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The Malibu City Council unanimously agreed at its Monday, Jan. 28 meeting to allocate up to $50,000 to hire an independent investigator to evaluate the City manager and staff’s response to the Woolsey Fire.
Mayor Pro Tem Karen Farrer and Councilmember Mikke Pierson, of the city’s Disaster Response and Recovery Ad Hoc Committee, were tasked with getting financial quotes from investigators that could be hired if the council agrees at its first meeting in February.
Separately, the council decided to have a closed session meeting later in February to evaluate City Manager Reva Feldman’s performance in relation to the fire.
Councilman Skylar Peak, who suggested hiring the investigator and reviewing Feldman in response to public criticism, said the closed session meeting is the only way the council can legally discuss the item.
“There’s been a lot of different comments that have flown on social media and outer space and things,” Peak said. “I would kind of guard people that a lot of that stuff is not true.”
He requested that the council hire the investigator “to help the City as it moves forward as we focus on the rebuilding process.”
Peak said the evaluation of the City and Feldman will help grieving individuals “that don’t understand how all the mechanisms in the city [work].”
“I think those answers would be better off coming from someone else rather than one of us,” he said.
Both Farrer and Pierson agreed to the evaluation, but disagreed on the role of the ad hoc committee, which is tasked with coordinating disaster and fire evacuation preparedness and making recommendations to the council on additional emergency preparedness actions.
“I think in order to have community confidence, an independent review, in my opinion, is warranted,” Farrer said.
Peak said the quotes to hire an investigator should come from the ad hoc committee because Farrer and Pierson were the only councilmembers not in office during the fire.
Mayor Jefferson Wagner also agreed with an independent evaluation, saying an in-house one will “appear to many people that it was whitewashed.”
“I hear that all the time, [that it’s whitewashed],” he said. “ ... I say, let’s do this, and the glaring issues that everyone points out to me every day may be clarified by an outside resource.”
Mullen took issue when Peak first used the term “investigation” to describe what he would like done.
“I think when you say investigation, it sounds like there’s something that needs to be investigated,” Mullen said. “I think what we need to do is, we need to look at how things worked in a constructive fashion. So, when the next giant disaster comes to town, we’re more resilient and more ready.”
Mullen added that he believes a lot of complaints regarding the fire actually have nothing to do with the City manager, but rather actions by the sheriff’s and fire departments as well as California Highway Patrol.
Mullen said that blaming Feldman for responsibilities she wasn’t in charge of “have been very corrosive for the town, and it’s not an accurate reflection of her responsibilities during a disaster.”
Feldman said she didn’t mind an early performance evaluation to help “put some of these things to rest.”
“There are certain things we could improve upon that happened during this disaster,” Feldman responded. “But I can assure you that I’m open and welcome to anyone asking or following up on anything that did occur.”
The council also unanimously agreed to appoint Wagner to represent Malibu as a member of the Woolsey Fire Task Force chaired by Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.