Letter: Fmr. City Mgr. 'Very Drunk' in 'Disruptive' Incident

Posted by Dave Fratello on Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011 at 10:25pm.

Since it happened in December 2009, the abrupt resignation of former MB City Manager Geoff Dolan has been something of a mystery, though the decision has always been called "mutual" between the city and its longtime former head. (See, for instance, "Dolan to receive $195,000 in severance," Easy Reader, Jan. 6, 2010.)

A set of documents released publicly today for the first time, and available online here at MBC within about an hour of release, sheds some light on what may have prompted the former city manager to skip town.

Earlier this year, it became known that an "anonymous letter" addressed to then-Mayor Portia Cohen and others was apparently received prior to Dolan's resignation, and it appeared likely to contain details that would be relevant to the story. City officials sought to prevent release of the letter, citing employees' privacy concerns and potential liability for the city in litigation. (See, for example, "Watchdog hopes letter will show why Dolan left," Easy Reader, Feb. 2, 2011.)

The "anonymous letter," now public, is now available online here. It mentions no names other than Dolan's.

The letter describes an October 2009 incident at "a 'team building' getaway for department heads" on the "Central Coast of California." [UPDATE: A new Daily Breeze story says the retreat was in Pismo Beach.]

In sum, the letter says, the former city manager's behavior there may have been "a serious violation of the any [sic] organization's Sexual Harassment/Hostile Work Environment Policy" involving "some inappropriate/unwelcomed 'touching' which may border on a sexual assault."

According to the letter, at a restaurant for dinner, Dolan "was very drunk and loud to the point that other customers in the restaurant were disturbed."

On the drive back to the hotel, Dolan allegedly "was in the back seat with one of the other department heads and this is where the unwelcome 'touching' took place. This person had to ask Mr. Dolan to stop. This act was witnessed by other individuals."

After the "touching," the letter says, Dolan "continued to try to entice the person he inappropriately touched as well as making several phone calls to rooms, pounding on walls and yelling in the hallways."

The next day, according to the letter, some city department heads returned home, a day early, having found the incident "so disruptive."

The author of the anonymous letter also hints that one employee "may be quitting as a result of not wanting to work with Mr. Dolan anymore," while "department heads are concerned for their jobs if they say anything." Finally, the letter makes reference to unspecified actions that allegedly had "happened since the incident" that "sounds like a cover up."

In an unsuccessful argument to a court in January that the letter must be kept sealed, the city had said:

"Certainly disclosure would cause unwarranted embarrassment or indignity to those involved. The expectation of privacy in the information involved here is very high as the events described took place in a private, social setting generally outside the course and scope of the public duties of those involved … disclosure of the information would clearly constitute an egregious breach of the social norm for the individuals involved and would have potential to do serious harm to their reputations."
(See "Embarrassing Dolan letter surfaces," Beach Reporter, Feb. 2, 2011.)

At the same January hearing where a court refused to seal the anonymous letter, the court did agree to seal a memorandum detailing the city's investigation into the conduct alleged in the letter.

The city today also released the formerly confidential "Resignation and Release Agreement" between Dolan and the city, dated Dec. 13, 2009, and effective Dec. 7, 2009. The Dolan-MB agreement is now online here.

Though the agreement makes no apparent specific references to any precipitating incident or incidents, it does say, in part:

"WHEREAS circumstances have arisen that the parties mutually agree that it is in their respective best interests that Dolan's employment with the City terminate;
WHEREAS the parties wish to have the separation effectuated through the resignation by Dolan;
WHEREAS both Dolan and the City wish to resolve all issues between them, including, but not limited to, the separation of Dolan's employment..."
A later clause of the agreement, #8, reads:

"Dolan and the City agree not to disparage each other in any fashion either in response to any inquiries or otherwise. The parties agree that to the extent permitted by law this Agreement and its contents shall remain confidential."
Last week, the City Council agreed to settle a lawsuit seeking release of these documents and alleging a violation of public-meetings laws. The city said it had "unintentionally" violated the law and kept citizens "in the dark" about the Dolan matter when discussing the agreement during a closed session in December 2009.

Also part of today's document release, but not part of our online document dump: 1) the city manager's latest employment agreement, dated Jan. 2006, 2) a summary of Dolan's accrued leave time through Dec. 18, 2009, 3) a "final compensation calculation worksheet" summarizing the $269,813.20 that Dolan was due upon his resignation, and 4) miscellaneous financial records, including details pertaining to the leased vehicle Dolan was driving, which he agreed to buy out as part of his separation agreement.

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UPDATE: Near 8pm Tuesday, the Daily Breeze went live with its review of the documents and the history of the Dolan separation. The last line of the Breeze story says:

City leaders and Hogan question the accuracy of the allegations in the anonymous letter. Nevertheless, city officials don't dispute that it was the letter that ultimately led to Dolan's exit. 
UPDATE 2: An Easy Reader story published Wednesday suggests that none of the allegations in the "anonymous letter" are true, citing an unnamed "source" with no given affiliation or reason to know details of the city's investigation. According to ER:

A source said that no city employee has come forward to confirm the incident described in the anonymous letter. According to the source, none of the employees present on the trip supported claims made in the letter.

“They all said nothing happened,” the source said.
UPDATE 3: A Beach Reporter story published Thursday includes the first-ever comments by former city manager Dolan on his departure from the city.

Regarding the anonymous letter, Dolan claims to have received it and passed it on to then-Mayor Portia Cohen, to whom it was addressed. Dolan says:

"A lot of people would have torn it up. I gave it to the mayor and then to City Council. That’s the kind of person I am."
As to the allegations in the letter, Dolan does not seem to make any definitive statements. He says:

"People know me. I occasionally have some cocktails. I’m human. But even if the anonymous letter is entirely true, I would have hoped my 15 years of performance deserved some kind of rebuke but at least another chance. That’s even if it’s all true … I think people’s speculation is worse than what’s in the letter.”
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