The Pine Cone's first story of the week

Previous Home Next

Guillen affair ends

- City council unanimously approves retirement agreement


Published: February 18, 2011

AFTER MONTHS of wrangling and controversy, the end came rather quietly.

At the conclusion of a brief closed session of the Carmel City Council Tuesday night, and with no more than 25 people in attendance, city attorney Don Freeman announced that city administrator Rich Guillen — whose tenure was marred by allegations of sexual harassment and workplace discrimination — would retire.

According to the agreement, Guillen will stay in office until March 31, or until a successor is named, whichever is earlier, and he’ll receive six months’ severance and health benefits from the date of his departure.

Guillen and the city also promised not to sue each other. And they agreed not to make any statements to the news media beyond the few words released Tuesday night.

The settlement, negotiated between city officials and Guillen over a period of several months, was approved unanimously after a motion by council members Ken Talmage and Paula Hazdovac, Freeman said. Both steps were seen as clear signs that even council members who had been on opposite sides of the Guillen controversy wanted to stand together to see it ended and start working on more pressing issues.

“I think a lot of people are looking forward to moving on,” said councilman Jason Burnett. “And I think we have an opportunity now to bring the community together — a community that has been somewhat divided.”

“We needed to get this over with so we can deal with important things that are right in front of us — things like the fire merger, the budget shortfall and the water shortage,” said Talmage.

Former councilmember Barbara Livingston, who unsuccessfully challenged Sue McCloud for mayor in 2004, was also conciliatory. “It’s time to put this whole sordid episode behind us and move on,” she told The Pine Cone.

Carolyn Hardy, a member of the board of directors of the Carmel Residents Association and a longtime political opponent of McCloud, said in a TV interview that “we all feel relieved” that the Guillen controversy is over. “It’s been hard to see this happening to our community.”

Former Mayor Charlotte Townsend also said she was “pleased that there’s finally been closure.” But she was one of the few who also took the opportunity to criticize the city’s handling of the Guillen controversy, calling it “incomprehensible that it had gone on so long.”

McCloud said she couldn’t comment on Guillen’s retirement beyond what was in the agreement with him and in the official press release announcing his departure. But she praised Guillen for his acumen in handling the city’s budget during tough economic times. “He’s kept us in an enviable position while he’s been here,” McCloud said. “Not only by managing things such as the refinancing of the Sunset Center bond, but by conservatively handling the taxpayers’ money.”

Hazdovac also said she couldn’t comment on the settlement or how it was reached. But she thanked Guillen for having an “open door” policy as city administrator and for ”always being available to councilmembers as well as the public” and for being “quite visible at public events around town.” And she said he “saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars annually through thoughtful reorganization within our city government, which has been instrumental in getting our city through the recent tough economic times.”

Choosing a successor

Almost as soon as Guillen’s retirement was announced, city officials began discussing the best way to pick the city’s next administrator — a process which takes on some urgency, since a new budget has to be approved by the end of June.

According to McCloud, a special council session to get things moving will probably be held Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We want to make sure everything is done as quickly and smoothly as possible,” McCloud said. “We’re right in the middle of the budget process, which makes it urgent that we have a team that works together.”

“There are many important issues facing our city at this time, and I feel confident that the city council and staff will  work diligently to move forward during this time of transition,” Hazdovac said.
Carmel Chamber of Commerce CEO Monta Potter said she was “looking forward to working with whoever is selected as the new city administrator.”

And Livingston said she wanted the council to “begin the search for the right person, man or woman, who can bring our village back to the golden age it achieved under [former] city administrator Doug Schmitz and assistant administrator Greg D’Ambrosio.”

But Burnett said that could take awhile.

“My preference is that we find someone on a temporary or interim basis,” he said. “A search for a city administrator could take four or even six months,” he said, including soliciting public input, hiring a consulting firm to identify candidates, having them meet with various interested groups within the city, and then having the council make the final selection.

“The city needs to make decisions on things that have long-term consequences,” Talmage offered, explaining the urgency of having a city administrator who isn’t distracted by controversy.

In addition to the future of the fire department, the ongoing water shortage and various other issues, “the ‘new normal’ shows that we’re running a deficit of $1 million to $1.5 million when you include the money we should be spending on capital projects, and we need to deal with that,” Talmage said.

Long career in public sector

Guillen began his government career as a land development supervisor with Placer County, where he worked nine years. Later, he was public works director for Auburn, and then public works director and interim city administrator for Seaside.

After the departure of Jere Kersnar, Carmel hired Guillen as city administrator on an interim basis in October 2000 and then gave the job permanently in December 2000 amid glowing reviews of his job performance and easy-going style.

But in early 2008, Pine Cone reporter Mary Brownfield began to hear rumblings that Guillen was about to be the subject of a sexual harassment complaint by someone who worked at city hall. Later, a source identified the complainant as Jane Miller — a surprise since, as human resources manager, she would be the official in charge of preventing sexual harassment and making sure anyone who was victimized by it had a readily available path for getting the harassment to stop.

But Miller didn’t say a word publicly or even raise the issue of Guillen’s behavior with other city officials before hiring Monterey attorney Michael Stamp and filing a formal complaint with the city in May 2008, claiming that Guillen had flirted with her for years and tried to eliminate her job when she didn’t return the attention. Meanwhile, he promoted employees he was attracted to and got rid of those he didn’t like, Miller claimed. The alleged harassment and hostile workplace environment caused her so much “work-related stress and depression” she was forced to go on medical leave, she alleged.

Soon after it received her complaint, the city hired the law firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore to investigate it — an investigation Miller refused to cooperate with. In February 2009, after interviewing numerous city employees, the law firm concluded Miller’s allegations were “not substantiated.”

Four months later, Miller sued the city (but not Guillen), asking for compensation for lost wages, physical and emotional injuries and attorney’s fees.

“Guillen intimidated the plaintiff at work, and she believed she had no adequate or effective remedy to address Guillen’s conduct,” the suit said. “The plaintiff reasonably believed that if she challenged Guillen for his conduct and statements, her position and professional status would be injured, her career would be jeopardized, and she would lose all or part of her salary and benefits.”

The city was barred from discussing the case, due to state laws protecting the privacy of municipal employees. But behind the scenes, what Stamp called “months of discussions that were very protracted and very difficult” were under way, resulting in the city and Miller settling her suit in July 2010. Without admitting any wrongdoing, Carmel and its insurance company paid Miller $600,000 in exchange for her dropping all further legal action against the city.

But the city, apparently satisfied with the results of the law firm’s investigation clearing him of any wrongdoing, let Guillen keep his job. Perhaps wanting to see him fired, just a few weeks after receiving her $600,000 settlement, Miller went on a public relations offensive, releasing numerous emails to the Monterey County Herald and Monterey County Weekly that Guillen had sent her while she worked at city hall, including ones in which he told her he adored her and complimented her appearance.

“I know it embarrasses you to know this, but I liked you from the day I met you, always have and always will,” Guillen emailed Miller in July 2006. “I think about you all the time and I’m always hopeful that you’re happy every wakening moment.”

Guillen said nothing about the release of the embarrassing emails, and the city continued to maintain its legally required silence about the entire situation. That left Miller and Stamp alone to comment to the public. Based on their version of the events, the news media began to refer to Carmel as “Peyton Place.”

In August 2010, citing the distraction which the city administrator’s problems posed for the city, but also raising serious questions about Miller’s credibility, The Carmel Pine Cone printed an editorial calling for Guillen’s resignation.

In September 2010, the city council held a closed session to discuss terminating him, but that idea reportedly failed on a 3-2 vote.

In November 2010, Burnett and Talmage published a commentary in the Herald calling on Guillen to resign. But still he stayed in his job.

Then, at a city council meeting Feb. 1, Burnett pressured Freeman to release the results of the September 2010 closed session. And he asked for another closed session to try to resolve the Guillen controversy once and for all.

That closed session was scheduled for Feb. 15 in a downstairs conference room at city hall. When it happened, it concluded with the announcement that Guillen would soon be gone.
Businessman Chris Tescher said he would miss Guillen. “He was always amiable and sincere, and being from the area, he understood the culture of Carmel, which is important for any city manager.”

Tescher said. “I had a lot of dealings with him, and he was always accessible and attentive, and he liked to solve problems. Even when we disagreed, he was never disagreeable.”