Editors Note: This story has been updated to reflect new information from a press release issued by the City of Williams, which was received after this week’s paper was already published.
The City of Williams announced in a press release on Tuesday afternoon that John Osbourn resigned his position as Police Chief due to personal reasons. The city is actively seeking an interim chief, and an announcement will be coming soon, the press release said.
Osbourn was on administrative leave for more than two weeks, and an announcement from the city regarding his future at the department was not expected for another few days.
“All I can say is that Chief (John) Osbourn continues to be on administrative leave,” Kennedy wrote on July 8. “I believe that leave will be ending in the next 7-10 days, at which time I will issue a press release… because it is a personnel matter, there is very little I can discuss.”
Attempts to reach Osbourn for a comment have been unsuccessful.
The announcement came after a special closed session meeting of the city council on June 29, prior to which Kennedy, city clerk Mariana Pineda, and a city council member said they would be discussing the position of Chief of Police. That was not the position on the agenda for evaluation, however.
Instead, the agenda listed “Public Employee Performance Evaluation” for the position of City Administrator.
“It is (for the position of Police Chief), but it was placed on the agenda as City Administrator, based on the city attorney’s advice,” Pineda said prior to the June 29 meeting.
Also prior to that meeting, Kennedy said that it was placed on the agenda as a performance evaluation for the city administrator due to “a technicality.”
If the city council did indeed discuss the performance of the chief of police, it may have violated the Ralph M. Brown Act in the process.
When asked prior to the June 29 meeting why the city administrator position was listed for a performance evaluation, and not the chief of police, Williams City Attorney Ann Siprelle explained that the chief of police served at the pleasure of the city administrator, and not the council. As such, the council could not evaluate the chief’s performance and could not take any action with respect to that position.
Siprelle cited a 2002 opinion of the California Attorney General, which she said prevented the council from evaluating the performance of an employee of the city administrator.
In that opinion, the attorney general considered whether a county board of education could meet in closed session under the “personnel exception” of the Ralph M. Brown Act to consider the appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, disciple or dismissal of certificated or classified employees of the county superintendent of schools. The attorney general’s opinion was that a county board of education could not.
Siprelle said that the council was not discussing the position of chief of police, but rather the performance of the city administrator at large.
“The city administrator is being evaluated as to his performance, which includes his management of the department heads,” Siprelle said. “(Per the city code, the city administrator) has authority to hire and fire all department heads, except for the city attorney.”
Williams Police Chief
With respect to the statements of the city clerk and the city administrator, Siprelle said that the former was not present at the closed session meeting, and that the latter misspoke.
According to Nikki Moore, legal counsel for the California Newspaper Publishers Association, the city did violate the Ralph M. Brown Act if they discussed the performance of the chief specifically during the closed session meeting, as it was not properly noticed.
“To the extent that they have a conversation regarding the city administrator’s performance, as long as (the conversation) is with respect to the performance of that position, that would be an appropriate and narrow way for the city council to talk about the item on the agenda,” Moore said. “To the extent that they then talk about any performance of the police chief, it is not.”
“They should have noticed the police chief’s review to hold closed session, or they should have had the discussion in open session,” Moore said, clarifying her point on Monday. “They had two choices and chose neither potentially correct, transparent course of action, but instead decided to violate both the letter and spirit of the law.”
Moore added that, even considering the attorney general’s opinion, the city council would not have the authority to convene to closed session to discuss the performance of that position.
“I’m not saying that (the opinion) properly applies, but they either shouldn’t have had a closed session, or they should have noticed it properly,” Moore said. ■