Santa Ana City Council Give Away May Violate Constitution


Santa Ana Dumps More Money Down the Drain

In an action that may well violate the California Constitution, the City Council of the City of Santa Ana gave former City Attorney Joseph Fletcher more than $330,000 from the city when he stepped down last week, even though they were under no apparent contractual obligation to do so.  The payout includes $142,080 from a severance deal he negotiated last month with the City Council. But it also includes $191,699 in cashed-out vacation and sick time, according to figures released by the city. That brings the total to $333,779.  Mr. Fletcher’s contract called for an appproximately $280,000 payout in the event that he was fired, but Mr. Fletcher had indicated his intent to resign several months ago and both parties concluded that this “give away” (my words, not theirs) was done at the end of a voluntary departure.  In addition, and perhaps even more troubling, his contract allowed him to accrue vacation as if he were hired nearly 13 years earlier than he really was – another give away at the beginning of his tenure.

Article 16, Section 6, of the California Constitution provides that no city can make a gift of public funds to any individual.  Afterall, it is the taxpayers’ money, not the City Council’s.  Giving someone money without a legal obligation, as appears to be the case in Santa Ana, is a violation of the California Constitution.

In the private sector, it is all about making a profit and acting in the best interests of the company’s owners whether it be shareholders or individuals.  While controversial, giving out “golden parachutes” to departing executives is done to encourage top notch recruitment of replacements, to reward executives whose hard work and positive results leads to a buyout of the company or to reduce liability for an abrupt departure – in other words, the “golden parachute” is a substitute for job security. 

In the public sector, decisions are supposed to be made in the best interest of the public and obviously profit is not a factor.  Unless a right is properly created through a legal contractual provision, bonuses and other rewards cannot be given without violating the California Constitution.

I have only had the briefest encounters with Mr. Fletcher and his office and barely know the man.  This is not personal.  He may well have done a great job and deserve a number of pats on the back.  However, that does not excuse the potentially illegal give away of more than a third of a million dollars.  This should become another poster child for lack of local governmental accountability.

For more on this abuse of local power see:

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