After reading the Press’ recent article, “Police captain files suit against city,” on April 1 regarding the recent filing of lawsuits by Elizabeth Allred and Ethel McFarland, former fire department Chief Bosch and police Capt. John Espinoza, I took some time to look into the Tracy Press archives and the City Council meeting minutes so I could gain a better perspective of the facts from surrounding these matters.
From my research, I have found that these situations have been going on for at least two years (Allred and McFarland), one year (Bosch), and most recently the issues surrounding Espinoza’s case. I also found out the Allred-McFarland case and the Bosch case have been discussed by the City Council on several occasions prior to these former and current employees filing suits.
I must ask why these cases, which specifically list Maria Olvera, Tracy’s human resources director, and police Chief Janet Thiessen, have been allowed to proceed to the point of litigation. I must also ask why Ms. Olvera is allowed to remain with the city of Tracy following three legal filings that have named her, specifically. The reason for my disgust and frustration is that it appears the mayor and council have decided to take a hands-off approach to dealing with these issues.
That being said, even if the city is in a position to prevail regarding these matters, it seems to me that we the taxpayers are the real losers. We are being forced to spend public tax dollars to defend municipal bureaucrats who apparently have been allowed to create the perception, if not the reality, that the city of Tracy is a hostile working environment.
It seems to me that when employees feel threatened enough to file suit, they are usually justified in doing so. So my question is: At what point do our elected and appointed officials begin to realize that these situations never should have been allowed to escalate to this level without someone taking steps to mitigate the potential for fiscal damages to our city?
I also read with great disgust Mr. Sodergren’s comments that he believed Allred and McFarland were victims of their own circumstances, and that Bosch’s claims should be dismissed. I am confused as to why Mr. Sodergren believes this to be the case, as he, being a practicing attorney, should know that harassment, discrimination and retaliation claims endorsed by the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Authority are substantiated in the significant majority of these cases.
Keep in mind, the facts of these claims must be submitted to FEHA prior to these employees being allowed to proceed with their legal filings, which tells me there must be some fact to the claims. It is my understanding that FEHA takes its responsibility very seriously, and very few frivolous cases get past its review.
So the next question I ask myself is: Why would these employees find it necessary to file suit against their employer, unless there is some validity to their claims?
The fact is, someone should have dealt with these matters before they reached this point.
This line of reasoning brings me to the city manager and the city attorney. It seems these two have failed to rectify these situations prior to litigation. The city manager, as the chief executive officer of the city, should be continually reading the landscape and should have an idea when his immediate staff and their seconds in command are experiencing difficulty with their peers and superiors — unless said city manager is not paying attention to what’s going on around him/her.
The city attorney should provide sound legal advice to the city manager and council by keeping them informed about potential litigation and how to address these liabilities before they reach this point.
This failure on the part of both the city manager and the city attorney tells me both have become derelict in their administrative, legal and fiduciary duties to the city of Tracy and the taxpaying citizens of Tracy.
If Mr. Churchill and Mr. Sodergren would have been looking out for the best interest of the city, the other employees and taxpaying citizens of Tracy, things would never have progressed to this point.
So I must ask, at what point are the mayor and council going to get to the bottom of these situations in order to effectively address them, so the city can get on with the business of recruiting business and new jobs to Tracy?
• Bill Williams has lived in Tracy since 1999. He is a retired lawyer and real estate investor.