LMUD board should answer ratepayers’ questions regarding its unanimous decision to settle Holley’s reported ‘civil rights claim’

Some Lassen Municipal Utility District customers are having a hard time wrapping their heads around the publicly owned utility district’s board of directors’ unanimous decision to settle what the district calls a “civil rights claim” filed by former General Manager Pat Holley in closed session Tuesday, July 25.

LMUD’s June 28 announcement of action taken in closed session reported Holley resigned, and it and made no mention of any draft severance package or a civil rights claim.

According to that statement, the board reported, “Pat Holley has resigned from his position as general manager of Lassen MUD in order to spend time with family and pursue other career opportunities. Mr. Holley’s last day as GM will be July 5, 2023.

“Board President, Fred Nagel, directed staff to begin the process of recruiting a replacement. An interim general manager will be named at a later date.

“Mr. Holley thanked the board for the opportunity to serve the district.”

According to Holley’s contract with LMUD, “Holley may terminate this agreement upon 60 days written notice of resignation presented to the president of the board. In such case, Holley shall not be entitled to any further compensation for the unexpired term of this agreement beyond the termination date set forth in Holley’s Notice of Resignation, nor shall Holley be entitled to any benefits or other programs which are not yet vested at the time of the effective date of such resignation.”

Responding to readers’ concerns that despite the board’s announcement regarding Holley’s retirement, they feared the LMUD board planned to offer him a severance package, Lassen News addressed those concerns. According to his contract, Holley would not receive a severance package because he had resigned.

But readers continued to press their concerns, so July 6, Lassen News asked Theresa Phillips, LMUD’s public relations manager, about a possible settlement for Holley. Phillips responded, “At this time, there is no information regarding a severance package. The only reportable action out of the closed session was the announcement that Pat was resigning to spend time with his family and pursue other career opportunities.”

Readers concerns about a possible severance package continued and remained unsatisfied, so later that day, Lassen News filed a California Public Records Act request for information about a possible severance package for Holley and a Notice of Resignation or the board’s Notice of Termination as appropriate.

On July 13, LMUD responded, “Any severance package is still in draft and is not available through a Public Records request,” and the two letters we requested do not exist.

What was that? A draft severance package is not available? Lassen News immediately filed a California Public Records Act request for that information when it becomes available.

Then LMUD’s agenda for the Tuesday, July 25, meeting included a closed session conference with legal counsel regarding “a potential civil rights claim from former general manager Pat Holley, who resigned his position at the publicly owned utility district June 28.”

Here is Holley’s statement, included on an intake form with the California Civil Rights Department
“During the selection process for a general manager in early 2021, I was under consideration and filed my application for the position. I filed this application based on my current experience and role at the time as assistant general manager for LMUD. Additionally, my background for the prior 15 years included positions as general manager for Greenleaf Power and business manager for Covanta Energy.

“While in discussions with the LMUD board of directors, one director said, ‘Why do we always get these managers who are in the “twilight of their careers?’” referring to my candidacy. A younger candidate who was the IT manager for LMUD had also filed his application for the position and was preferred by this director and two staff members who lobbied the board members on behalf of this younger candidate. I was selected as interim general manager in April 2021, and finally selected as general manager in June 2021.

“After this decision, there were comments from the younger candidate to board members regarding his intent to search for and find complaints and accusations against me. These activities have been ongoing since that time.

“Based on these allegations, the board of directors forced my resignation June 27, 2023 in order to replace me with a younger employee.”

Holley’s “civil rights claim” was included in the board packet for the July 25 meeting. It is, in fact, an “Intake Form/Employment” from the California Civil Rights Department that provides information mostly through a series of check boxes. Holley checked only five of the 76 boxes on the form (I allege that I have experienced discrimination; Age (40 and over); Asked impermissible non-job-related questions; Forced to quit; and Suspended).

It is not a “civil rights claim” as alleged on the agenda. It is not a subsequent complaint form from the state. It is not a lawsuit. It is simply an intake form — the first step a person must take in making a civil rights allegation against an employer.

According to calcivilrights.ca.gov, the state Civil Rights Department will “evaluate the allegations in the intake form and decide whether the laws that CRD enforces cover these allegations … If these laws cover your allegations, CRD will prepare a complaint form for your signature.

“When you return the signed complaint, it will be delivered to the person or entity that you believe discriminated against you (called the respondent).

“In most cases, the filing of a complaint does not mean that CRD has already determined whether there is reasonable cause to believe any laws have been violated. Instead, it means that CRD has preliminarily determined that the laws that the department enforces cover the complaint’s parties and allegations.”

If CRD delivered a signed complaint to LMUD, it has not yet been released to the public.

After closed session June 27, the LMUD board again reported action taken: ” The board unanimously agreed to a settlement agreement with former GM, Pat Holley. In doing so, Holley agreed to withdraw any present or future claims against the district.

“The settlement will equal 18 months of his salary at the time of his resignation, July 5, 2023. He will receive healthcare benefits equal to the benefits he was receiving prior to his resignation for up to 18 months or until he accepts other employment.

“The details of the settlement are in draft form but are expected to be finalized within the next 24 hours.”

That statement was made about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, and LMUD has not released the settlement at press time (about 4 p.m. Thursday, July 27).

So, ratepayers are left with many puzzling and unanswered questions about these latest developments at LMUD.

Did Holley resign as the board reported out of closed session June 25, or was he forced out because the board wanted to hire a younger general manager who for years has filed complaints and accusations against him, as Holley alleges? It’s difficult if not impossible to square these two versions of the very same event.

And what about the possible severance package announced July 13? The contemplation of a possible severance package never appeared on any agenda and was never reported to the public. When did the LMUD board authorize its attorney to negotiate a severance package for Holley? Why wasn’t that revealed to the public?

Ratepayers, who have recently endured several rate increases under Holley’s leadership, deserve an explanation of all the wherefores and whys of this settlement agreement that will cause them to pay Holley many hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next 18 months.