At a time when we are faced with a huge budget deficit, COVID-19, a recessionary economy, and outrage over the George Floyd killing, our city staff needs to pull together and do what is best for the residents of Richmond. Most of them are consummate professionals and are doing their jobs with distinction, but there is an insidious undercurrent of personal conflicts and feuds that are a distraction from serious City business and will destroy everything we have achieved if we can’t get beyond it.
A few city staff members have honed the weaponized use of grievances and complaints to a fine art, disrupting city services, instigating extensive and expensive investigations and dominating the time of managers that is desperately needed to instead serve the public.
It is frustrating that city staff, particularly the city attorney and the city manager, share almost nothing with city council members about these personnel issues, citing confidentiality and privacy protections. I don’t agree with their legal interpretations, and I believe the City Council has a right to know everything they know even though we can’t do anything about it, because at end of the day, we are responsible for what goes on in the city. Unfortunately, my City Council colleagues disagree with me and berate me for even bringing up these issues. For the City Council, these are just sideshows that do not interest them From now on, I intend to share as much as I know with the public so the people of Richmond can see the incredible level of dysfunction that goes on in city government.
Let’s take a look at some examples. These are just the tip of the iceberg.
Until a short time ago, Lisa Stephenson was the human resources director for Richmond, pulling down a whopping $349,655 a year in salary and benefits, but she was terminated by City Manager Laura Snideman. The reasons, like most personnel issues, are murky, but the city manager, under the city’s charter, has full authority to hire and fire city employees. Stephenson has filed a lawsuit with the apparent intent of exacting millions of dollars from an already broke city. Some of the things I have been hearing about Stephenson is that she was largely responsible for approving the massive pay differential arrangements for dozens of city employees without the authority to do so. A pay differential is a supplement to an employee’s salary based on the premise that for some period of time, they are assigned extra tasks outside their job description. The concept, if there is any legitimacy to it at all, is intended to be temporary, like during another employee’s vacancy. But, the ones in place now have become permanent, long past any initial justification, and for legal reasons, we are stuck with a lot of them.
I have also heard that Stephenson ran her shop like an autonomous branch of government, including hiring her own legal counsel instead of using the city attorney. The human resources director plays an important role in union negotiations and needs to represent the city manager and city council while remaining fair and objective, but it is generally understood that Stephenson tilted in favor of the unions, making her a union favorite. When she was put on administrative leave prior to termination, the Contra Costa Labor Council objected, writing:
We request that Ms. Stephenson be brought back to lead the city and its bargaining representatives through this fiscal crisis. Removing Ms. Stephenson to subvert the unions was attempted last year by then City Manager Carlos Martinez. During her administrative leave, City-Labor relations quickly plummeted. After Carlos Martinez was fired by the City Council, Ms. Stephenson was immediately brought back to work and relations normalized. The City should restore Ms. Stephenson’s status immediately to work with the unions through this crisis. Lastly, the City should resolve all of the outstanding executive management personnel issues that are unnecessarily costing the City before placing any concessions of a fiscal nature at the feet of its workers.”
Everett Jenkins is the senior attorney in the City Attorney’s Office, but I have heard that the last three city attorneys considered him “unmanageable,” because of, among other things, his penchant for conspiracy theories and considering himself a whistleblower. Jenkins makes $285,777 annually in salary and benefits.
Here are two recent emails from Jenkins. Note that he invokes Shannon Moore (assistant city attorney), recently retired city attorney [Bruce Goodmiller], Lisa Stephenson, Yader Bermudez, Rachel Sommovilla, Steven Falk and Ryan Smith. You be the judge.
Thank you for your email. However, I believe you are missing the point. If you look closely at the print out of unauthorized contracts, you will find that it lists the attorneys that were assigned to draft (and oversee) the contracts. Most of the contracts that are listed in the print out were drafted (and overseen?) by Shannon Moore. As such, Shannon Moore should not be the one who is assigned to analyze this issue. Indeed, she should recuse herself from any further involvement in overseeing the issuance of legal services agreements.
Additionally, I must point out that the legal services agreement which the Risk Manager was most concerned about was the agreement with Morrison & Foerster. The amount that had been paid to Morrison & Foerster by December 2019 was listed at $2,636,040.41. It is my understanding that the amount paid may be closer to $5,000,000 now. In my 38 years here at Richmond, this is the most that has ever been paid to any law firm for any work. According to the print out I provided, the Morrison & Foerster legal services agreement was drafted (and overseen?) by you. As such, I advise that you should not be involved in analyzing this issue either.
What is particularly troubling is that the most expensive legal services agreement in the history of the City of Richmond just happens to have gone to the former law firm of the recently retired City Attorney. Please see the link below which appears to clearly indicate the connection between the former City Attorney and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster.
Rachel, as you know, I recently called for an investigation in the actions of Ryan Smith and Lisa Stephenson. My call for investigations of those individuals was based upon a list of what I perceived to be legally unauthorized actions by said individuals. Given what is contained in the print out I have provided to you, the City Manager, Mayor Butt, and Councilmembers Bates and Martinez as well other items I have previously provided to Councilmembers Bates and Martinez, I am of the opinion that the City Attorney's Office has also engaged in legally unauthorized actions. Indeed, from my perception, the unauthorized actions engaged in by the City Attorney's Office exceed those alleged against Mr. Smith and Ms. Stephenson. Accordingly, to be consistent with what I did regarding Ryan Smith and Lisa Stephenson, I am compelled to call for an investigation of the City Attorney's Office regarding the actions I have set forth herein and in the memos provided to Councilmembers Bates and Martinez. I also advise that everyone in the City Attorney's Office should recuse themselves from analyzing any matters pertaining to the legal services agreements and, for the time being, everyone in the City Attorney's Office should recuse themselves from providing legal advice pertaining to the proposed revision of the City's Procurement Ordinance.
Senior Assistant City Attorney
450 Civic Center Plaza
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 620-6509 (Office)
(510) 620-6518 (Fax)
Dear Ms. Snideman,
It is my understanding that the current plan is to have Ryan Smith return to work on Monday, March 9, 2020. This return is despite the objections raised by me, by Erin Friday, our outside counsel for the Veolia mediation, and by Yader Bermudez. I am informed that the return is based upon some opinion that the City will lose any case brought by Ryan Smith. I do not know how such an assessment could be reached since, as of this date, no one from Human Resources has contacted me and asked me about the City’s case against Ryan Smith.
As you know, on or about January 21, 2020, I prepared a memo setting forth some of my concerns about the return of Ryan Smith. The memo was accompanied by almost three inches of documentation pertaining to some of the detrimental actions of Mr. Smith with regards to his management of the Waste Water Enterprise. A copy of the entire packet was given to you, to Rachel Sommovilla, the Acting City Attorney, and to Yader Bermudez, the Acting Water Resource Recovery Director. Based upon our conversation during our meeting on February 18, 2020, it is my understanding that you are in possession of the packet and are aware of some of my concerns. However, as I point out in my January 21, 2020, memo “If you desire any additional information, please feel free to ask. There is quite a bit more information, but this should be enough … for now.”
To my surprise, no one has come by to inquire about the information I set forth in my January 21, 2020 memo and no one has asked about any additional information that I might have that would be pertinent to this matter. Instead, there appears to be a rush to reinstate Mr. Smith ostensibly to avoid litigation initiated by Mr. Alan Davis... the same Alan Davis who in the recent past represented Lisa Stephenson.
The fact that Lisa Stephenson and Ryan Smith share the same attorney is a striking coincidence, but not an unexpected one. As you should also recall, my meeting with you and LaShonda White on February 18, 2020, was actually initiated to discuss a memo I had written on September 12, 2019, to Shannon Moore and Carlos Privat concerning “Human Resource Department Issues”. At the time, the City Attorney’s Office had been asked by the then Interim City Manager, Steven Falk, to develop information that could be used to address the perceived problems with the Human Resource Department. Carlos Privat, the then Acting City Attorney, assigned the task to Shannon Moore, and she, in turn, asked me to draft a memo about some of the issues that I knew to exist. One of the issues I raised in the memo was regarding the “Human Resource Department’s flawed (“weaponized”) disciplinary and investigatory process”. Based on the lack of any follow-up investigation into the allegations set forth in my January 21, 2020 memo, it is my observation that, with regards to Ryan Smith, the Human Resource Department’s investigatory process continues to be flawed.
As I also stated in the September 12, 2019, memo that I advised that the Interim City Manager “should consider performing an investigation of the Human Resource Department to ascertain whether there are sufficient facts to support discipline and/or termination.” I am not aware of any discipline being imposed by Mr. Falk, but I am aware of actions having been taken by the City Council in November 2019 and December 2019 to clean up some of the issues set forth in my memo. However, sadly, many of the other issues still remain.
Ms. Snideman, based upon recent developments, I reiterate the advice given to Mr. Falk in my September 12, 2019 memo. However, I now advise that the advice should apply not only for the Human Resource Department but also for Mr. Smith. To that end, I hereby request that Henry Gardner be brought in to look at both the Ryan Smith and the Lisa Stephenson matters. I base this request on my brief working relationship with Mr. Gardner during the months of July and August of 2019, and on the reputation for fairness that he has.
I am sending this email to three members of the City Council because of the serious concerns that I have regarding this matter. However, I am prepared to discuss it with the full City Council if either you or any one of the three Councilmembers should desire.
Senior Assistant City Attorney
450 Civic Center Plaza
Richmond, CA 94804
(510) 620-6509 (Office)
(510) 620-6518 (Fax)
As an aside, the Morrison and Foerster contract that Jenkins complained about was not a selection made by former City Attorney Bruce Goodmiller; it was made by the City Council, specifically by a selection committee that at the time consisted of Councilmembers McLaughlin, Ritterman and Lopez.
Ryan Smith is in the Public Works Department and exercises supervision of the wastewater contract with Veolia. Smith earns $277,574 in annual salary and benefits. In late 2019, Smith was mysteriously placed on administrative leave, but the City Council was never provided details. All we were told was that the matter had been referred to the Contra Costa district attorney for an investigation. Apparently, the DA’s investigation turned up no wrongdoing, and Just as mysteriously, Smith returned to work in March 2020, after being paid over $100,000 to stay home, despite the aforementioned objections of Whistle-Blower-in-Chief Everett Jenkins.
Bruce Soublet is another assistant city attorney making $329,529 in salary and benefits, and like Jenkins, was apparently considered by the last three city attorneys as “unmanageable.” I believe Sublet makes so much more than Jenkins because he benefits from one of those differential pay arrangements approved by Stephenson. He gets paid extra because he is assigned to disability issues.
Although details are murky, it appears that in late 2019 Bruce Soublet acted on a complaint by Lori Reese-Brown against Steve Falk, Bruce Goodmiller and me by hiring an investigator. Soublet took it upon himself to act because the city manager, who normally would act on complaints, was a named party, as was the city attorney. An effort was made several months ago by the investigator to interview the three of us, but due to COVID-9 and other factors, no interviews have yet taken place.
It appears that Reese-Brown’s issue stems from the reorganization implemented by Steve Falk. Apparently, Reese-Brown applied for every open position but was not chosen. She subsequently met with Steve Falk and accused him of conspiring with me, in fact being directed by me, to formulate and act on the reorganization plan and to make sure Reese-Brown was not chosen for a new open position. I assume that this is the basis for the complaint. Of course, there is absolutely no truth to any of it. Neither Goodmiller nor I had any involvement whatsoever in the reorganization.
What Bruce Soublet did was, in my opinion, extremely poor judgment. He did nothing to look into the complaint before spending City funds hiring an investigator. He did not follow General Order 33, which states, “Any applicant, employee or contractor who believes he or she has been subject to harassment is encouraged to tell the harasser to stop his/her unwanted behaviors;” “the City will set a time frame for the investigation;” and General Order 33 requires an “immediate” investigation. What the City is spending on this frivolous investigation remains secret, like all other details, but it is taking money away from services and programs that benefit the residents of Richmond.
No Confidence Votes
No confidence votes are a favorite of the IAFF Local 188 (firefighters) and Richmond Police Officers Association (RPOA). In 2019, the RPOA took a “no confidence” vote against then Chief Allwyn Brown, who subsequently retired, apparently not by choice. Brown made $457,684 in salary and benefits in 2019 and is still on the City payroll, running out his vacation pay, which, I understand, includes another pay differential for participating in a countywide gang task force that no longer exists.
Just in the last two weeks, Local 188 took a “no confidence” vote against Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard. We will have to wait and see what happens with that. Sheppard made $435,729 in salary and benefits in 2019.
I can’t leave this without harking back to the firing of former City Manager Carlos Martinez (The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, July 25, 2019). Martinez’ downfall was proposing to reorganize in a way that would result in the removal of several high-level managers, several of whom are now gone anyway, including Tim Higares (retired) and Lisa Stephenson (terminated). In 2019, we paid Carlos Martinez $517,925 in salary and benefits.