Laguna Beach Residents won’t be able to see details of an investigation into hostile workplace allegations leveled against a sitting city council member.
That’s because a council majority refused to make it public.
Earlier this year, former City Manager Shohreh Dupuis alleged Councilmember George Weiss was bullying her and creating a hostile work environment. The allegations eventually resulted in a separation agreement between Dupuis and the city over the summer.
The city also opened an investigation into the claims.
But Dupuis’ settlement came before the investigation was finalized.
Dupuis left her role of city manager on Aug. 24. City officials said it was a “mutually agreed-upon” retirement.
Under the separation agreement, the city agreed to pay Dupuis nine months’ severance pay and $223,077 to settle the hostile workplace claim against Weiss.
But a final report of the investigation — done by an outside investigator — wasn’t issued until Aug. 31.
The report was handed out to the council members.
But the residents won’t see it.
The council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to keep the report secret.
Councilmembers Weiss and Mark Orgill voted to release the report.
“So no transparency involved at all? Okay,” Weiss said during the meeting shortly before the vote.
Councilmember Alex Rounaghi said he was against releasing an unredacted version of the report — which would include employee names and testimony — since it could create a chilling effect for employees who may wish to come forward in future investigations.
“There are scenarios where transparency can create chaos in a governing organization,” Rounaghi said during the meeting.
“The amount of legal exposure that we would put ourselves in if we were to release the unredacted report — that would not be serving the interests of the city,” he said.
But the council majority was also against releasing a redacted version of the report that would have removed those employee names.
“I think it’s just going to cause more problems, and I’m just kind of done with all this,” Councilmember Sue Kempf said during the meeting.
An Oct. 30 memo detailing some of the investigation’s findings determined that Weiss “became aggressive, agitated and intimidating” towards Dupuis during a meeting in 2021 and that he became angry with her during another meeting in 2022.
The investigation also determined that Weiss “criticized Dupuis openly, repeatedly, and relentlessly, and accused her of dishonesty and lack of integrity” regarding a traffic stop and her involvement with issues surrounding Hotel Laguna. His comments were also classified as “demeaning and unprofessional.”
Weiss disagreed with these findings, saying there was never a time when he verbally attacked Dupuis on a personal level.
“Have I interrupted occasionally? I have, and I’ve apologized for it. That doesn’t create harassment,” Weiss said.
According to the memo, no evidence was found that Weiss’ behavior toward Dupuis in that 2021 meeting was based on gender or national origin. It also denied allegations that Weiss had a “wet stain on the groin area” of his pants during that meeting.
Investigators also found no evidence that Weiss “encouraged members of the public to make demeaning, hostile or unprofessional remarks” about Dupuis during council meetings, according to the memo.
Allegations that Weiss stated vandalism of Dupuis’ home was an “inside job” to distract from a battle over police body camera footage of Dupuis’ traffic stop were unsubstantiated, according to the memo.
During public comments at Tuesday’s meeting, some people called for the release of a complete, unredacted report in the name of transparency.
“Councilman Weiss simply wants the entire record of this matter made public so residents can evaluate the facts,” retired attorney Jim Grossberg said. “California law requires complete release of the information if the public interest in disclosure outweighs any privacy interests served by secrecy, as a consistent line of court decisions established. This is such a case.”
During the meeting, the council members also discussed their previous decision to settle with Dupuis.
Mayor Bob Whalen said the council decided to settle with Dupuis before the investigation was finalized because it was the best financial decision for the city and best served the public to avoid litigation.
“Paying her roughly $450,000 was the least expensive way to get out of a situation that we found ourselves in, which was threat of litigation (and) a $3 million claim,” Whalen said. “I’m still convinced that that decision was the right decision.”
Angelina Hicks is a Voice of OC Tracy Wood Reporting Fellow. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @angelinahicks13.
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