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Fired Vallejo Housing Manager Sues City 2023

Fired Vallejo Housing Manager Sues City 2023

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Fired Vallejo housing manager sues city

Judy Shepard-Hall, former housing manager of Vallejo, has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city of Vallejo and its City Manager Greg Nyhoff. She claims they conspired to fire her for raising concerns about management problems at a 157-acre parcel on North Mare Island.

Joanna Altman

Joanna Altman, who was the city's housing manager when she was fired, filed a lawsuit against Vallejo City Hall for wrongful termination. Her suit alleges Nyhoff retaliated against her for seeking to expose mismanagement and misconduct among city employees.

Altman's suit claims she was victimized by the city when she filed a discrimination complaint against then-Planning and Development Services Director Gillian Hayes. Additionally, Altman claimed Hayes harassed her in front of other employees, depriving her of an opportunity to address her grievances with the city's human resources department.

The suit contends she was treated unfairly, particularly when she attempted to voice concerns about a land-development deal between the city and private company. As one of several city employees involved in negotiations with Southern Land Company about a 157-acre tract of city-owned land on North Mare Island, she claims this negotiation was conducted without due process or fairness.

She was part of the team that collaborated with the company to create a master plan for the parcel. She expressed concern that land would be sold out of the city's control to a private developer and insisted it remain under municipal ownership.

She expressed disappointment in the city's decision to postpone construction on a homeless navigation center, which had been scheduled to open its doors in early 2020. That project has been put off indefinitely due to budget shortfalls caused by COVID-19 pandemic-related disasters that hit the region.

At the same time, she managed the city's Project RoomKey program, which provided vulnerable homeless individuals with hotel rooms and emergency medical care. In May 2021, she was removed from this role and replaced by a risk manager. Unfortunately, six people died while enrolled in this program - three of whom went undiscovered for days or weeks.

Shepard-Hall's investigation into the Project RoomKey case yielded several surprising discoveries. Shepard-Hall received emails from Unity Care, a partner organization on the venture, that participants in the Project RoomKey project were living in hotels filled with trash and needles; they were threatened with removal if they didn't tidy up their mess.

Shepard-Hall reported to Nyhoff the issue she raised, but was ignored and dismissed. According to Shepard-Hall, Nyhoff retaliated against her by not only refusing to discuss it with her directly but also by excluding her from meetings and conversations regarding the navigation center project.

After Shepard-Hall reached out to Boucher's office, Boucher hired an independent labor and employment attorney and workplace investigator for the purpose of interviewing more than a dozen city employees - including Matzke, Morat and Altman.

In interviews, all three plaintiffs alleged specific instances of misconduct by Nyhoff and other city officials, such as watering down a land-development agreement for North Mare Island's 157 acres. They further complained of an absence of transparency that Boucher believes to be illegal.

Slater Matzke

Slater Matzke was one of three employees terminated from Vallejo City Hall in April 2020. She, Joanna Altman and Will Morat claim they were terminated for raising concerns about the leadership of former City Manager Greg Nyhoff.

Matzke, Altman and Morat filed a lawsuit in Solano County Superior Court on Tuesday alleging they were fired for criticizing Nyhoff's "pattern of conduct that includes public corruption" and their involvement in an investigation into Nyhoff's actions. They further contend the city "abused its at-will employee policy" by terminating them for making an official workplace complaint about Nyhoff alleged misconduct.

The three plaintiffs worked closely with Nyhoff on the city's efforts to sell 157 acres of land on Mare Island's north end to private developers. But they also claimed he undermined Vallejo's position by watering down their agreement and working with Southern Land Company, a developer that would pay for soil remediation on the land in order to attract investors.

According to a FAQ sheet provided by the city, Southern Land Company will invest $20 to $50 million in remediating and developing the land. Furthermore, they have agreed to provide them with an annual sales tax rebate if they build on the parcel.

Though the legal implications of this development plan remain uncertain, it raises important questions about how the city plans to use the land. This could have an immense impact on jobs, housing and transportation - something city leaders are deeply concerned about.

Vallejo promoted the island as a hub for local businesses to recruit and thrive. It's affordable for families and easily accessible via public transportation, according to their pitch to potential developers.

It is also a place where people can live and work in an inclusive environment. There's an impressive mix of white, African American, Asian, and Latino residents here with many "living-wage" jobs available.

However, it's also vulnerable to flooding and earthquakes, so the city has taken measures to bolster the land. They did this by reclaiming lands on the island and building new bridges connecting it with Vallejo, according to city officials.

That's also why the city is investing millions of dollars to upgrade the sewage system on Mare Island, to avoid sewer backups and other issues. Furthermore, they're bracing for possible sea-level rise which could erode coastal land and wetlands.

Southern Land Company is also part of a bigger vision by the city to create an island "thriving community," which will benefit everyone living there - including Southern Land Company. Furthermore, they want to ensure that land is utilized for public benefit rather than just private development.

Will Morat

Will Morat, an assistant to Vallejo City Manager Greg Nyhoff and head of the city's economic development division, has filed a lawsuit against the city. He and other fired employees Joanna Altman and Slater Matzke claim they were wrongfully terminated for raising serious concerns about Nyhoff's conduct in connection with a land deal on Mare Island.

The trio is seeking $3.8 million from the city as part of a pre-trial settlement and attorneys fees for their lawyers. In their complaint, they allege Nyhoff and other city leaders such as Assistant City Manager Anne Cardwell and Director of Human Resources Heather Ruiz violated state law by terminating them for speaking out against Nyhoff's actions.

According to the suit, Morat was placed on leave in February 2020 after filing multiple complaints about harassment and bullying by city employee Sarah Shepard-Hall. In one incident, Shepard-Hall allegedly shoved and threatened Morat during a project meeting, the suit states. Furthermore, Shepard-Hall has been described as Ruiz's longtime friend while they worked together at the city.

Shepard-Hall was later transferred to the city's human resources department, but her abusive behavior persisted. According to the suit, Shepard-Hall would shout and scream at Morat and even threatened him with getting back in her car and running him over. There is evidence that Shepard-Hall had a history of bullying city employees as well as threatening to remove them from work.

In response to these allegations, she was reprimanded and placed on paid leave; however, her status with the city remains uncertain. At present her employment status is listed as being with a private consulting firm.

In June, she claims she was rehired and treated with contempt by management, her salary being cut, as well as being told she couldn't take time off for travel. According to the lawsuit, these actions led to further denial of leave to travel.

While on leave, she was subject to an investigation by the city that was conducted by outside attorney Christopher Boucher.

That investigation concluded without uncovering any evidence of corruption on Nyhoff's part. All three fired whistleblowers reported their concerns regarding Nyhoff to the city attorney, but were then instructed to keep quiet or risk losing their jobs.

According to the suit, Morat, Matzke and Altman were fired within days after the investigation was concluded despite recordings of their interviews and concerns about Nyhoff's performance that had previously been voiced in other ways.

Though the exact cause of these terminations are uncertain, the lawsuits serve as a stark reminder of what can happen when whistleblowers voice their complaints publicly. Vallejo, like many California cities, has an "at-will" employment policy which means it has the right to terminate an employee for any reason - including exercising their First Amendment rights.

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