In a leaked confidential memorandum to the Taft City Council that is sure to raise already high tensions at City Hall, the City Attorney accused City Manager Bob Gorson of lying to the council and buying employee loyalty with illegal pay raises.
The memo comes on the heels of a response to a Grand Jury report issued by the City Council last week that disagreed with the City Attorney’s opinion and the Grand Jury findings that employee pay raises awarded by City Manager Bob Gorson were illegal and a possible gift of public funds.
The memorandum also comes two weeks before the City Council is scheduled to hear a censure motion against Taft City Councilman Cliff Thompson for allegations of creating a hostile work environment at City Hall.
The Kern County Grand Jury issued a report on February 9th critical of the City Council, Gorson’s handling of the pay raises, and Thompson for violating public trust.
The Independent obtained a copy of the confidential memorandum on Thursday morning after news accounts appeared in Bakersfield media.
The memo, which addressed the issue of gifting public funds by Gorson when he gave raises to city employees, was written by the law firm of Gibson and Gibson which acts as the city’s legal counsel. The memo was requested by the Taft City Council and recommended by the Kern County Grand Jury in their February 2010 report to the council.
In describing its purpose, the memo explained that the City Attorney had a duty to raise issues in order to protect the city’s interests, and should not be taken as advocacy or support for any side.
Taft Mayor Dave Noerr, who was displeased that the confidential memorandum was released to the media said in a news conference on Thursday said that issues and accusation raised in the memorandum were unfounded and unprovable.
“The accusations that were made that some believe to be provable are not,” said Noerr. “The city staff does not deserve what was said.”
“They (accusations in the memo) are irresponsible, they’re unfounded and they cannot be proved.” said Noerr.
City Finance Director Theresa Stadler, who was given a raise by Gorson, was not at work Thursday, and city employees said she was very upset by the allegations made in the memo.
Mayor Noerr said that the memo was prepared for behind closed door discussion by the council, and the memo was to be presented by the City Attorney as a “devils advocate” for the council benefit. It was not for public release.
The memo accused Gorson of deliberately lying when he told the council in public session “as to when he had been told to stop negotiating employee contracts without City Council approval.”
During the news conference Gorson said that he is not a liar and that he has an impeccable reputation. Gorson also said he was livid about the accusations made in the memo.
The memo also raised the issue that Gorson was late, as long as six months, in paying rent for a home he was buying from the city. It suggested that Stadler did not report the late rent payments and that the pay raise may have been payment for her silence.
The memo cited lost interest on the rent payments as constituting a gift of public funds.
Noerr said that all back rent payments had been paid by Gorson and had already addressed by the council.
Asked about the memos accusations, Mayor Noerr said “the city attorney was doing what she was asked to do,” Noerr said. “But this goes way beyond the responsible legal opinion. When it became public, it became grossly irresponsible.”
“There are certain statements made in here that went well beyond the advice you would expect from an attorney,” Noerr said.
A video of Mayor Noerr’s news conference can be viewed on the Taft Independent’s Facebook page.