For the majority of my working life, I was an at-will employee. That meant I could be fired for any reason. My boss didn’t need a cause other than he didn’t like the way I parted my hair. I fooled him, though — I never had any.
I used to tell my employer I wanted to be sent home on administrative leave like the top brass in those government agencies I was covering.
Often, those individuals were relieved of work but still received their full salary while issues were being sorted out. And then sometimes, the individual would be terminated and end up getting some sort of cash settlement, and even a positive recommendation for the next job.
And it has happened again here in Atascadero, except in this case, the individual wasn’t put on administrative leave. He was just gone in 60 seconds, followed by a feeble news release from the city.
Everywhere I go, people want to talk about the present case where police Chief Jim Mulhall left office, signed an agreement not to sue the city, got a check for a little more than $100,000, and the city agreed not to do anything more against him except give him a good recommendation.
In the private sector, I can understand that it isn’t anybody’s business what happened, except in criminal cases.
But this is different. We didn’t give Mulhall any of City Manager Wade McKinney’s money. We didn’t take it from the council members’ monthly stipend. It was our money.
It was money that could have helped pave a street, buy firefighting equipment or, in this case, been one-tenth of the million bucks that Friends of the Library is trying to raise.
I agree with those who want to know what is going on. If the police chief did something wrong, tell us about it.
Maybe a council member just didn’t like him or his style. We need to know that, too.
I remember a very popular local school superintendent who lost his job because a couple of the school board members simply didn’t like his management style.
Former City Councilman Mike Brennler took a lot of flak because he constantly accused the city staff and some of his fellow council members of not being transparent, making backroom deals that had a slight odor and denied the public from knowing what was going on and why.
In this case, the council’s recent action proved Brennler right on target.
It is a legitimate reason for Mulhall to want to retire after his long career in law enforcement to “spend more time with his family.” But cash settlements and signed “deals” that are not explained to the public are reprehensible.
Too many government agencies hide behind the “personnel issue” and keep what should be the people’s business from the people.
Lon Allan has lived in Atascadero for nearly four decades. His column appears here every week. He can be reached at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.