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Council sent letters about ouster of Morris, Noyola

Letters detailing the circumstances surrounding the ouster of Boulder City’s former city attorney and city manager were delivered to the mayor and council members late last month.

They were sent, according to the letter from former City Attorney Steve Morris, after the “last remaining impediments to resolving” the lawsuits filed against the city by the two men “have been removed from office, namely former Mayor Kiernan McManus and former Councilman James Howard Adams.”

Both letters, which the Boulder City Review received copies of through Freedom of Information Act requests, highlighted what the two former employees called retaliatory, wrongful termination, as well as harassment and discrimination.

In addition to providing details about the Oct. 13, 2020, firings and events before and after that council meeting, Morris and former City Manager Al Noyola sought financial compensation such as back pay, and stated they were willing to accept their former positions if they were offered.

When contacted for a comment about the letters, Mayor Joe Hardy and other council members said they could not speak about ongoing litigation.

In his letter Morris wrote that unless the current council intervenes, the case will continue “at even greater cost to the city. … Currently, the total damages I am seeking against the city are in excess of $2,500,000.”

He called on the current council to “correct past wrongs” and “reconcile the injustice and breach (of contract) that has gone on now for over two years.”

Additionally, Morris’ letter brought to their attention the fact that McManus seemed to have “unilaterally made the decision to cancel” a settlement conference scheduled for Sept. 10, 2021.

“I say this because I know that decision didn’t include three members of the then City Council, namely Sherri Jorgensen, Matt Fox and Claudia Bridges. … Clearly, certain members of the Council were not receiving critical information surrounding this litigation.”

He continued that “it was unconscionable for Mayor McManus, who has been accused of harassment, retaliation, creating and fostering a hostile work environment and discrimination, to continue his harassment and retaliation by dictating the procedure with respect to this action.”

Similar case

Both letters also referenced the case involving Jesus Jara, superintendent of Clark County School District, who was represented by Bailey Kennedy, the Las Vegas legal firm McManus arranged the city hire to defend it in the lawsuits filed by Morris and Noyola.

“… they clearly took the exact opposite position when representing this employee,” Noyola wrote. “They demanded Mr. Jara be paid his severance … and an additional $2,000,000 for future loss of income, benefits … What is clearly different in this case from ours is the Board of Trustees, recognizing the legal peril they faced, quickly reversed course and reinstated Dr. Jara.

“This didn’t happen here because of the animus the council had toward Mr. Morris and me,” he continued.

Morris noted that in its demand letter to the school district Bailey Kennedy pointed out that “the Contract does not require Dr. Jara to release claims against the District” to receive his severance but did seek to have his and Noyola’s claims released for less than the required severance payments. He also wrote that the “alleged actions by Bailey Kennedy of ‘harassment, retaliation and hostile work environment’ in the Jara matter, pale in comparison to those they are defending against former Mayor McManus and former Councilmember (Tracy) Folda.”

Neither of the former employees were paid severance when they were terminated. Morris would have received $259,458.15 and Noyola would have received $234,613.97.

An offer by the city in June 2021 to settle the cases — $270,000 for Morris including attorney fees, costs, expenses and interest and $290,000 for Noyola — expired with no response from the former employees.

As of this month, Bailey Kennedy, the Las Vegas-based legal firm hired to defend the city in this matter, has been paid more than $337,000.

‘Limited scope’

In addition to other details about the case, Morris pointed out that only a “limited scope” regarding an open meeting law violation and a possible Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation are being considered at this time.

“Your attorneys will likely tell you that the city is winning that battle while completely and foolishly ignoring the mountain of evidence supporting our claims for breach of contract, harassment, retaliation and discrimination,” he wrote.

Noyola also detailed potential conflicts of interest for the current City Attorney Brittany Walker and current City Manager Taylour Tedder. Because there is the possibility that he and Morris could be awarded their jobs back, neither should be providing advice that could negatively impact their employment.

He and Morris also questioned Walker’s involvement in their termination, believing that she was part of the efforts to have them removed from office, and wrote that she may have been hired in a “quid pro quo” arrangement between McManus and Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom for his “intervention” with the attorney general’s office in an open meeting law complaint. Walker, who was at the Oct. 13, 2020, meeting was publicly endorsed for the city attorney position by Segerblom.

Both also mentioned that City Council has the authority to conduct an independent investigation into the events and circumstances surrounding their terminations.

“Only then can one really understand the magnitude of what happened,” Noyola wrote.

Hali Bernstein Saylor is editor of the Boulder City Review. She can be reached at hsaylor@bouldercityreview.com or at 702-586-9523. Follow @HalisComment on Twitter.

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