WALNUT CREEK -- City Council members were finally allowed this week to view an internal investigation report on failures of employee "mandated reporting" stemming from alleged child sexual abuse by a city employee at the Lesher Center of the Arts.
While elected leaders were allowed to view the report -- finished two weeks ago at a cost of about $100,000 to taxpayers -- it's still not available to the public. Some council members are unsure whether such a document should be made public, while others are calling for its release.
"It is also our duty to make sure the report is immediately released to the public so the public can independently assess how its government is doing and whether we need to improve," said Mayor Pro Tem Kristina Lawson, who has viewed the report at the city attorney's office, the only place council members are allowed to view it. "Our focus must be on making sure our kids are safe and that their parents have confidence in our programs. Anything else is just a distraction."
This newspaper has filed a public records request to obtain the report and has been denied.
The report focuses on the actions of city employees after they learned a Lesher Center employee was suspected of inappropriate sexual contact with teenage girls. Four city employees -- Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison, city Arts Director Barry Gordon, his deputy Kevin Safine and city Human Resources Manager Sally Rice -- were placed on paid leave for more than two months during the internal investigation.
The former employee, Jason Pedroza, was charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors. His next scheduled court appearance is July 18. An actor and theater teacher, Pedroza turned himself in to police in February, three months after being fired.
Denison, Gordon, Safine and Rice were brought back this month, after a city employee charged with deciding their fates determined they did nothing wrong. The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office decided two months ago not to file criminal charges against any of them but did conclude they are all "mandated reporters" required by law to report such suspected abuse to police.
The city's investigation found the employees learned of the allegations against Pedroza only after Pleasant Hill police were aware of them, and that they promptly fired him after learning of inappropriate electronic messages he had sent to minors.
If new city employee policies or procedures are needed, now is the time to act, Lawson said.
"We currently have more than 2,000 of our community's children enrolled in our city's summer camps and programs, and it is our responsibility to do everything in our power to make sure these kids are safe," she said.
But the prospect of releasing a report that details employees' actions -- in part because personnel records can be exempt from public records disclosure -- has divided the council.
Mayor Cindy Silva said she thinks it's unusual for council members to have access to such a report. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had not seen it.
"Once the members of the City Council understand the content of the report, then and only then will the council members have the information necessary to determine, as a body, if the public's right to know the content outweighs the competing rights of the employees to protect the privacy of their personnel files," she said.
Councilman Bob Simmons is also concerned with that balance. He plans to read the report in the next two days. He said there will be a closed session meeting of the council on Friday, which he hopes will include discussion and a legal analysis from the city attorney.
And while the four employees formerly on leave are back at work, the council has yet to get an outside consultant's recommendations on City Manager Ken Nordhoff. The consultant was hired, at a cost of about $50,000, to review the report and make recommendations on Nordhoff.
The investigation revealed Nordhoff was among other high-ranking city officials who knew something about the Lesher Center issue earlier than council members originally thought.
Councilman Justin Wedel, who has already called for the report to be made public, said reading it only strengthens that opinion. The only reason people would not want it released, he said, is their own "political motivations," declining to elaborate.
Councilwoman Loella Haskew did not respond to requests for comment.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617.