Sometimes, audacity knows no bounds.
And those bounds get stretched even further when the nearly-limitless pool of taxpayer funds can be drained away from their intended purpose to help prop up the egos of those holding the purse strings.
By Rene Amy
A recently-released confidential and privileged report (click to read report) demonstrates that such was the case with the dispute between the board of trustees of the Altadena Library District (ALD) and the former Library Director, Mindy Kittay.
The release of this report follows up on the release of a separate confidential investigative report that completely vindicated Ms. Kittay of any legal wrongdoing.
This all came about because Ms. Kittay pointed out that the board had engaged in repeated violations of California’s open-meeting law (known as the Brown Act). Instead of complying with the law, members of the library board became increasingly hostile, and engaged in further illegal behavior.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal billings without any public oversight
Ms. Kittay eventually alleged several aspects of workplace mistreatment and harassment – sufficient to warrant a high-five-figure workers compensation payout for mental damages done to Ms. Kittay by the board’s untenable actions.
But the ALD board, rather than acknowledging their mistakes and allowing Ms. Kittay to work, ordered her away and paid her to stay away, and let loose their attorneys in a massive – and ultimately unsuccessful – effort to discredit her allegations.
In the process, the ALD board let newly-hired attorneys from Best Best & Kreiger (BB&K) rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal billings without any public oversight or comment.
Another law firm hired to do some digging
Back in the shadows, BB&K hired another law firm to do some digging, and dig the firm did – sufficiently to create an 85-page summary of findings from 113 exhibits, including transcripts of conversations with those board members who would speak to them (one refused) – enough to fill an old-fashioned banker’s box.
Sure, the report reads like a hit piece on Ms. Kittay – because that’s precisely what it is.
It’ll come as no surprise that the hired-gun Century-City law firm found that Ms. Kittay’s allegations were “more likely than not” not provable in a court of law. After all, the public purse is wide and deep, and billable hours can be a law firm’s best friend – and a long, protracted trial would be very beneficial to BB&K, who’d get paid win, lose, or draw.
The huge – and expensive – report ultimately had no impact on the situation, as a settlement was negotiated with the assistance of the ALD’s insurance company. Anyone who has ever dealt with an insurance company knows that they don’t tend to just hand out money willy-nilly, and that they tend to put up a very hard fight indeed – in large part to prevent future frivolous claims. Insurance companies buy up vast amounts of attorney time and are often quite happy to be taken to court.
Eventually, Ms. Kittay, and her attorney, Dale Gronemeier, included a requirement in the settlement agreement (that all of the ALD board members and the lawyers involved signed) that caused the release of the investigative reports to the public.
A complete waste of funds
As a result, the public can now see a report that was a complete waste of funds intended to benefit the patrons – young and old – of our beloved local public library
So, in addition to hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out to attorneys, the ALD paid out nearly $200,000 itself for the damage done to Ms. Kittay. Their insurance company paid out more than $300,000.
“More likely than not” the ALD board wasted a vast amount of taxpayer resources in a desperate attempt to shore up their own egos. The board has since acknowledged that the Brown Act was violated numerous times, and attorneys from BB&K now provide additional training to the board.
Who will be held accountable?
Just how much damage was done by the ALD board can’t be accurately assessed – but it’s generally agreed that it will take years for the library to return to the status and public-approval level it held under Ms. Kittay.
Wasting all that money is one thing – but ruining the library’s stellar reputation is another.
Those ALD board members who oversaw this profligate waste of taxpayer moneys should be both ashamed and held accountable.
Fortunately, three of the old-guard male-majority are gone from the ALD board – one resigned last year, and two were voted off the board by local constituents.
Now we all face the challenge of expediting the rebuilding of what was becoming a truly-great local public library under Ms. Kittay.
Rene Amy is a longtime community activist living in Altadena.
[This article has been updated to include a link to the report, April 2, 2019 at 2:29 pm]
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