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Mission Viejo Delays Vote on Severance

Council postpones until tonight the ratification of the packages it has agreed to give the city manager and his wife, the city clerk.

November 04, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

The Mission Viejo City Council was expected to end its stormy relationship with City Manager Dan Joseph on Monday night, but in a strange twist to this yearlong saga, council members postponed the decision to ratify his severance package until tonight.

Mayor John Paul Ledesma said the council wanted residents to understand why Joseph and his wife, Ivy, the city clerk, were given such lucrative settlements.

"We're talking about a lot of money here," he said. "We wanted to give the citizens an opportunity to influence our decision. Chances are, [the delay] won't make any difference" in the council's vote.

According to the settlement, Dan Joseph, who is paid about $152,000 a year, and his wife, who earns about $101,000 a year, will each receive 14 months' salary and $40,000 in workers' compensation for emotional and physical stress. In exchange, they both agreed not to sue the city.

Dan Joseph's relationship with the council had grown increasingly volatile over the last year. He had lodged a claim against Mission Viejo, alleging, among other things, libel, slander, breach of contract and failure to evaluate his job performance.

A second claim singled out Councilwoman Gail Reavis, charging that she "engaged in a long-continuing barrage of unprivileged personal attacks" and that she "repeatedly published false, nonprivileged and damaging statements" about Joseph, including that he was having an affair with a member of his staff.

Ivy Joseph -- who has been city clerk since Mission Viejo was incorporated 15 years ago -- had filed a separate claim against the city, alleging many of the same actions. She also filed a separate claim against Reavis, saying the councilwoman had waged a campaign to discredit her, causing emotional distress.

Reavis' lawyer, Phil Greer, denied the allegations against his client. "The city has failed to investigate these allegations to see whether they are true or false. So why are they giving [Dan Joseph] all this money? It's a rotten deal. The city is being extorted and buffaloed into paying him a lot of money."

Dan Joseph has been city manager for nine years, the last of which was marked by rancor and turmoil following the forging of a new City Council majority last November that called for financial reforms at City Hall. He had been targeted by critics for what they called excessive spending, including the purchase of a $6,000 desk and lavish meals. In February, the City Council commissioned an audit of Joseph's office expenses; its findings have not been released.

The tumult over the city manager's job surprised many in this master-planned South County city that is known by longtime residents as "the paradise" -- an idyllic place where reserving a boat on the lake and shuttling the kids to Little League and soccer are among the biggest concerns. Always rated as one of the safest mid-sized cities in the United States by FBI statistics, Mission Viejo also is one of the wealthiest, building a $20-million emergency reserve.

Joseph's tenure grew shaky last November with the election of a new councilwoman who ultimately shifted the council's majority against him.

That new majority had been supported by an organization called the Committee for Integrity in Government.

In one of its newsletters, the organization called for the ouster of several key city employees. One of them was Joseph. The committee contended that he was aligned with free-spending council members.

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