Letter accuses former city manager of alleged sexual misconduct

Geoff Dolan
Former Manhattan Beach city manager Geoff Dolan.
Geoff Dolan

Former Manhattan Beach city manager Geoff Dolan.

An anonymous letter released Monday alleges that former city manager Geoff Dolan engaged in sexual harassment during a city team building retreat in October 2009. The letter was sent to city officials shortly after the alleged misconduct. Dolan resigned two months later.

After a special closed session City Council meeting Tuesday, an “open letter” to residents signed by the mayor and all four council members was released, acknowledging that the city received a letter accusing Dolan of improper actions and apologizing for being “reluctant to be forthright” with the community in the 15 months since his departure.

“In retrospect, we were given legal advice previously that was based on concern for Mr. Dolan’s privacy to the detriment of the community’s legitimate interest in knowing why we, as a Council, made that decision,” the open letter stated. “We hope that you will forgive us for relying on legal advice that resulted in our silence.”

Also scheduled on Tuesday’s agenda was a public employee performance evaluation of city attorney Robert Wadden.

Questions surrounding the legitimacy of Dolan’s departure and $195,000 severance – to be paid, according to his contract, only in the event of his “involuntary separation” — have given residents and watchdogs concern for more than a year. The council had repeatedly declined to discuss the reason for his resignation.

The open letter states the city asked for Dolan’s resignation and that the decision ultimately hinged on matters other than accusations made in the anonymous letter.

Court documents indicate that Wadden received the undated, anonymous letter Nov. 11, 2009. The letter’s author, who is referred to only as a “citizen and taxpayer,” indicated that she or he was not present at the time of the events described in the letter and heard about them from sources who were not involved in the incident.

According to the anonymous letter, Dolan and the city’s department heads attended a team building event along the Central Coast where Dolan allegedly instigated “inappropriate” and “unwelcomed touching, which may border on a sexual assault.”  It goes on to say that the group met at a restaurant for dinner, where Dolan became drunk to the point of disturbing other customers.

“On the drive back, Mr. Dolan was in the back seat with one of the other department heads and this is where the unwelcome ‘touching’ took place. This person had to ask Mr. Dolan to stop,” reads the anonymous letter, which also says that the incident was witnessed by other city employees.

The letter alleges that Dolan continued to “entice” the person when the group arrived back at their hotel and that he made “several phone calls to rooms, pounding on walls and yelling in the hallways.” According to the letter, some employees were so disturbed by the incident, they returned home a day early.

No names other than Dolan’s are mentioned in the letter.

A source said that no city employee has come forward to confirm the incident described in the anonymous letter. According to the source, none of the employees present on the trip supported claims made in the letter.

“They all said nothing happened,” the source said.

The source went on to say that Dolan became defensive when questioned about the letter and his “tone changed” and he “started rebelling” when the council imposed tighter restrictions on him. In the wake of the letter and subsequent investigation, according to the source, Dolan started implying that it might be time for the city to get a new manager. Even prior to the letter coming to council, it was rumored that Dolan had applied for city manager positions with the cities of Irvine and Beverly Hills, the source said.

Dolan could not be reached for comment.

No sexual harassment claim has been filed against Dolan since the team building event, according to attorney Christi Hogin, whom the city retained last month as outside legal counsel in a lawsuit filed by Richard McKee, of the watchdog group Californians Aware, in April.

McKee claimed the city did not provide proper public notice for a December 2009 closed session council meeting at which Dolan’s departure was decided and Community Development Director Richard Thompson was appointed as his interim replacement. McKee filed the lawsuit after the city – represented in the case until last month by Wadden — continually denied his requests to see documents he said should be public, such as Dolan’s separation agreement and the anonymous letter.

The City Council voted last week in a closed session to settle the lawsuit, admitting its mistake in not properly noticing meetings, as well as agreeing to pay $70,000 in McKee’s lawyer fees and release the anonymous letter.

According to the open letter released this week, the council, with the advice of a labor lawyer, began an investigation into the employee retreat shortly after receiving the anonymous letter. The investigation led to a broader discussion of Dolan’s performance.

“For varying reasons independent of the incident investigated in response to the anonymous letter, each of us felt at the time that the city would benefit from a new direction in management of City Hall,” the council letter states.

Without the required council votes to remove Dolan, the City Council asked for his resignation.

Hogin said it’s common for councils to ask for employee resignations and that legally, Dolan was still entitled to the severance package he received.

“The choice wasn’t Dolan’s,” Hogin said. “It’s not uncommon to do it this way for cooperation and a smooth transition.”

Citing personnel issues, Hogin said she was unable to comment on the results of the city’s investigation into the incident. Harassment training for city managers is held every two years, with new managers training within six months of their hiring date.

The privacy to which city employees are entitled regarding personnel matters must be weighed against the public’s right to know, Hogin said.

“It is reduced for top-level public officials as compared to rank and file employees, so there is a greater public interest in how [a city manager] is doing his job,” Hogin said. “I think in retrospect, the City Council realizes that the advice they were given was much more for Dolan’s concern for privacy over the public’s right to know.”

Hogin said that the separation agreement between Dolan and the city should have been made public sooner.

“I’m glad that this whole McKee case is over and that we learned from the mistake we made,” said Mayor Richard Montgomery. “Now it’s about going back to what council should be doing, which is dealing with budget and labor negotiations.”

A special closed session was tentatively scheduled for Friday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. at City Council Chambers. For more information, visit www.citymb.info. ER

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