Ex-Manager to Fight for $5,000 City Refuses to Pay
Ousted City Manager Daniel P. Joseph says he will fight a move by three members of the Lawndale City Council to withhold $5,000 in benefits from his $26,000 severance package.
Joseph said Friday that the council majority “reneged on something we agreed to” in a Nov. 17 closed-door session during which he resigned in exchange for four months’ severance. “I have no choice but to seek legal action,” Joseph said in an interview.
Joseph said his resignation is not final until a severance agreement is signed by both parties. “As far as I am concerned, I’m still the city manager,” he said.
Joseph learned of the council’s Thursday night decision when he showed up Friday morning at City Hall to represent the city at a personnel hearing. He had agreed to participate in certain personnel hearings as part of the tentative severance agreement.
Forced to Resign
Joseph, 38, had worked for the city less than six months when he was forced to resign by three of the five members of the council.
Mayor Sarann Kruse and Councilman Carol Norman walked out rather than attend the dismissal session, claiming that a decision to force Joseph out had been made privately in advance of the meeting by Councilmen Harold E. Hofmann, Larry Rudolph and Dan McKenzie.
The three denied that decisions were made beforehand or that they had violated the state’s open-government law, the Brown Act.
At Thursday night’s meeting, Hofmann, Rudolph and McKenzie balked at the severance agreement presented by City Atty. David J. Aleshire, who sat in on the closed session Nov. 17.
The three said they had not intended for Joseph to receive benefits as well as salary. The $26,000 was excessive, they said, for an employee who had been with the city such a short time.
Aleshire said that in the Nov. 17 session, Joseph agreed to resign in exchange for four months’ “severance” but that no specific dollar amount was named. In previous forced resignations, former City Manager Paul J. Philips and former Planning Director Nancy L. Owens in 1987 received benefits as well as salary as part of their severance agreements, Aleshire said.
A city recreation commissioner, Nancy Marthens, questioned the council about spending about $55,000 altogether for salaries for the two resigned city managers, in light of the city’s investment loss of $1.68 million last year. “We’re not exactly in a fat situation,” she said.
Left Secure Job
Kruse and Norman argued that Joseph is entitled to salary and benefits because he left a secure job as Seal Beach assistant city manager to come to Lawndale and was forced out a few months later. City manager jobs are scarce, and the severance package would help see him through until he finds another job, they said.
Joseph ran afoul of the council in August when he attempted to force the resignation of Planning Director Jim Arnold, who had the support of the council majority. Arnold was appointed acting city manager when Joseph resigned.
In Thursday night’s public session, the city attorney advised the council that the city was on fairly safe ground in denying the $5,000 benefits because Joseph is out of work and has little bargaining power.
“You’re in a position to pretty much dictate to him how this works out,” Aleshire said, adding that Joseph would probably take the $21,000 instead of fighting over the remaining $5,000.
But in an interview from his home in the Orange County community of La Palma, Joseph said he has contacted his attorney and plans to fight the council action: “My reputation and my livelihood are at stake.”
Told of Joseph’s decision to fight the council action, Rudolph said that in the closed session, the council debated whether to give Joseph three, or four, months’ severance. “I definitely would have stuck with three if I knew he expected benefits,” Rudolph said. The $26,000 total “is a little steep,” he said.