City, two fired police officers agree to mediation

The city of Susanville and two former veteran police officers — Michael Bollinger and Matt Wood — appear headed for mediation to resolve their dispute, and the city will pay all the costs.

According to an email chain between the city’s attorney, the former officers’ attorney and one of the former officers obtained by the newspaper, the mediation could take place in the next month or so.

Michael J. Christian, the city’s attorney, sent an email to Steven W. Welty, the former officers’ attorney, confirming the “confidential settlement communication.”

He wrote, “Steven: The city is still in agreement to mediate. The city will pay the full cost with the understanding your clients will participate in good faith.

“I would like to use retired judge Hurl Johnson. I think he would do a good job and has more availability than many, so we can get him scheduled quickly. He can travel to Sacramento, and we could use my office.

“Please confirm you have no objection to using Judge Johnson and then my assistant can circulate proposed dates today.”

Welty sent an email to one of the former officers: “The city is willing to go to mediation at their cost. I would recommend doing it and see what they put on the table. You can always say no. It would be in Sacramento, so you have to make a day out of it. Let me know.”

Bollinger responded, “I will follow your advice. Any idea of when this would take place?”

Welty sent an answer: “The sooner the better. I would like it to be in the next three or four weeks. Can you compile some numbers and supporting doc(ument)s (check stubs/MOU), outline your lost wages and benefits (include specialty pays, uniform allowance, but not overtime, include employer medical contribution and PERS contribution. I can figure out the interest.”

 

Background

The city fired the two officers for their conduct following the hiring of John King, the city’s former chief of police back in 2017. The officers then went to Lassen Superior Court seeking a writ of mandate, and Candace Beason, a visiting Lassen County Superior Court Judge, issued her opinion on the case and sent it back to the city council to reconsider the matter after reading her comments.

“The court finds that Wood and Bollinger exercised a legal right when they individually filed grievances to the hiring process to fill the position of Susanville Police Chief,” Beason wrote. “There is no evidence in the record to establish a malicious intent in filing the grievances or the police report to document the unauthorized use of Wood’s signature to obtain confidential information. The Susanville City Council’s factual findings demonstrate an imputation of malice to both petitioners that taints the findings of misconduct and the decision to terminate petitioners’ employment.”

“The city was aware that the court was going to remand these cases to the city council for reconsideration, and has been awaiting that action,” said Mike Wilson, Susanville’s city administrator in August 2019. “These matters will be placed on a closed session agenda in late August or early September for further review by the councilmembers who originally heard the disciplinary appeals. As this remains a personnel matter, further comment at this time would be inappropriate.”

The council has discussed the matter in closed session several times since August, but it has not taken any reportable action.