WALNUT CREEK -- The city will pay $65,000 to two employees as part of the fallout of an investigation into mandated reporting of child abuse at the Lesher Center.
The city has settled the claims from Arts, Recreation and Community Services Director Barry Gordon and Lesher Center Manager Scott Denison. The payments should cover attorney fees incurred after being named in a criminal and administrative investigation related to the firing of a theater employee since convicted of child sex abuse.
As part of the settlement, the pair also agree to not sue the city. City officials admit no wrongdoing by settling, according to the agreement.
Denison and Gordon, along with two other city employees, were placed on paid administrative leave while investigations occurred last March into whether staffers failed to report suspected child abuse. It was found they acted appropriately in firing Lesher Center employee Jason Pedroza for inappropriate behavior with teenage girls. All four were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
In August, Pedroza pleaded guilty in Contra Costa Superior Court to child sexual abuse charges.
Denison and Gordon asked in September that their attorneys' fees be paid, but the City Council declined. The pair filed the claims -- the first step in filing a lawsuit -- last month, saying they suffered public ridicule and embarrassment after being named in the investigations.
Interim City Attorney Steve Mattas said the decision to settle the claims was up to the city's shared risk agency, which serves as the city's insurance company. Saying it was part of closed session, Mattas would not comment on whether the council had any desire or ability to reject the claims.
The insurance agency "has settlement authority and they make the determination as to what is the appropriate settlement," he said.
Gordon will receive $29,770, and recently said he was happy the city settled. On Wednesday he had no further comment.
Denison's two daughters and wife had also filed claims, as they all work on productions or programs at the Lesher Center and claimed they too had been affected. As part of Denison's settlement, he will receive $35,294; in exchange, he and his family will not sue the city.
"The Denison family wants to put this unfortunate chapter of their lives behind them," said Bill Gagen, Denison's attorney. "My main goal and Scott's main goal was to become whole; he incurred quite a lot of fees."
The family is focused on putting on the city's yearly production of "A Christmas Carol," and that is where their minds are right now, Gagen said.
Councilman Justin Wedel said he doesn't support these settlements. He blames the high attorneys' fees on the administrative investigation taking so long. And for that he faults City Manager Ken Nordhoff, who was made aware of the Pedroza situation earlier than council members first realized.
Wedel says this whole situation could have been avoided had any of the employees gone to the local police, even if they already heard another out-of-town agency was investigating.
"I would have approached this situation with the guiding principal of full disclosure, especially because this involves our children," whom Wedel called the true victims.
Nordhoff has said in the past, that from what he was told, he expected his managers to handle the situation, which they did.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.