WALNUT CREEK -- In a seemingly unprecedented move, five former mayors are openly criticizing council members' handling of an investigation into employee knowledge of alleged child sex abuse at the Lesher Center.

In a letter sent to the City Council, city manager, city attorney and the Contra Costa Times, former mayors Gwen Regalia, Sue Rainey, Kathy Hicks, Charlie Abrams and Gary Skrel say they are "dismayed" that information has leaked to the press from City Hall. They question why the council hasn't investigated the leaks and say they were "astonished" to read in this newspaper negative comments about the city manager following a closed session council meeting.

Jason Pedroza   (Walnut Creek Police Department)
Jason Pedroza (Walnut Creek Police Department)

On Tuesday night, Regalia and Rainey took it a step further, reading the letter in its entirety to the City Council, asking that the four employees on paid administrative leave be brought back to work.

"It is time to end what appears to be a politically motivated inquiry," said Rainey, reading from the letter.

The mayors did not say who has political motivations, or what they might be.

This is the latest turn in an ongoing internal investigation into allegations that four administrators failed to alert Walnut Creek police after they fired an employee suspected of inappropriate sexual contact with teen girls. The former employee, Jason Pedroza, turned himself into police in February and has been charged with two felonies -- using a minor for a sex act and contacting a minor for the purpose of engaging in lewd and lascivious behavior and two related misdemeanors.

The mayors' letter champions City Manager Ken Nordhoff at a time when the council is clearly divided over his actions in the mandated reporting case. It was revealed last week that Nordhoff, and potentially others than those already on leave, may have known about the Pedroza situation earlier than originally thought.

The council voted recently to take away Nordhoff's responsibilities over the four employees and instead allow an outside consultant, Mike Oliver, to make all the decisions. Oliver is a former Oakley, Citrus Heights and San Leandro city manager; Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson announced his appointment Tuesday.

The five mayors said they are "shocked" the council hasn't called for an investigation into how this newspaper obtained a police memo detailing the alleged failure of employees to report suspicions of child abuse.

The mayors also say the four employees on leave since March 22 -- Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison, city Arts Manager Barry Gordon, Deputy Arts Manager Kevin Safine and Human Resources Director Sally Rice -- should be brought back, because the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office decided not to press criminal charges.

"They have been put on leave, that is punishment, and their careers are scarred, that is punishment," Rainey said.

In the letter and in separate interviews, former mayors stop short of alleging that any council members violated the law by naming Nordhoff. Only Lawson and Councilman Justin Wedel have mentioned Nordhoff publicly.

"I am not accusing anybody at this time, but I am saying it's unusual and I would like to know why," Regalia said. "We always followed the Brown Act and it appears to me that they are not."

Abrams, Regalia and Rainey admit they don't know what confidential information, if any, from closed session was disclosed publicly.

Lawson, a lawyer herself, said she does not understand what confidential information the letter references. She also said she supports transparency.

"If our City Manager or any other employee has done something wrong, then Walnut¿ Creek residents deserve to know about it -- not have it covered up," Lawson said in an email.

Wedel also was confused by the former mayors' accusations.

"When the full story comes out everyone will have an understanding of what actually occurred," he said Wednesday. He also said he would not cover up the truth.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.