July 22, 2015
In May 2014, Elizabeth Riel was hired as Santa Monica’s Public Affairs and Communications Officer. She was abruptly fired after then Mayor Pam O’Connor intervened with then City Manager Rod Gould because Elizabeth had, years previously, participated with the Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City in a political campaign to inform voters that O’Connor had accepted contributions from developers before and after she voted on their projects.
It bears repeating: Elizabeth was fired for exercising her First Amendment rights to engage in protected political free speech.
When Elizabeth was terminated we warned that this outrageous firing was illegal and would result in significant damages against the city. You may read our original analysis here: http://www.smclc.net/OConnor-Riel.html Yet the city proceeded to launch a totally unwarranted attack on Elizabeth and defended its wrongful actions for over a year before giving up and settling with her. A federal judge found that “a reasonable person would have understood [Elizabeth’s] termination was unconstitutional.”
Last week, the City settled Elizabeth’s case for $710,000. Since the City retained outside counsel, the total costs -- borne by Santa Monica taxpayers -- is likely to be in excess of $1,000,000.
Ms. O’Connor has admitted her involvement in this matter to the Daily Press. (http://smdp.com/council-evaluate-gould-rescinded-job-offer/135061) Her interference with Elizabeth Riel’s employment appears to have violated Santa Monica law (City Charter, Article VI, Section 610). This provision importantly protects against a political patronage system, whereby city councilmembers can reward their friends or punish their perceived political enemies.
Now that the case is settled our work begins.
As a first step, SMCLC recently served a public records request on the City, seeking all relevant emails between Mr. Gould and Ms. O’Connor and their sworn testimony in the lawsuit.
The public has a right to know how the city got into this taxpayer financed fiasco. We will vigorously pursue this matter until all the facts are known and those responsible are held accountable. Stay tuned.
As always, thank you for your support.
Victor, Diana, Sherrill, Jeff