Ken Szutu: What is Vallejo’s plan to manage payout exposure?

Letters to the Editor | Feb. 23, 2021


An open letter to the Vallejo City Council:
Does the city have a plan to manage our insurance payout exposure? I’d like to know.
I spoke in 2018 at a Vallejo City Council meeting, held downstairs in the library when the council chamber was being remodeled, about my concerns for the $2.5 million payout in the Denise Huskins/Aaron Quinn civil lawsuit. Fast forward to 2021, with more than 50 cases pending against the city and a $2.5 million self insured retention, things are getting much worse than in 2018. Same concerns as in 2018, I see a terrifying liability exposure to our city today.
What is our plan for handling these potential payments? Do we have a plan or are we praying that bad things will not happen?
City employees who kill people or do illegal things can resign or be terminated, but the city of Vallejo and its citizens are the ones holding the bag and paying out the money. 
Aside from the much-talked liability of wrongful death by excessive use of force, I like to bring to your attention two lesser-discussed areas of special concerns:
* Monell Liability – Tens upon tens of millions of dollars settlements are on its way due to mismanagement in the city (bigger and in addition to settlement/award for wrongful death due to excessive use of force).
Monell liability against the city is prominently stated in the latest case against the city. The family of Sean Monterrosa filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city. The family claims the mismanagement by the city manager and the police chief of the department led to Sean’s death.
I don’t know if this issue has been explained to the city council. I found out about it recently and like to bring it to your attention. I hope the city attorney can confirm the seriousness ($ amount) of a claim of this type and make sure everyone understands how significant the award/settlement could be.
Monell liability is a claim against the city management. How can the city of Vallejo defend itself against the claim? Can we do something about it?
* Who is managing the insurance risk of top-level city employees? The city manager, former city attorney, police chief, and HR director were recently named in lawsuits of wrongful termination against the city. What is the plan for managing the risk of this type?
The city manager and city attorney manage the insurance risk of other city employees within the city. However, when we have several recent cases that implicate the city manager and city attorney, a different mechanism is needed to manage that risk. Do we have a mechanism? If no, what is the plan?
A case in point now is about Vallejo police Lt. Herman Robinson. I don’t know him personally, nor had any interaction with him in the past. I heard much good feedback from the community about him. He may not be a perfect cop, but he has never been associated with any lawsuits against the city. I heard he is close to Vallejo police Capt. John Whitney. What do you know about the rumored push to terminate Lt. Robinson as the city council? Do you think you should know more? Who should manage the risk of another wrongful termination charge?
I have not heard anyone talking about managing the insurance payout exposure. The citizens need an update on your plan. Please ask the city manager and city attorney to report on a plan.
Today, many of the problems are due to past council neglecting their fiduciary responsibilities (or being ignorant about their roles) and city employees kicking the bomb down the road (with no long term vision for the city). City employees come and go; we residents are here to pay the bills. 
We are in serious trouble. Please take action. 
Ken Szutu

Published by John Glidden

John Glidden is a freelance journalist reporting on the city of Vallejo. The native Vallejoan also covers the local school district, Vallejo elections, and public safety.

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