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Media Coverage
Johnson Says He Won't Sue Richmond
December 4, 1997




Thursday, December 4, 1997
Section: news
Page: A03
Scott Andrews 

RICHMOND City Manager Floyd Johnson, who is being forced out of his job by the City Council, said Tuesday that he will not file a lawsuit against Richmond. 

Johnson's decision may calm the fears of the nine-member council, which met Nov. 21 in closed session to discuss the possibility that Johnson's dismissal might have to be settled in court. 

Councilman Alex Evans, the chairman of a committee negotiating Johnson's departure, discussed the possibility of legal action with Johnson on Tuesday. Evans said the administrator's announcement did not come as a surprise. 

"I believed that Floyd would act professionally and that we would resolve this in a manner that would allow all of us to get on with our lives and our duties," Evans said. 

Johnson has served as the city's top executive since January 1994. For the past two months, council members have been openly critical of him, saying he does not work efficiently and does not respond promptly to council members' inquiries. On Nov. 19, a five-member majority decided not to renew his contract when it expires Jan. 9. 

People angry over the decision are campaigning to remove four of Johnson's council opponents from office. 

Despite Johnson's announcement that he will not sue, there is still a possibility that the council decision will face a legal challenge. 

George Harris III, a lawyer and a leader in the recall effort, repeated his plans Tuesday to research a possible lawsuit over the council's alleged violation of state open-meeting laws. He announced the plan last week. 

City lawyers had feared that Johnson might sue if public criticism of his performance damaged his chances to get another job, according to two council members. But three of the five members who voted to oust Johnson Tom Butt, Evans and Nat Bates bucked the attorneys' advice and listed their criticisms. 

Last week, before that criticism came out, Johnson said he had not yet considered a lawsuit. But Johnson appeared to be leaving open the possibility that he would consider future legal action. 

A second possible basis of a lawsuit is that the council did not properly give notice that it would consider dismissing Johnson during a meeting Nov. 18 and 19, thus violating state open-meeting laws. 

The council agenda for that meeting listed a "performance evaluation" of Johnson. 

Because a majority of council members apparently intended to dismiss Johnson at the meeting, a judge might rule that the topic should have been listed on the agenda as "discipline, dismissal or release" rather than as a "performance evaluation," said Terry Francke, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition. The nonprofit corporation works to bolster state open-meeting laws. 

But even such a judicial ruling would be unlikely to overturn the council's decision, since the council later met openly to discuss non-renewal of Johnson's contract and heard public comment then, Francke said. 

Some of the public comment at that meeting was critical of council members for voting to dismiss Johnson but not explaining their reasons to the public.