The old-fashion communication of letter writing has returned with a continued exchange between Tulare’s City Attorney Heather Phillips and Michael Lampe, the attorney for former Police Chief Wes Hensley.
The former chief was fired on March 20, one week shy of one-half year following his placement on paid administrative leave, and following some two-plus months of his being under city investigation. However, his termination notice made no reference to the investigation.
Hensley, through Lampe, still would like some answers, and would like to appeal and get his job back, or at least a retirement package. Hensley worked for the Tulare PD for 27 years.
On March 26, Lampe sent a letter to Phillips and the then interim city manager, Rob Hunt, asking for a public appeal hearing.
“As you may be aware, Mr. Hensley has previously indicated that he will waive his right to privacy, and hereby demands that his Administrative Appeal be conducted in a public setting, open to both the press and interested citizens,” the letter stated.
The City Attorney’s response
In response on March 27, Phillips responded to both Lampe’s March 26 letter and a previous one that had asked for a Skelly hearing.
A copy of Phillips’ letter was sent to various media outlets including the Valley Voice by someone with an email address of Jill M Messer, however, the Voice has, as of yet, been unable to determine who Messer is, or how she obtained a copy of this letter. A call was placed to Phillips with this regard, and has yet to be returned.
In her letter, Phillips denied the Skelly hearing, as the former chief had already been terminated and also indicated the limitations of a hearing. She referred to POBRA (the Police Officers Bill of Rights Act).
“Mr. Hensley was provided with written notice of his termination along with a reason that is deemed sufficient pursuant to the POBRA provision sited above. The Notice provides an opportunity for administrative appeal, pursuant to POBRA and the very limited due process to which an employee without a property right is entitled.”
She further offered up a Lubey liberty interest hearing, “in which he (or his representative) may respond to the Notice of Termination and establish a record of the facts he believes clear his name.” She also referred to a Blinkley case from 25 years ago.
Lampe responded on March 30, referring to the letter of which the Voice had received a copy, as well as “clarifying email” to that letter, which the media has not been privy to. In his response, which Lampe did copy to all council members, as well as the Voice and others, he did not argue her comments with regard to the Skelly, but he did rebut the Blinkley case evaluation by Phillips
“Mr. Binkley was afforded the type of administrative appeal that we contend Mr. Hensley is entitled to. As specifically articulated by the court:
‘… [Binkley] held the position of police chief at the pleasure of the city manager. The city manager was free to discharge him without ‘just cause,’ so long as he was given an opportunity to ‘convince the employing agency to reverse its decision.’ (Binkley, supra at 1809.)
Mr. Hensley asks for nothing more – and is entitled to nothing less – than an opportunity to convince the City to reverse the decision of its former city manager. In order to do this, Mr. Hensley will need to call witnesses to testify that the former city manager fired him for improper reasons, and not for the reasons articulated in the March 20 termination notice.”
Lampe also noted –
“Moreover, your observation that Mr. Hensley, as an at-will employee, had no ‘property interest’ to protect at the time of his termination, does not constitute a legal basis for denying him a full administrative appeal.
In this regard, I respectfully direct your attention to Robinson v. City of Chowchilla (2011) 202 Cal.App.4th 368, a case you are no doubt familiar with, since you were one of the attorneys who successfully represented the chief of police in that case. As articulated by the Robinson court:
‘In summary, the provisions of subdivision (c) of section 3304 are not reasonably susceptible to being interpreted to mean that the notice and administrative appeal procedures apply only if the police chief has a property interest in his or her job as police chief.’ (Id. at 378.)”
What all of the legal jargon comes down to is whether Hensley will receive a public appeal hearing or not. Lampe intends to take it to court, if necessary, he has said.
What a public hearing with witnesses could prove
What Lampe hopes to prove in a public appeal hearing is a list of items including just what was the initial cause of Hensley’s being placed on administrative leave and that, while denied by the actual Notice of Termination, the reasoning came into play with Hensley’s termination.
The termination letter signed by the former city manager, Joe Carlini, 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.
The City thanks you for your many years of service to the City of Tulare.”
The reasoning for Hensley’s being placed on leave on September 27, 2017 has been speculated about since that day. According to Lampe’s latest letter, Carlini had told Hensley to look into the receipt of a dinner Mayor Carlton Jones had paid for with a city credit card. The receipt indicated a meal for three at Cattlemen’s Restaurant in Selma, with Corp. James Kelly, who is also the president of the Tulare Police Officer’s Union, plus one.
According to the letter, Lampe has sources other than Hensley, who were aware of the situation and heard a conversation between Carlini and Hensley.
“I have the f*****g Mayor committing fraud with the city credit card, what is next?” was a quote by Carlini within the letter.
According to various sources, Carlini later told Hensley to back off from looking into the incident. The mayor’s wife had come in and reimbursed the city for the dinner. At this point, it is still unclear as to who the mayor had paid for other than himself. Jones has also been quoted as having said, “So I bought my family dinner. What’s the big deal?”
If it was a legitimate city expense, as the mayor implied, then why was the city reimbursed by his wife?
Lampe also stated –
“Mayor Jones has repeatedly made public statements that he knows to be false, designed to negatively impact my client’s reputation, and violate both his privacy and due process rights”
“Shortly after Mr. Carlini fired Chief Hensley, and before he was fired as city manager later that day, Carlini admitted that he was being pressured to fire the chief.”
Retirement offered, then denied?
While it isn’t known at this time whether Hensley will receive the public hearing he desires, one thing that looks to be clear from this most recent letter, is that there was a negotiation of a retirement package for Hensley in the works before his termination.
“On March 20, your office was actively working on a retirement package for Chief Hensley in an effort to resolve this dispute, when the city manager suddenly (and we assume without your knowledge) sent an email to my office purporting to terminate Chief Hensley’s employment, knowing full well that he (Carlini) would be terminated later that day.”
What happened to pull the stops on this isn’t clear, however, with all of the work the city attorney and her staff are putting in following Hensley’s termination, and with the possibility of a future lawsuit, it would appear the Tulare could have gotten off with less expense by offering a retirement package to the former chief.
Tulare Capt. Fred Ynclan and Lt. Jerod Boatman were also placed on paid administrative leave on the first week of November last year, and have also been under investigation. Even though Hensley was fired, Ynclan and Boatman remain on leave. A public information request made on March 22 by the Voice, as to whether the investigation with regard to any or all three officers is still ongoing, has not yet been answered. To date, Ynclan and Boatman remain on paid administrative leave. Lt. Barry Jones has been serving as interim police chief since September 27 of last year.
Carlini, who was fired the same day as he terminated Hensley, was replaced for six-days by Interim City Manager Rob Hunt, who is the city’s community development director. He was subsequently replaced by the city’s fire chief, Willard Epps, on March 26.