By Anne Lowe

OPEN GOVERNMENT – A proposed lawsuit settlement between the City of Tulare and several of its residents has resulted in the resignation of the vice mayor and would also require that city officials admit violations of California open government laws.

Three lawsuits filed by attorney Michael Lampe claim Vice Mayor Phil Vandegrift and another council member violated California's election laws, the Brown Act and the Public Records Act, the Visalia Times-Delta reports:

In a prepared statement, Vandegrift wrote:

“In order to achieve global settlement for all, all had to give something to move our community forward and start the healing for our council and community. I found it necessary to do my part and only want what’s best for Tulare and all the wonderful people I had the pleasure to work with and serve.”

Visalia-based attorney Michael Lampe, who filed the lawsuits, said the vice mayor made a tough choice.

“This was no doubt a difficult decision for the vice mayor, but his resignation was in the best interest of both himself and the citizens of Tulare,” Lampe said.

Mayor Craig Vejvoda lamented Vandegrift’s resignation.

“It’s a sad day for Tulare,” he said. “Phil has been a tremendous community servant for 40 years. I will miss him on the Tulare City Council. He has been an active, positive force for most of the citizens of Tulare.”

According to the lawsuit, Vandegrift received $200,000 from a land transaction the city paid to a developer, part of a $5.2 million deal. As part of the lawsuit settlement agreement, Vandegrift resigned but did not admit any wrongdoing.

Also, part of the settlement calls for city officials to admit violations of the Brown Act, also known as California’s open meeting law, and the Public Records Act, Lampe said.

According to an earlier report in the Times-Delta,

Brown Act violations occurred when council members twice met in closed session to discuss hostile work environment complaints made by Tulare City Manager Darrel Pyle against Councilman Wayne Ross, the lawsuit claims. Ross and fellow councilman David Macedo, also named in Pyle’s complaint, were asked to leave the closed session prior to the April 20 and May 18 council meetings, the lawsuit claims.

The rest of the closed session meetings, according to the lawsuit, were held in violation of the Brown Act because:

•The description for the items to be discussed didn’t comply with the law’s guidelines.

•There were no existing facts and circumstances to justify the holding of a closed session.

•There was no reasonable legal advice given about significant exposure to litigation against the city.