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Reva Feldman gave up her job as Malibu city manager in a deal that ensured neither the city “nor any of its current elected officials” would make disparaging comments about her.
However, by presiding over the production of a video for her city-sponsored going away party on April 28, former City Manager Reva Feldman used public resources to tout her “dedication, leadership, achievements and service" knowing the city could speak no ill about her.
Copies of emails and texts obtained through a public records request by Surfside News show city staff working on the video a week before the star of the show even signed off on the separation agreement.
When made aware of the events, Steve McClary, who took over as interim city manager May 1, told Surfside News he would look into whether the project was an appropriate use of public resources.
“I’d like to get a little more facts from my staff,” he said during an interview Thursday.
“Some of these things may be a matter of degree,” he continued. “I don’t think it’s inappropriate for some amount of staff time to be done to recognize an outgoing individual, or outgoing council member. I guess it comes down to the matter of degree for me.”
“I’ll have to look into the genesis of that,” McClary said.
In January, after declaring document requests from newly elected City Council members Bruce Silverstein and Steve Uhring a burden on her and other city employees’ time, Feldman, through her attorney, made a very public demand to be let out of her contract, which would have ended in May 2022, one year early.
Her financial demand was $375,000.
Several closed-door meetings later, the council agreed to a deal that would pay Feldman an immediate $150,000 severance and another $150,000 on August 1 if she “has not retained new full-time employment as a city manager by that date.”
Feldman signed the agreement April 27. John Cotti, the interim city attorney, signed it the next day, and Mikke Pierson, who was mayor at the time, signed it on April 29.
As emails, texts and other documents show, before Feldman signed the separation agreement — and days before anyone from the other side formally agreed to the deal, while there was still time to scuttle the entire thing — staff from a City Hall that, according to Feldman’s public pronouncements, was too overburdened to respond to a council member’s document requests, was already working on her rosy sendoff.
At 6:11 p.m. on April 26, Maria Chong-Castillo, deputy for Public Works for outgoing Third District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, sent an email to Lisa Soghor, assistant city manager, and Mary Linden, executive assistant. “Hi Mary and Lisa, here is our video for Reva.”
Turns out it was the wrong video and Chong-Castillo had to resend the correct one the next day.
“O…M…G…!!” she wrote in the follow up email on April 27. “Sorry about that…. Here’s the right one.”
April 27 — the day Feldman signed the agreement — saw a flurry of activity.
At 8:36 a.m., Soghor emailed several city staff members, saying, “We need a graphic for TV, social and flyer for the 5:00 PM Reva tribute tomorrow.”
About 30 minutes later, Matt Myerhoff, city media information officer, replies, “Thanks Lisa. Very sad news.”
His message, copied to Alicia Tang, a city graphic designer, includes proposed text for the flyer.
“Alicia, here's the text I discussd with Lisa. Lisa, weigh in with any edits. (Please add a Newsflash graphic as well),” Myerhoff writes.
“Join the City in celebrating outgoing City Manager Reva Feldman's 16 years of achievements, dedication, leadership, achievements and service to Malibu on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 at 5:00 PM. The City will host a virtual tribute over Zoom. Reva completes her tenure with the City of Malibu on May 1, 2021.”
Myerhoff ends his message: “I think we should announce this on newsflash, social media, nextdoor and e-notify. Lisa you can make that call though. Thanks! MM.”
Soghor, at 9:48 a.m., tells the group, “Confirmed that we are sending this out far and wide.”
Who confirmed it is not clear.
At 11:42 a.m., Tang tells the group via email, “Attached are the graphics for Reva’s tribute. Please let me know if any adjustments are needed.”
Thirty minutes later, she sends the revised version.
“What are your thoughts about all the capitalization?” Soghor asks Linden at 12:13 p.m.
Linden doesn’t respond until 1:11 p.m., telling Soghor, “Sorry, I was taking a walk. I think this looks fine as is.”
A minute later, Soghor wasn’t having it.
“No problem,” she tells Linden. “I had her take out the capitalization. It bugged me.”
Linden replies, “It looks better without – I just didn’t want to rock the boat so late!”
At 6:30 p.m., Miriam Woodrow, Malibu’s Human Resources Manager, sent to Soghor an email with attachments titled “Reva #1.”
“I hope these are helpful. Another email to follow.”
Whatever was attached to that email (the city failed to provide the material in response to Surfside’s request) was forwarded by Soghor to Parker Davis, a city media technician, just after 1 a.m. on April 28. The message: “Use these too.”
Several hours earlier, at 10:41 p.m. April 27, Soghor sent to Davis an email that made it clear Feldman had already seen the video.
“Reva’s edits:” Soghor wrote, before listing what the outgoing city manager apparently sent her:
“We need new music. She doesn’t like the current one.”
“For second title slide use this instead: ‘Since 2005, Reva has helped the City accomplish so much, including:’”
“Use the picture at :59 to be the very first one.”
“Add a picture of Bluffs park somewhere.”
“Picture at 1:36 is duplicated at 2:25.”
“Take out speed advisory sign.”
“Add Library pictures. She worked hard on that project.”
“Reva wants our elf picture back in.”
After requesting that a couple pictures be removed, Soghor ends the email this way: “We need more photos around the City.”
April 27 was also the day Linden sent council member Karen Farrer an email that had as an attachment the “flyer for tomorrow’s Zoom event for Reva.”
Also attached was a list of people Linden said she thought “we might want to invite” to the event.
But the wheels for “Reva’s good-bye” as some were calling it were actually in motion days earlier.
In the email to Farrer, Linden writes, “I sent messages on Friday to those who are highlighted because I thought they might want to prepare something for her from their respective offices.”
“Friday” would have been April 23 — days before there even was a signed separation agreement.
Another email exchange shows work on the video being done days earlier.
Just after 9 a.m. April 21, while Feldman was still in charge of the city and all the staff members working on her tribute, Elizabeth Shavelson, assistant to the city manager, used her city email to solicit photos from Megan Dunn, conference registrar of the League of California Cities, whose purpose is "to strengthen and protect local control for cities through education and advocacy to enhance the quality of life for all Californians."
"Hi Megan," Shavelson wrote. "We are putting together a photo slide/video for Reva. Can you share some of the photos that have been taken at League events? We would love to include them. Thank you, Elizabeth."
The video was still being worked on mere hours before its debut, at 5 p.m. April 28.
In email exchanges over the course of a couple hours that morning, Soghor and Davis discuss edits. Then, at 12:03 p.m., Soghor says, “I think it’s good to go."
“Great :),” Davis replies. “Is it something you would like to be public on YouTube? If so, what should the title be?”
Soghor replies: “Well not public until tomorrow. ‘Farewell to Reva Feldman’”.
About 90 minutes later, former Public Safety Commission member Ryan Embree sent an email to Cotti, the interim city attorney, voicing concerns about the party and public resources used to facilitate it.
“There are many potential negative impacts and consequences inherent to the proposed Zoom meeting/party for outgoing City Manager Reva Feldman,” the email starts.
“The City's PR guy has worked on-salary to promote this event and to facilitate participation,” it states in one place. “(T)he City's social media promoter, Matt Myerhoff, posted it on Malibu's Nextdoor under the City's official account and used the City seal,” it states in another.
Embree goes on to tell Cotti, “I believe it is incumbent upon the City to ensure that NO City resources (Zoom account, laptops at employees' off-site locations, city-issued cell phones) or City Hall equipment/server/terminals, etc., effect City employee participation.”
In language befitting a lawyer counseling a client, the writer lays out how the city should approach things:
“I think the politicization of city staff is a cancer and should be excised for the betterment of the organization to function. This Zoom party, and the City's promotion of it, is not good.”
“A strongly worded MEMO to ALL EMPLOYEES from the City Attorney that such meeting is essentially public and that any employee's statement would be job-related and evaluated if complaint is made.”
“A strongly worded MEMO to ALL Councilpersons and Commissioners an (official) recommendation to REFRAIN from participation and/or logging-on to such conference (due) to perception of, if not real potential for, violation of Brown Act.”
“It has been a LONG time since the City conducted Brown Act Training for Commissioners. It is my hope that the City Attorney has the gumption to put a stop to this potential problem and reel-it-in proactively.”
Later that day, Cotti replied — not about city staff possibly taking part in a potential personal project on public time, but about the Brown Act, and what constitutes a “meeting.”
One definition, he writes, “permits a majority of the Council to attend a purely social or ceremonial occasion. As you note, there is a risk that a majority of the Council will discuss business among themselves of a specific nature that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the Council. I will advise the Council accordingly. But so long as no such business is discussed, there is no violation of the Brown Act.”
Nothing in the Brown Act, said Cotti, prevents a majority of members from attending the same party, wedding, reception or farewell.
“It’s not unusual for the staff to throw a party for somebody,” Embree told Surfside News. “But I think the city attorney is pretty disconnected from what really happened, what the staff is doing.”