After tonight’s Fullerton City Council meeting all signs point to City Manager Joe Felz being out of a job, likely from early retirement after he runs out the clock on his vacation time. Allow me to explain.
Joe Felz was a no-show at last night’s Council meeting and the City Attorney, Dick Jones, relayed a nothingburger of an apology from Felz during the Open Session and said that Felz was taking a 2-week leave of absence. Mr. Jones then requested that the council agendize an emergency* item for the same meeting, last night, to appoint an Acting City Manager which they did.
There is zero reason to appoint an Acting City Manager if somebody is on a voluntary leave for 2 weeks. Do we appoint an Acting City Manager anytime the City Manager goes on vacation? No. Was it an emergency? No. This is ridiculous. How ridiculous you ask? Well…
Pursuant to California Government Code we don’t even NEED a City Manager owing to Fullerton being a General Law City.
36501. The government of a general law city is vested in: (a) A city council of at least five members. (b) A city clerk. (c) A city treasurer. (d) A chief of police. (e) A fire chief. (f) Any subordinate officers or employees provided by law.
Notice that there is no “City Manager” on that list.
So our City Council just appointed a person, Gretchen Beatty, to a position that we don’t even legally need because our City Manager is on a 2-week leave. Funny how the City Attorney missed that little nuance in the law or as I like to call it – his job. Dick Jones asked that a non-issue be agendized unless of course more is going on behind the scenes that can’t be discussed with us common rabble known as residents.
Now here’s where the weasel words really come into play. Mr. Jones stated that Gretchen Beatty would be acting City Manager not until Felz came back from leave but rather until the City Council relieved her. He’s a lawyer who chooses his words carefully so this means something.
To really drive this point home it should be noted that during Public Comments people spoke up about the Joe Felz / Sappy McTree incident and Mr. Jones made a point that the details of the investigation couldn’t be released until this “Personnel Matter” is resolved. He also said that it was an ongoing criminal review and it would go to the D.A. for a “Potential Criminal Prosecution”. Further he said, and Mayor Fitzgerald asked him to repeat, that the Bodycam footage couldn’t be released pursuant to California Government Code 6254F.
So I read California Government Code 6254F. It does not say what he implies that it says. The actual code states (emphasis mine):
(f) Records of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of, the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, the Office of Emergency Services and any state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes. However, state and local law enforcement agencies shall disclose the names and addresses of persons involved in, or witnesses other than confidential informants to, the incident, the description of any property involved, the date, time, and location of the incident, all diagrams, statements of the parties involved in the incident, the statements of all witnesses, other than confidential informants, to the victims of an incident, or an authorized representative thereof, an insurance carrier against which a claim has been or might be made, and any person suffering bodily injury or property damage or loss, as the result of the incident caused by arson, burglary, fire, explosion, larceny, robbery, carjacking, vandalism, vehicle theft, or a crime as defined by subdivision (b) of Section 13951, unless the disclosure would endanger the safety of a witness or other person involved in the investigation, or unless disclosure would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation. However, this division does not require the disclosure of that portion of those investigative files that reflects the analysis or conclusions of the investigating officer.
For those wondering about “subdivision (b) of Section 13951” fret not folks I’ve got you covered.
(b)(1) “Crime” means a crime or public offense, wherever it may take place, that would constitute a misdemeanor or a felony if the crime had been committed in California by a competent adult.
City Manager Joe Felz tried to flee the scene of an accident, as witnessed by the person who called 911, and thus committed a misdemeanor therefore his actions fall into line with California Government Code 6254F in regards to disclosure. The only legal reason that I can see as to why the bodycam footage wouldn’t be released is because there is no criminal investigation and therefore privacy rights for Felz kick into play.
If there is an investigation it makes zero sense for it to be internal as even Former Chief Hughes’ said in his memo to Council that CHP would have been called if an investigation had been warranted. Legally it makes even less sense for the City Attorney’s firm to even be involved in this case as the job of the City Attorney is to defend the city, including the City Manager, during lawsuits filed against said entities. Conflict of Interest much?
As far as anybody can tell Joe Felz has not been arrested or charged with a crime and is on a “2-week leave of absence” and everything else that is being said is simply legalize for “let us handle this” like the old guard always handled corruption – by sweeping it under the rug.
Mayor Fitzgerald can act annoyed and ask the City Attorney to repeat his disingenuous nonsense as many times as she wants but the facts on the ground do not support what is being peddled by this city. If we had actual Police Oversight in Fullerton as prescribed by the likes of Jane Rands & Sean Paden, which Mayor Fitzgerald is against, we might be able to trust that this issue would be investigated properly and honestly but alas she put all of her faith in the F.P.D. and “Danny” when she was cashing all those donation checks and instead of doing the right thing she has led us here – to another potential scandal.
In an age when Conservatives and Liberals agree that accountability should matter and that criminal justice reform should be a priority we should keep in mind that people like Mayor Fitzgerald doesn’t share these opinions. We have a new Police Chief on the horizon so this City Council has the chance to do the right thing and bring actual police oversight to our fair city and with it try to restore some trust that is solely lacking. Or the establishmentarians like the Mayor will continue to cash their union election donations while putting the citizens of Fullerton last. Time will tell and we’ll be watching.
*Correction – the Agenda item was noted as “an emergency agenda item” and the “emergency” aspect of it would likely make it legal for the council to deal with it even though legally it wasn’t an emergency.