Will Bigham, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/28/2012 12:05:18 PM PST
The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to pay $650,000 to former County Administrative Officer Mark Uffer to settle his $15 million wrongful-termination lawsuit.
The settlement was approved on a 3-2 vote after a closed-session discussion, said county spokesman David Wert. The settlement was recommended by the county’s legal counsel.
Supervisors Josie Gonzales, Gary Ovitt and Janice Rutherford voted yes, while supervisors Neil Derry and Brad Mitzelfelt opposed the settlement, Wert said.
Uffer was fired in 2009. The county terminated Uffer without cause after the Board of Supervisors said it wished to “go in a different direction” with the top administrative post, Wert said.
Uffer challenged the county’s official explanation for his termination when he sued the county in 2010. He alleged he was fired for acting as a whistleblower and for cooperating with state and local prosecutors in an ongoing corruption probe.
Derry blasted the settlement on Tuesday, saying that Uffer mismanaged the county’s budget and already had received a generous severance package, a lump sum of one-year’s pay that which also sweetened his annual pension.
“The apparent lesson for all San Bernardino County employees to learn from this is even if you are an at-will employee and are terminated, go ahead and sue us because we are going to give you a lot of taxpayer dollars,” Derry said in a statement.
After Uffer’s departure, the board discovered that the county was in worse financial shape than it was previously led to believe by Uffer, according to Derry.
“After his departure it was learned that the county faced an ongoing structural deficit in excess of $100 million over the next five years,” Derry’s statement said.
Derry said he believes there was no reason to settle Uffer’s case. He said he believed the county would have prevailed in court.
Said Mitzelfelt: “I opposed the settlement agreement with Mr. Uffer because I believe his lawsuit was frivolous.”
Uffer contended his firing was retaliation for providing authorities with information related to the county’s $102 million legal settlement in 2006 with Rancho Cucamonga-based Colonies Partners LP.
The District Attorney’s Office alleges the settlement was tainted by bribery and blackmail. Four major figures associated with the case have been indicted.
They include former county Supervisor Paul Biane, the former chief of staff to Supervisor Gary Ovitt, Colonies co-managing partner Jeff Burum, and a former county official who prosecutors allege served as an agent for Burum.
The county rejected Uffer’s initial claim seeking $15 million. His later settlement request of $3.5 million was also turned down the county.
Uffer said Tuesday that while he believes he would have won if his case had gone to trial, “I appreciate that the county has agreed to a settlement.”
“The mutual offer to mediate and settle this case offered an opportunity to resolve a painful issue for both sides,” Uffer said. “I hope that everyone involved can move on and work toward the public good.”
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