A lack of transparency and a murky settlement agreement with Atascadero’s former police chief led the San Luis Obispo County Civil grand jury to conclude that the city needs to revise its disclosure policy.
The report, titled “What Was the Deal Between the City of Atascadero and the Former Chief of Police?” was released June 23. Though the grand jury concluded the city didn’t break any laws in dismissing former chief Jim Mulhall, the city wasn’t forthcoming with information regarding Mulhall’s settlement agreement.
Mulhall, 58, had been with the Atascadero Police Department for four years when he suddenly stepped down, claiming he was “taking a break” from his career in law enforcement to spend more time with family. City Manager Wade McKinney accepted Mulhall’s resignation Jan. 7.
However, the grand jury found that the city’s announcement of Mulhall’s dismissal omitted the fact that the city offered the outgoing chief a settlement agreement of $126,000. Furthermore, the hush-hush nature by which Mulhall was let go subjected the city to media and community complaints about a lack of transparency.
Though the jury didn’t disclose the reason behind Mulhall’s resignation, members questioned whether it was a “disguised termination for cause.”
If Mulhall had actually resigned, he would have only been paid for his accrued benefits, and wouldn’t have been entitled to any form of settlement, according to the report. Instead, Mulhall received the settlement amount in exchange for a written agreement not to sue the city.
Despite the lingering uncertainty, the jury stated it was “satisfied” that the mutual agreement between Mulhall and the city was fair. It did, however, recommend that the city should “review and consider an appropriate revision to the process by which its personnel decisions are disclosed to the public.”
By law, city governments aren’t required to disclose information related to personnel decisions.
Civil grand jury reports aren’t legally binding, but are meant to inform the public on matters related to local government. However, the City of Atascadero is required to respond to the report’s findings and recommendations by Sept. 14.