|The revelations just keep coming. Atherton's ex-finance director, John Johns, is seeking $500,000 in a wrongful termination complaint against the town, and Police Chief Bob Brennan has revealed that he made the initial complaint against Mr. Johns that led to his firing.
Mr. Johns was suspended Aug. 27, pending an investigation of a hostile work environment complaint, and then fired on Oct. 29 by interim City Manager Wende Protzman. No cause for his firing was given.
Mr. Johns has denied that he created a hostile work environment, and said he was targeted for rooting out infractions of the town's fiscal policies. Last week he won a temporary restraining order blocking the release of the investigator's report.
In a legal claim served on the town of Atherton on Nov. 5, Mr. Johns alleges that Chief Brennan treated him with "anger and hostility" and threatened him after he raised "legitimate fiscal issues" pertaining to the police department. Mr. Johns also claims that the chief, former city manager Jim Robinson and others spread malicious lies about him, accusing him of failing to act in the best interest of the town.
According to Mr. Johns, Chief Brennan shook his fist in Mr. Johns' face, screamed at him in front of other people and frightened him.
Chief Brennan flatly denied Mr. Johns' allegation. "I did have a heated conversation with him, but I never pointed my finger at him, shook my fist or threatened him in any manner. I directed my comments to him through the city manager," Chief Brennan said.
In response to Mr. Johns' allegations, Chief Brennan released to the Almanac a 2 1/2-page memo detailing his own allegations against Mr. Johns, calling his behavior "argumentative and hostile" and accusing Mr. Johns of creating a secret file of information intended to discredit the police department. The Almanac had been seeking the memo through a public records act request.
"He's a liar and a corrupt public official — that's my opinion," Chief Brennan told the Almanac. "I'm not going to have this guy questioning my integrity and credibility."
The documents acquired by the Almanac reveal a picture of a fractious relationship between two top members of Atherton town staff, and a city manager who was either unwilling or unable to intervene.
The memo from the police chief to then-City Manager Robinson is dated May 6, 2007, and entitled "hostile work environment." The next day, May 7, Mr. Robinson announced his retirement to town staff.
The Almanac was unable to reach Mr. Robinson for comment.
Mr. Johns traces his problems with the police department back to his discovery of problems with police expense records, including reimbursements associated with Chief Brennan's trip to a law-enforcement conference in Boston in October 2006.
Mr. Robinson signed off on the trip, but apparently failed to get the City Council's approval, a technical violation of Atherton's expense reimbursement policy adopted in April 2006. Other expenses that appear to violate town policy include $195 in valet parking fees and $19.70 for three glasses of wine ordered with meals.
Chief Brennan said that, while it wasn't clear on the reimbursement forms, he paid for the wine out of his own pocket, and that he had no choice but to use valet parking because it was the only kind of parking the hotel offered.
"My police department and its expenses are open to anybody that wants to come look at them," Chief Brennan said. "I'll stand out in front of anything that anybody wants to say about me and my police department."
Chief Brennan said that Mr. Johns allegedly kept a "secret file" on the police department and waved it at Lt. Glenn Nielsen, saying he had the "smoking gun" on the police chief.
Things between Mr. Johns and Chief Brennan got so bad that earlier this year, the police chief walked out of a staff budget meeting and later refused to attend any meetings that Mr. Johns attended.
On May 2, Chief Brennan e-mailed Mr. Robinson asking to be contacted only by phone, e-mail or in his office in the police department, saying, "Because of repeated attacks on me and the members of my police department, I do not feel comfortable on the Town Hall side of the facility." The Almanac acquired the chief's e-mail in a public records act request.
For his part, Mr. Johns is accusing Chief Brennan of treating him with "hostile conduct" for the past two years. Mr. Johns said his fears of police retaliation were realized when he was thrown out of Town Hall and cited for driving on an expired license on Aug. 29, two days after he was placed on paid administrative leave. Mr. Johns said he was merely returning town property after reading in the local newspapers that police opened an investigation into a missing and a vandalized laptop computer.
Mr. Johns' claim against the town includes $50,000 in financial damages, $250,000 for severe emotional distress, and $200,000 in damages to his reputation.
"This is not something I wanted to do; this is something I felt I had to do," Mr. Johns told the Almanac.
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