September 8, 2015

City Moving Forward with O'Connor Investigation

Last week, SMCLC filed a complaint with the City asking for an investigation into whether councilmember Pam O’Connor violated our City Charter by pressuring our past City Manager to fire an employee for once participating in a political campaign against her. Elizabeth Riel, the fired employee, sued the City for violating her free speech rights. The ensuing case cost Santa Monica taxpayers over $1,000,000 in settlement and attorney’s fees.

This case should never have happened. Ms. O’Connor should not have interfered in City hiring; our City manager should have protected, not fired, Ms. Riel; and our City staff should have tried to stop this debacle, rather than enable it. It was a complete breakdown in City government. And an expensive one.

This weekend representatives from SMCLC met with city officials to chart a way forward to address our complaint. At the meeting we provided them with a list of critical issues we expect an investigation to address. Click here for list.

We are encouraged to announce that the City is now advancing on both aspects of our complaint.

First, as to a possible criminal violation, the City Attorney has sent our complaint to the L.A. District Attorney’s office for review. We were told that this is standard procedure for a criminal matter involving a city councilmember. The District Attorney may elect to take the case, or not. More on that in a moment.

Second, the City will soon be taking steps to hire experienced, independent counsel to conduct an outside investigation into this matter and publicly report his/her findings. Such a person will also have the power to interview witnesses. Councilmember O’Connor exercised undue influence on City staff, and a thorough investigation is necessary to find out how and why, and to determine what the City can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

On the criminal side, we have informed the City that should the DA decide not to take the case, it will not be acceptable for the City to drop the matter. Santa Monica cannot enforce laws against leaf blowers but not against its very highest officials. The criminal complaint must be fully investigated.

We applaud City officials taking this issue seriously and for their early and quick first steps.

As always, we thank you for your support. You make it all possible.

Victor, Diana, Sherrill, and Jeff