Amid a flurry of finger pointing, Milpitas officials plan to hire an outside investigator to look into who on the City Council leaked confidential information to a person threatening litigation against the city.
San José Spotlight has learned City Manager Steve McHarris is at the center of the issue, and is threatening legal action against Milpitas, shortly after the mayor and two of her council allies voted last month to effectively fire him, according to Councilmember Hon Lien.
During a closed session meeting on Tuesday, the council voted to move forward with an external investigation into the leak, and directed that the results of the investigation be shared with the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury, according to a city news release issued late Thursday.
Lien said she voted against the plan to hire an investigator and send out a city news release about the leak, because she feels the possible litigation from McHarris is a more pressing issue.
“My point was, we spent too much time trying to see who leaked the information, while there was a litigation of the city manager, and we should discuss that. But all the (councilmembers) cared about was, who leaked the information,” Lien told San José Spotlight.
McHarris did not respond to requests for comment. Mayor Carmen Montano, Vice Mayor Evelyn Chua and Councilmember Garry Barbadillo did not respond to requests for comment.
It is still unclear who might be hired to conduct the investigation, how much it would cost, when it might begin and when it might end, Lien said.
According to the city news release, an attorney hired by the person threatening litigation against the city contacted City Attorney Michael Mutalipassi last month and “communicated the claimant’s demands.” Mutalipassi then prepared a “confidential analysis” of the demands and emailed it to the entire city council on Feb. 24.
The city news release does not name the person who is threatening legal action against Milpitas.
Mutalipassi found out on Feb. 27 from the opposing attorney that the entire confidential analysis email was shared with the person considering legal action against the city, and that it was shared by a city councilmember.
“The release of this confidential information has adversely impacted the city’s position and could result in further damage to the city,” the news release said.
Mutalipassi said this leak of attorney-client privileged information is a big concern.
“If the city’s position is being compromised because information is being disclosed improperly or unlawfully, then that’s a very big deal,” Mutalipassi told San José Spotlight. “I think the city wants the public to understand that though this happened, the city is taking action to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future.”
Councilmember Anthony Phan placed the blame on Mutalipassi and said it’s unfortunate confidential information is being improperly shared under his watch again. Mutalipassi oversaw the inadvertent release of personal information about Mayor Montano in response to a public records request from a resident, prompting threatening emails from an attorney representing Montano.
“I don’t know what it will take for his office to have the ability to secure our information, but this oversight is inexcusable and cannot happen again. There needs to be accountability,” Phan told San José Spotlight.
Mutalipassi flatly dismissed the notion this most recent sharing of confidential information was in any way his fault, since a councilmember was responsible for the leak.
“I am an advisor to the council and I advise the councilmembers against releasing confidential information, especially in cases like this where that confidential information is being released to somebody whose interests are adverse to the city,” Mutalipassi said. “But I’m merely an advisor, I have no control over the councilmembers themselves.”