Monday, March 26, 2007

Q-and-A: The Mayor On The McNeilly Settlement

The mayor sends the deal to council

Here's a question-and-answer session with Mayor Ravenstahl on the city's planned deal to end Commander Catherine McNeilly's Whistleblower/First Amendment lawsuit. (You can see video of my Channel 4 Action News story here.) I joined in an interview by KQV's Elaine Effort that was already under way. The mayor was answering her question about what he had learned from dealing this case.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: It was a decision that the chief made that he felt was appropriate at the time, when the initial investigation was completed and I supported him in that endeavor. As we know now, the judge and the court felt differently. And we respect that, and have moved on, and felt this was in the best interest of everybody to move forward from this point.

Q: Have you signed off on a settlement with Commander Catherine McNeilly?

A: We've introduced legislation to council, yes, to settle the McNeilly case.

Q: It's reported that includes--according to a published report--a mayoral acknowledgment city employees have free speech rights. What exactly do you acknowledge, and how is that different from where we had been before?

A: All the specifics will be discussed once the legislation is introduced to council tomorrow. and I felt more than comfortable making that statement because I believe in it. And as far as I'm concerned every employee has the right--I've said this from the beginning--has the right to voice their opinion on anything related to city government and I fully support that.

Q: Was Catherine McNeilly a whistleblower in this case?

A: Well, once again we've--the case has been well-documented. We've determined at this point that the chief made a decision, the court felt differently. and it was in the best interest of the residents of the city and the taxpayers, it was in my interest, not to line--further line--the pockets of attorneys and pile up legal fees at the expense of taxpayers. So we felt it was fiscally prudent to settle this case and move on.

Q: To clarify, in addition to the settlement with Commander McNeilly, is there going to be a second phase--a second hit to taxpayers for this? Legal bills for her attorneys, separate from the settlement with her?

A: Well, we will-- sure, there will be legal fees associated as well. And it's my understanding that will take place sometime later, separate from this settlement that we have here today.

Q: Why do it in two parts?

A: I believe that's a question the attorneys can probably better answer than I. There are legal questions that--in terms of what those fees are--and we need to make sure that we are paying for only the fees that were encumbered. And we want to make sure that we do so in a very thorough manner, without simply agreeing to a number without having some third party or third entity come in and take a look at what's appropriate.

Q: What's different as we stand here today than back in January, right after the judge granted her that initial ruling in her favor? What's different that has changed your mind?

A: I don't know that anything's changed my mind. When you have and receive a judgement from a judge and she made it quite clear that it looked as if the commander would be successful in this trial, and had to make a decision. And like I said, it's more important for me to protect the financial interest of the residents and the taxpayers of the city, and not simply line the pockets of an attorney, and that's what we made a decision to do. We respected the judge's decision. I've said that then, and I'll say that now, and we look forward to moving forward.

Q: Wouldn't that suggest, though, that you didn't think the city's case was going to hold up? I mean, because you wouldn't have had to pay her attorneys' fees if you had won.

A: Well, we--the chief made a decision based on a rule that was broken. The judge clarified and felt differently, and we said then we respected that opinion, and we're moving on and we'll go from there.

Q: Do you have to have the judge sign off on this? Do you take this agreement into court?

A: I believe that has already taken place.

Q: She's already signed off?

A: I believe that she's been involved in the entire process to this point.

Q: Is it likely that what the city may pay in legal bills, apart from the settlement with her, may be that much and more?

A: I can't speculate on that at this point. I really don't know.

Q: Would it be less than a million or more than a million?

A: No, it will be far less than a million dollars.

Q: Will it be another hundred-thousand?

A: I don't know. I really don't know.


Bob Mayo said...

An e-mail in response to this post questioned the basis for City Council discussing the McNeilly settlement only in executive session.

Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law says:

"Section 708. Executive sessions"
"(a) Purpose. An agency may hold an executive session for one or more of the following reasons:"
"....(4) To consult with its attorney or other professional advisor regarding information or strategy in connection with litigation ..."

However it also says:

"(c) Limitation. ".... "Nothing in this section or section 707 (relating to exceptions to open meetings) shall be construed to require that any meeting be closed to the public....."

As they did in the case of the Eggleton settlement, council will probably meet privately with city solicitors and attempt to limit council discussion to what takes place during that meeting.

Judge Rufus Peckham said...

I am astounded that the only parties that the mayor paints with a negative brush are the attorneys whose "pockets" he doesn't want to "line." I am equally astounded he's not in any way responsible because he merely supported the chief, who made the actual decision. Nobody was at fault, everybody is to be respected, it was just one of those things, and NO LESSONS HAVE BEEN LEARNED. Or, the only lesson is that the greedy lawyers should not have their pockets lined. Ah, first of all, Mr. Mayor, instead of settling, have you ever heard of "principle"? Alright, if you know you're going to lose, then I agree, settle. But here's the lesson: If you ever want to avoid lining the pockets of the attorneys, don't support stupid decisions just because someone older with whom you are allied wants to do it. The lesson is that you need to be your own man, and think for yourself.