UPDATE: 3-0 vote leaves Spears without job
The Willows City Council on Friday voted 3-0 to oust Willows Police Chief Bill Spears from his job at the end of the year — a redo of a similar vote a month earlier.
But, once again, it might not stick.
The special meeting was suppose to "cure and correct" an alleged Brown Act violation that occurred Aug. 28, when the council voted unanimously not to renew Spears' contact.
Once again, the legality of the meeting is being called into question.
Former Councilwoman Rose Marie Thrailkill and former Supervisor Forrest Sprague raised the issue that notice of the special meeting was not posted on the city's website 24 hours in advance, a new general reporting requirement of the state's government code.
City Clerk Natalie Butler admitted the oversight.
The notice requirement, which went into effect this year, was added to the Brown Act through Assembly Bill 1344, which was approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor on Oct. 9, 2011, with the intent of increasing government transparency.
The new law was in reaction to the salary scandal that was revealed in the city of Bell.
Thrailkill asked the council to stop Friday's meeting at its onset, based on the new Brown Act violation, but garnered no reaction from officials.
"Everyone knows this is a travesty," Thrailkill said, before returning to her seat.
This is the second violation the council has been accused of making in its attempt to notify Spears that he is out of a job on Jan. 1.
Spears does not believe the decision Friday will stand, as too many errors by the council have occurred in the interest of meeting a 90-day window he believes has now passed.
City officials claim they have 90 days before the contract expires to notify Spears he is out of a job.
Spears said the city had 90 days before his established renewal date of Dec. 1.
"As far as I'm concerned, my contract has already been renewed," Spears said Monday. "But this is something that will have to be worked out through our legal system."
Vice Mayor Jeff Cobb and Councilman Gary Hansen on Friday denied knowing what the council was accused of doing wrong at the Aug. 28 meeting, but deferred to City Manager Steve Holsinger's decision to cure and correct an "alleged" violation in the interest of time rather than fight it.
Spears, however, said his attorney Paul Goyette, in a letter issued to the council on Sept. 17, spelled out exactly what violation he believed occurred when Willows Mayor Vince Holvik recommended not renewing Spears' contract in a report he prepared.
The report was sent to the four other members of the council in advance of the meeting.
The Brown Act, which guarantees the public's right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies, also prevents elected officials from communicating with each other on public business outside formal proceedings.
The report was also made public.
Holvik later said that as mayor — and a member of the budget subcommittee — he felt it was his responsibility to voice his opinion that Spears' non-renewal was a business necessity in order to reach a balanced budget.
He maintained the mayor is routinely involved in the preparation of the agendas.
The council on Friday said the decision to separate with Spears was not personal, but financial, and that not renewing Spears' contract would reduce the city's deficit by $86,000 this year.
"I said it then and I'm saying it again. We would be fiscally irresponsible not to take advantage of this cost savings," said Councilman Gary Hansen.
As with the Aug. 28 meeting, members of the public Friday made passionate pleas to the council not to let Spears go, but instead find another alternative to the city's financial crisis.
However, that action was not on the agenda, and Cobb gaveled down comments that attempted to steer the City Council toward putting Holsinger's job on the chopping block instead.
A petition calling for Holsinger's removal is being circulated by members of the public who attended.
Spears, 62, again expressed his own disappointment that the City Council appeared unreceptive to either the public's recommendations that could take the city down a separate path or accept his offer to renegoiate his contract to provide the city some financial relief.
On Friday, there was some concern about safety, but city officials maintain the Police Department is sufficiently staffed to protect the public.
The public's biggest concern was that the council viewed Spears as disposable and that they went against the wishes of the community.
"Our voice is not being heard," said Karen Roberts, a former Willows business owner who lives outside the city. "The City Council is losing the public's trust."
Contact Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.