Almanac

Viewpoint - March 6, 2013

Letter: Public comment on gymnastics issue

This letter was addressed to the Menlo Park City Council.

Without bringing up any specifics, I am writing about the recent unpleasantness at the Menlo Park gymnasium.

Certain aspects of how that situation was handled are troubling to me. First, I have heard that the city attorney has been removing from the city of Menlo Park website emails from members of the public regarding that issue.

I certainly understand that employment matters are private and that the council and city employees cannot and should not discuss those publicly. However, that is a much different situation than public comment in protest over an employment matter.

The content of those public emails cannot be imputed to the council, and as such they do not fall within the employment matters exception to the Brown Act. Rather than censoring email from the city website, the city attorney should be more concerned about the First Amendment and Brown Act effects of deleting those email messages from members of the public.

Second, the city attorney should also be concerned about an employment lawsuit. I would recommend that he thoroughly review the employee handbook that governs city employees, whether that handbook or any other policy grants the City Council authority to make employment decisions at a level lower than department head, and if not, what checks and balances exist to prevent any undue influence from the City Council over such employment decisions, in a broad and general sense.

Any undue influence by the council, or an individual member, if it was contrary to written policy and the Employee Handbook, could give rise to liability for wrongful termination — and ultimately the citizens of Menlo Park have to pay for that liability.

The recent unpleasantness has made me wary as to how such decisions are made by the city. Some clarification of overall policy would be helpful both to the city itself, and to the residents of Menlo Park.

Brian Schar, Laurel Avenue, Menlo Park

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