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$1 Million OKd for Fired City Manager

Lawsuits: Redondo Beach City Council settles actions by official accused of spying on a police union.

March 31, 2000|JESSICA GARRISON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Redondo Beach City Council has approved a $1-million settlement with a former city manager who sued after being fired for allegedly spying on a police union.

Bill Kirchhoff, the former manager, is expected to publicly announce his acceptance of the settlement at a news conference this morning.

The council's 3-2 vote for the settlement closes a divisive chapter in the city's history. Kirchhoff's firing triggered a barrage of allegations, unusually nasty even in a town known for bare-knuckle politics.

City officials said they settled the case not because it had any merit, but because it would be cheaper than taking it to trial and because the city's insurance company insisted on a settlement. After an insurance payment, the city's share of the settlement will be about $500,000, Mayor Greg Hill said.

"There is not one person in the room who didn't agree that this guy deserves nothing," said Councilman Gerard Bisignano, who voted with the majority. "But the best business decision was to go ahead and put this behind [us] through a settlement."

Kirchhoff contended, in both a civil rights lawsuit against council members and a contract lawsuit against the city, that the city's elected leaders got rid of him in exchange for valuable election endorsements from the police union. Union leaders wanted him fired because they did not want him to expose irregularities in police overtime, alleged Kirchhoff, who was city manager from 1991 until 1997.

City officials allege that Kirchhoff, hoping to find clues to unwarranted overtime, directed three employees to secretly watch what was supposed to be a private meeting of the police union from an adjacent video room. The employees and Kirchhoff denied that they were spying.

Both sides say the suits underscored the fierce nature of Redondo Beach politics. Kirchhoff himself wrote a book suggesting that municipal employees should apply ancient Chinese warrior strategies to management.

"It's always been rough and tumble here. I think it goes back to the gambling ship days," said Councilman Kevin Sullivan, referring to the early 1900s when gambling ships plied the waters off Redondo. "No one stays in power very long here," said Sullivan, who voted against the settlement, along with Bob Pinzler.

When they fired Kirchhoff, council members said the city manager had become difficult to work with. But they credited him with improving city finances during the early 1990s.

Though today's expected signing brings to a close Kirchhoff's civil rights suit against the council members and his contract dispute with the city, he still has an outstanding lawsuit against the Redondo Beach Police Officers Assn. That case will go to trial this summer, said Kirchhoff's lawyer, Steve Madison.

Madison said he hopes the settlement can help rehabilitate Kirchhoff's professional reputation.

He has been unemployed since the firing, and lives in Redondo Beach with his wife and child. He previously got a $650,000 severance package that included his salary for three years, as well as money for house, car and cellular phone payments.

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