Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Negotiations held July 24 in Eugene between legal representatives for Baker City and Stephen Brocato, who was fired as city manager in June 2009, didn't result in Brocato's lawsuit against the city being settled, said Mike Kee, current city manager.

The case is scheduled to go to trial Oct. 22 at 9 a.m. in the federal courthouse in Pendleton, with Judge Michael W. Mosman presiding.

The trial is expected to last four days, according to court records.

Brocato filed the multimillion-dollar suit in June 2010.

A judge later dismissed most of the complaints Brocato listed in the lawsuit, and he voluntarily withdrew others.

One point remains: Brocato's claim that the city and City Council members Dennis Dorrah, Clair Button, Aletha Bonebrake and Beverly Calder deprived him of his liberty through false statements that harmed his reputation and prevented him from obtaining adequate employment.

While pre-trial discussions between parties involved in these types of lawsuits can result in resolutions "sometimes they still end up going to trial," said Kimberley Morrow of Hoffman, Hart and Wagner in Portland, the attorney representing the city.

Telephone messages left on Tuesday for one of Brocato's attorneys, Craig A. Crispin of Portland, weren't returned.

Brocato is suing because of circumstances surrounding his firing in June 2009. He was hired in January 2007.

Brocato contends some city councilors became angry and fired him because of his actions during revision of the city's property maintenance ordinance during the spring of 2009.

In April 2009 Brocato sought advice from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission about the councilors' involvement with the property maintenance ordinance.

He subsequently asked the city police department's code enforcement officer to inspect all of the councilors' properties and to gather information that might indicate whether any of them would be affected by the proposed ordinance changes.

Brocato said his concern was that conflicts of interest might arise if councilors voted on the revision and were required to pay to correct their own code violations.

The councilors gave Brocato a good overall evaluation in May 2009.

Dorrah, Button, Calder and Aletha Bonebrake voted to fire Brocato about three weeks later.

Brocato, who did not have an employment contract with the city, initially asked for a severance package worth $120,000 in August 2009, which the councilors rejected.

He filed the lawsuit in June 2010.

The city, the four councilors who voted to fire Brocato, and Baker City resident and former city councilor Gary Dielman were each named in the lawsuit.

Judge Patricia Sullivan, a federal magistrate, subsequently dismissed some of Brocato's assertions. He voluntarily dropped some of his claims over time as well.

No longer part of the lawsuit is Brocato's claim that he was let go because he was a whistleblower, an action protected by state law.

That claim was based on Brocato's discussions with the Government Ethics Commission about possible conflicts of interest with city councilors.

Brocato's argument that he was defamed by Dielman, who complained about Brocato in letters to the editor and in emails to Jennifer Watkins, the then-assistant city manager, was also dismissed by Mosman.

Also no longer part of this legal action are Brocato's assertions that the city and the four councilors purposely conspired against him, wrongfully discharged him, portrayed him in a false light, and purposely caused him emotional distress and economic losses.

He dropped most of these claims on his own, according to previous reports.

Brocato argues that he was deprived of a proper name-clearing hearing, as is routine for public employees. This event allows employees who are fired to have an opportunity to present their side of the story.

The city disagrees, arguing that Brocato was afforded this opportunity during the June 10, 2009, City Council meeting at which he was fired.

"That meeting served as the name-clearing meeting," said Morrow, the city's attorney.

More than 10 city employees and some residents attended the June 10, 2009, meeting. Many expressed their support for Brocato at that time. Brocato criticized the councilors for voting to fire him and then listening to comments from employees and the public.

The councilors took a dismissal vote that passed before accepting public comment. They took a second vote afterward to confirm the opinion, however.

"I have difficulty with this council not accepting public interaction when I have been criticized for that," Brocato said at the time.

Much of the cost to the city to defend itself in the lawsuit is covered by legal insurance.

Travel costs and related expenses incurred by witnesses are types of expenses that won't be covered, however, Kee said.

Councilor Milo Pope, who along with Councilor Sam Bass and then-Councilor Andrew Bryan voted against the motion to fire Brocato in 2010, said Tuesday he believes the one remaining issue in Brocato's lawsuit has merit because the firing appeared "planned" by the four councilors.

"I didn't hear any justification beforehand," Pope said of Brocato's dismissal. "I was unaware of any (councilors') dissatisfaction, except for that of Councilor Calder's. And I didn't know her dissatisfaction was sufficient for her seek his dismissal."