roberts, Piscotty and Beach are also represented by Wagner.
This post was updated on 9/17/16 at 12:19 a.m. to include details of a worker’s compensation claim filed by Baker.
Contact Thy Vo at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.