Following the termination of Tulare Police Chief Wes Hensley on Tuesday, March 20, Hensley’s attorney, Michael Lampe, has requested a Skelly hearing, two days later.
In a letter to Tulare City Attorney Heather Phillips dated March 22, Lampe states –
We view the “without cause” language in the March 20 Notice of Termination as a mere pretext designed to cover up the true motives behind the Chief’s termination.
The Chief received no prior notice of the proposed action, which we contend was both retaliatory and punitive in nature. Additionally, the Chief was not provided with copies of any materials upon which the punitive action was based, was not afforded a Skelly hearing, and was not allowed to respond either orally or in writing to the punitive action taken by a City Manager who apparently knew that he himself would be fired in a matter of hours.
And further states –
In our view these facts constitute an egregious violation of Chief Hensley’s due process rights.
Chief Hensley respectfully requests that the Notice of Termination served by the former City Manager be treated as a Notice of “Proposed” Termination, and that Chief Hensley be given his due process rights under Skelly v. State Personnel Bd. (1975) 15 Cal.3d 194.
A Skelly hearing allows an employee, in this case Hensley, to respond to the disciplinary supervisor and/or the supervisor of the disciplining party to argue his case.
According to instructions on a Skelly hearing provided by the City of Sacramento –
The function of the Skelly Officer is to provide an objective review of the proposed discipline and the employee’s response. The Skelly Officer is responsible for evaluating whether there are reasonable grounds for believing that the employee engaged in the alleged misconduct and that the misconduct supports the proposed sanction. The Skelly Officer then makes a recommendation as to whether the disciplinary action should be sustained, modified in some specified way, or revoked. The Skelly Officer should not substitute his/her judgment with respect to the discipline to be imposed, but rather reach a conclusion as to whether there are reasonable grounds to justify the discipline proposed. . .
The Skelly Officer must be impartial. This does not necessarily mean that he/she must be totally unfamiliar with all of the facts and persons involved in the case, but rather that he/she be “reasonably impartial and uninvolved.” Obviously, the further removed an individual is from the circumstances giving rise to the case, the less likely there will be any perception of potential bias.
The legal standard of impartiality requires that the person not have a stake in the outcome — i.e., he/she cannot be a potential witness; have had a role in initially recommending or investigating the discipline; or for other reasons be personally embroiled in the dispute.
While Hensley served the city at-will, which means he could be fired without cause, in the letter by Tulare City Manager Joe Carlini firing Hensley, Carlini names reasons and stated –
You are not being dismissed from employment as the result of misconduct.
You are being dismissed to further the goals of this Organization, due to a loss of confidence in your ability to lead the Police Department in a manner that is consistent with the goals of this Organization; having management style that is incompatible with this Organization’s/Administration’s goals and the philosophies of leadership upon which they are based.
Carlini, himself, was fired by Tulare City Council during a closed session meeting, a few hours following his dismissal of Hensley.
It will be up to Phillips, the city attorney, to grant the hearing. This would not be an evidentiary hearing or a public hearing, but rather a private meeting of Hensley with his counsel, Lampe, and with someone from the city, or whoever is appointed the Skelly Officer.
Carlini told the Valley Voice, “I can’t be involved – I no longer work for the city.”
He suggested perhaps the interim city manager could be involved in the hearing.
Another possible Skelly Officer could be a member of city council, although the question of whether that member would be “reasonably impartial and uninvolved” could come into play. Perhaps a city manager from another city would take on the role.
The Voice reached out to Councilman Jose Sigala, whose day job is as an internal worksite organizer for Service Employees International Union SEIU Local 521 (for Tulare County). He said he had no comment at this time