Hostile work environment charges against councilman "unfoiunded," investigator finds

Taft City Councilman Craig Noble has been cleared of allegations that he created a hostile work environment for City manager Bob Gorson and unnamed other city employees.

The councilman said he wanted to “clear the air in the community.”

Noble also said he was told by three members of the Taft City Council not to discuss the issue with city employees unless they first raised the issue with them.

Noble said he was also been told to quit making any remarks critical of city employees.

Both Noble and Councilman Cliff Thompson received similar memos from the majority of the council telling them not to discuss certain issues.

The Kern County Grand Jury last week issued a report last week accusing the majority of the council of violating California's open meeting laws when they signed a letter telling an unspecified councilman not to discuss certain issues.

The letter violated the Brown Act, the report said, and created a chilling effect on the city's government.

“An attempt to silence a public official has the effect of disenfranchising the people,” the Grand Jury's Cities and Joint Powers Committee wrote in the report.

The report did not name the councilman who received the memo or state which memo it was referring to.

Both Noble and Thompson were accused last November of creating a hostile workplace.

The investigation has been completed, but there has been no public statements on the results of that investigation.

However, the Midway Driller obtained a copy of a letter sent to Noble dated April 20. It contains the information that Noble had been cleared of any wrongdoing, but still told him not to bring the issue up with city employees

The letter was signed by Mayor Dave Noerr and councilmen Paul Linder and Randy Miller two months after investigator Scott Nelson found that the charges against Noble were without basis.

Noble said the release of the letter came after several attempts to get it.

The councilman said he corresponded at length with Shelline K. Bennett, an attorney with the firm Liebert Cassidy Whitmore become he received the memo. Bennett's firm was hired by the city to investigate the hostile workplace allegations.

The letter cleared Noble of the the allegation that in his capacity as a councilman had “subjected City manager Bob Gorson and/or city employees to inappropriate and unwarranted behavior” were unfounded.

Still Noble said he was told in writing twice to cease commenting on city business or talking with city employees.

“W ask that you refrain from discussing Mr. Nelson's findings with city employees unless they initiated such conversations with you because for you to initiate the conversations with employees could be viewed by them as retaliation,” the letter said

He also said he was told verbally in late February that the investigation had cleared him of the hostile workplace violations, but it took two more months, including an exchange of emails with Bennett, before the memo signed by the three councilmen was sent to him.

The memo was dated April 20, but Noble said he received it on May 4.