|City Attorney Kept
Suit Offer From Council
September 25, 1998
Richmond official criticized as
having conflict of interest
Suzanne Espinosa Solis, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 1998
A former Richmond city official who says he was pressured to quit after uncovering mismanagement has demanded his job back in exchange for dropping plans to file a multimillion-dollar discrimination suit against the city.
But the settlement proposal, offered by former Recreation Director Brad Baxter in a nine-page letter that was faxed on September 4 to City Attorney Malcolm Hunter, never reached the Richmond City Council.
``I didn't know there was (a settlement offer),'' commented Councilman Tom Butt when asked yesterday whether he had reviewed a copy of Baxter's settlement proposal. ``I'm really getting upset about the council not being told about this stuff.''
Hunter and Assistant City Attorney Wayne Mishioka could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Others, however, criticized Hunter's potential conflict of interest in the Baxter case because Hunter's wife, Bette, once worked for Baxter, who quit July 17 in a controversy that has prompted a continuing a criminal investigation by Richmond police and the Contra Costa district attorney's office into financial management of the city's convention center.
``Malcolm Hunter's wife is a key figure in all this,'' said Baxter's lawyer, Nancy Balles. ``It's astounding, given his conflict of interest in this case. I'd think he would immediately refer this thing out of the office or else he's leaving himself open to a lot of questions.''
Balles said the letter specifies an instance in which Baxter says he was forced to destroy a disciplinary document in Bette Hunter's personnel file -- upon orders from the city attorney's office led by Hunter's husband.
The proposal, written by Balles on Baxter's behalf, asks for his job back, compensation for lost wages since his July 17 departure, and an unspecified payment for damage to Baxter's reputation. One source said that payment amounts to $300,000.
The letter, which Balles refused to release, also describes specific reasons, or causes of action, that illustrate the discrimination case Baxter plans to file against the city.
Balles sent a second copy of the letter directly to the city clerk's office Tuesday when she suspected that the council had not been informed of the settlement offer.
The council must review and approve any legal settlements made by the city, and the city attorney's office typically informs the council of potential litigation and settlement offers.
Butt said he suspects material, such as the settlement offer, is not being promptly turned over to the council by various members of the city staff who are scrambling around ``to find out how they can cover their asses.''
``Virtually the entire council has made it clear that Malcolm Hunter and his office has a conflict of interest and should not be involved in this stuff,'' Butt said.
Thus far, Deputy District Attorney Jim Sepulveda has said that no evidence of criminal wrongdoing has been uncovered. Other pending investigations into improprieties are headed by the Contra Costa grand jury, a retired Internal Revenue Service auditor, and Don Casimere, the city's investigative and appeals officer.
City officials say Baxter quit after they found he had lied on his resume, an assertion Baxter denies.