HANFORD — Art Brieno stepped onto the dais inside council chambers Tuesday evening and reclaimed his council seat, rescinding the resignation that he announced three weeks ago.
The move prompted several members of the public to ask the Council for an explanation, including attorney Rachele Berglund, who is representing Hanford’s Community Development Director, Darlene Mata, in a claim against the city.
The claim alleges Brieno subjected Mata to a hostile work environment and unlawful workplace conduct, including gender harassment. Mata is seeking a settlement payment of $1.25 million from the city, among other demands.
“I am a bit perplexed about how a council member who resigned, unequivocally, is now back on the dais,” Berglund said, during the meeting’s public comment portion.
Brieno announced his resignation from the council following a Jan. 26 closed session meeting addressing Mata's claim.
In explaining his change of heart, Brieno said Tuesday that he and the city worked on an amicable agreement on the evening of Jan. 26 because he did not want to see any further litigation against the city and felt that the city’s terms were acceptable.
However, Brieno said he received a call from his attorney a couple of days later, who told him that the resignation document that was presented to him was not what they agreed to. He said he decided not to sign the agreement and instead would retain his seat.
Brieno said he prays that the litigation does not move forward and that there is a settlement.
City Attorney Ty Mizote further explained the city’s side of the situation.
Mizote said the City Attorney’s office worked with Brieno’s attorney to draft an agreement that covered his resignation. He said the City Attorney’s office believed they had an agreement with Brieno, but a few hours later received a request for additional terms to be added to the agreement.
Ultimately, he said, the document was not signed.
Mizote said there are two sets of authority under the law that come into play in such a situation: One that says a resignation is effective when a council member turns in writing confirming resignation to the city clerk, and a second that says a public official can abandon their seat by either words or actions.
On that second line of authority, Mizote said Brieno made it clear during the Jan. 26 city council meeting that he resigned from council.
“We do have some evidence to support that his seat was abandoned as a result of his statements,” Mizote said.
While no resolution to the matter was made Tuesday, at the end of the meeting Vice Mayor Diane Sharp asked the council to consider the censure of Brieno at an upcoming meeting, which her fellow council members agreed to.
Community members rally behind Brieno
Prior to the council meeting Tuesday evening, a group of community members gathered on the steps of the Civic Auditorium to show their support for Brieno.
Hanford resident Bob Ramos said Brieno had always done his job as a council member and asked the questions that needed to be asked.
“This is the job that he should be doing for the people — asking questions of staff,” Ramos said.
Brieno addressed the crowd, reiterating his belief that the entire situation with Mata was a misunderstanding and a breakdown of communication. He also said no one ever pulled him aside and told him that he needed to correct anything.
More so, Brieno said the city never gave him the opportunity to defend himself, especially after an investigative report on the issue was released.
“It’s a report that I think is not complete,” he said.
Following the release of the report, Brieno said he received a lot of phone calls from people who told them they felt like he was being wronged by the city.
“I didn’t think I had an opportunity to come back — really I didn’t,” he said.
Although he felt like the city didn’t want him back in his seat, Brieno said, however, he had the right to be there.
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