The city of San Leandro, California has quietly sent private letters to members of its city board and commissions that demand they sign a “non-disparagement” agreement regarding outgoing City Manager Chris Zapata or else they will be terminated from their city-appointed positions.
Mr. Zapata was just welcomed back with praise by the San Leandro City Council last month after an enforced leave of absence, but this week, after a two hour closed session San Leandro City Council meeting, he resigned suddenly and will depart his role as City Manager on July 10 with a $350,000 severance.
Immediately following the announcement, the city sent letters this week to all San Leandro board members and commissioners under attorney client privilege from both Vice Mayor Debra Cox and Mayor Pauline Cutter. The letters demand commissioners and board members sign a non-disparagement agreement or else they will be immediately removed.
The action has started a series of rumors about why Zapata would demand non-disparagement clauses from everyone in the City and why the City would agree to such a demand.
While Zapata was cleared of sexual harassment accusations in an independent review of claims made by Davis Street Wellness Center executive director Rose Padilla Johnson, some local citizens believe the report’s accuracy and conclusion was questionable.
In addition, there are other outstanding allegations against Zapata that were not investigated, including his favoritism in the awarding of San Leandro’s first marijuana dispensary permit, his personal direction of a police raid against a competitor of the selected dispensary, and questionable awards of other city contracts.
In addition, there are outstanding questions of libel and slander after he issued a rambling 23 page letter against his accuser, former City Councilman Gordon Galvin, and the board of directors at Davis Street Family Resource Center.
Thus, board members and commissioners are fighting back against the demand to sign the letter and don’t want to pre-maturely sign any “non-disparagement” documents as there are still outstanding issues about Zapata, his role as city manager, misconduct, and his business dealings.
A lot of people in San Leandro are shaking their heads in disbelief at the actions of the City, its Mayor and Vice Mayor in demanding this action and wonder if it is even legal to make this demand of a public servant such as an appointed board member.
Oakland News Now Exclusive: Below are the letters from Vice Mayor Deborah Cox and Mayor Pauline Cutter that demand compliance or be fired with the non-disparagement of outgoing City Manager Chris Zapata:
Letter from San Leandro Vice Mayor Deborah Cox to city commissioners:
Dear District 1 Commissioners,
I wanted to make sure that you were all aware that the City Council agreed to a mutual separation agreement with City Manager Chris Zapata. His last day will be July 10, 2018. For the record, I am deeply saddened at his loss. Chris has done so much for our city and as you are all aware was falsely accused by DSFRC Executive Director of sexual misconduct. A thorough investigation done by an independent investigator – one with ZERO ties to the city or to Meyers Nave (the law firm we contract with for our City Attorney). Chris was exonerated and the council reinstated him immediately. (Editor’s note: This was not the conclusion of the independent investigation conducted by the city).
Regardless, Chris continues to care about the city and after discussions we mutually agreed that it would be best for us to move on.
As part of his separation agreement, anyone who is elected or appointed to a city position is being asked to sign a document that essentially stipulates that we will not disparage him in any way going forward. Failure to sign the document will result in the immediate removal from your commission. Please note, this is part of a legal procedure that the city has entered into.
As a commissioner for the City of San Leandro each of you will receive a hard copy of a document that we are asking you to sign and return to city hall by Friday, July 13th. You will also receive the document via email.
If you are physically unable to return the signed document by July 13th, it will also suffice for you to email me and/or city hall indicating that you are out of town but that you agree in principal to sign the document and will get it into city hall upon your return.
If you have any questions, or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Letter from San Leandro Mayor Pauline Cutter to Board and Commission members:
Dear Commission and Board Members,
Last evening, the City Council approved a separation agreement with City Manager Chris Zapata. Chris’ last day with the City will be July 10. The Council and Chris made this decision jointly and we mutually agreed to the terms of the separation. We made this decision reluctantly, but in light of recent events and looking into the future we all agreed that this is in the best interest of all parties involved.
Since coming to San Leandro in 2012, City Manager Zapata has been a valued leader in our community. Included in a long list of accomplishments, our city has made advances in technology, has a strong support net in place for those residents who depend on city services and is more diverse financially that ever before in our history. I am appreciative of Chris’s input to make that happen. I know Chris and his mentoring abilities will be missed but I want to assure you we are planning for his departure and will be in good hands going forward.
We have asked Jeff Kay to serve as Acting City Manager until the Council can discuss transition plans more fully. The City Council is working toward identifying a plan for filling the position on a permanent basis, and we will provide additional updates as that information is developed. As we have more information, reports or documents available they will be posted on our website.
I do want to share with you that you will soon be receiving a letter both by email and US Mail that the Council is requesting you to sign. Essentially the letter is alerting you to the non-disparagement clause in the separation agreement, which both the City and Mr. Zapata has agreed to. In our effort to limit any future liability we want you to be aware of the non-disparagement agreement and why it pertains to you in specific circumstances when you are acting in your official capacity as a City Commissioner or Board Member. Although at first glance this letter may appear to be strongly worded, please know we are doing our best to protect the best interests of all parties involved and appreciate your cooperation.
Thank you for your continued service to our city. Respectfully, Pauline Cutter
Zennie Abraham is the CEO of Zennie62Media