Hostilities between the staff for the City of Mission Viejo and the residents of the City of Mission Viejo were ratcheted up a notch this weekend when the proposed contract for Assistant City Manager Keith Rattay was released as part of the agenda package for tonight’s City Council meeting. I was willing to give Mr. Rattay a pass two weeks ago when the contract first came up for discussion, however, given that the changes made since then basically give Mr. Rattay employment for life, I now see him as a large part of the problem at the City where evidently self-dealing at the expense of tax payers has become the norm.
Two weeks ago the contract came up for consideration by the City Council amid a public uproar about the severance provisions of that contract which would have paid Mr. Rattay approximately $120,000 under almost all circumstances regardless of whether he quit or retired. The only exceptions were for “misappropriation of public funds or conviction for a felony involving moral turpitude.” Prior to the contract granted to Mr. Wilberg, Mission Viejo’s City Manager, that provision had been “dishonesty, fraud, self-dealing or willful misconduct.” While that provision still very narrowly limited grounds for termination, it at least gave the City Council latitude to terminate without severance under a wider range of legitimate grounds. Two weeks ago when asked about that provision several answers were given by the City Attorney and the City Manager, all of which were nonsensical. “It protects us from the whim of a council majority.” stated Mayor Pro Tem Frank Ury. Really, we need to protect employees from the judgment of the duly elected majority of the City Council? There’s real faith in the democratic system that gave them their job. But here was my favorite statement by Mr. Ury “The City Council on its own can say you are dishonest and then terminate.” Wow, how horrible is that? An elected majority of a City Council can make a determination that someone is guilty of dishonesty and then terminate them – what is the world coming to?
So now here we are two weeks later and the Rattay contract is once more on the agenda – the closed and secret part of the agenda. Have they fixed the contractual problems? No, those contractual issues have either been left alone or changed to even further benefit and immunize Mr. Rattay from termination for bad job performance or dishonest behavior. Under the newly proposed contractual language, Mr Rattay will receive NINE MONTHS PAY (approximately $120,000) unless he is found to have committed “misconduct” which is very narrowly defined by the contract to mean:
Cause or Misconduct shall mean judicially determined, at the trial court level, criminal dishonesty, fraud, self dealing or willful misconduct committed in the performance of Rattay’s duties and responsibilities, under this Agreement or Rattay’s judicially determined violation of any law that can be punished as a felony, committed at any time, that materially and adversely effects the ability of the City to govern or which negatively impacts the reputation of the City. “Judicially determined”, for purposes of this paragraph, shall mean determined by a Superior Court judge, a Superior Court Jury or by a plea of guilty, including nol0 contenders pleas, as regards the charge or charges brought against Rattay.
Under this proposed language, Mr. Rattay would still be entitled to severance pay if he was caught in the act of committing ANY felony if the City terminated him prior to his CONVICTION of that felony (which could take months or years). In addition, because it includes the nebulous phrase “negatively impacts the reputation of the City” it leaves a gaping hole for Mr. Rattay and his lawyers to walk through in a suit against the City for wrongful termination.
Evidently the City Staff and some of the City Council believe that staff positions are guaranteed for life and that a reasonable determination about job performance should not be trusted to the “whim” of our elected officials (ironically, they do not trust themselves). No one wants to see the return of patronage where supporters of newly elected officials were given jobs as a “thanks” for support during an election, but this amounts to “reverse patronage” – protecting staffers supportive of certain City Council members by giving them guaranteed lifetime employment. To me, that is simply corruption – nothing more and nothing less.