Outside investigator tapped to handle internal Huntington Beach City Hall complaint

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates says an internal City Hall complaint made public by a councilman does not involve him, his office or the city manager’s office.
(Photo by Steven Alfano)

A confidential internal complaint at Huntington Beach City Hall that was made public by Councilman Billy O’Connell is being handled by an independent investigator, City Attorney Michael Gates said Thursday.

Gates said that after reviewing the complaint last month, he saw a potential conflict of interest for himself and “out of an abundance of caution” asked Mayor Barbara Delgleize to find an outside firm to handle the matter.

For the record:

5:10 PM, Nov. 10, 2017The original version of this article stated incorrectly that O’Connell said he regretted his words. He said he regretted that the situation “happened.”

He did not elaborate about allegations in the complaint or his possible conflict of interest.

Delgleize confirmed Thursday that a group has been retained. She did not identify the investigator.

“There isn’t any other hidden thing going on here,” she said. “It was better to have somebody else from the outside looking in.”

Gates said the complaint and its allegations do not involve him, the city attorney’s office or the city manager’s office. He added that he has not retained an attorney for himself in response to it.

O’Connell, much to the frustration of some of his City Council colleagues, revealed the complaint’s existence during the Oct. 16 council meeting. Without disclosing details, he said it was filed by a Police Department manager and added that he felt the allegations could compromise the city manager’s office, city attorney’s office and police, or give “the appearance of being compromised.” He then requested an outside investigator.

Delgleize, Councilwoman Lyn Semeta and Councilman Erik Peterson sought a censure, or formal reprimand, for McConnell, calling his remarks a violation of the state’s open-meetings law. The council ultimately did not pursue the censure at its meeting Monday.

Under the state’s Brown Act, the council is not permitted to discuss items not on the meeting agenda (the issue O’Connell referred to was not).

O’Connell later called the censure matter a politically motivated “kangaroo proceeding.”

He said he regretted that the situation “happened.”

“Moving forward, if it needs to be done differently, I have no issues with that,” he told the council.

Gates said Thursday that O’Connell’s announcement came after Gates had recused himself, notified the City Council and asked Delgleize to find someone else to address the complaint. When O’Connell brought it up during the meeting, it was essentially already handled, Gates said.

“I believe it was done to make a point,” Gates said. “I don’t believe it was done genuinely to have action taken.”

O’Connell did not return a message seeking comment Thursday.

Twitter: @BradleyZint