New claim filed against Del Mar in lifeguard case

A new claim has been filed against Del Mar’s City Council and top administrators by former employee Liza Rogers, this time stating that she was wrongfully terminated for being a “whistleblower.”

Rogers says she sounded the alarm about administrators using the city’s vehicles, parks, power tools and even manual labor for their personal benefit, and that she was fired for it.

An attorney for the city, Jeff Morris, said Roger’s latest claim has been rejected.

“We expect her to be filing a civil lawsuit,” Morris said in an email Friday afternoon, March 2. “The city will vigorously defend its actions in court through the legal process.”

Rogers worked for the city as an administrative assistant, a lifeguard, parking enforcement officer and facility manager. She and her supervisor, Chief Lifeguard and Director of Community Service Pat Vergne, were both laid off last year after an extensive independent investigation of their department.

An earlier wrongful termination claim filed for Rogers by attorney Kenneth Hoyt was based on violations of public policy and discrimination, and it was denied by the city in January. The new claim was filed Feb. 7 by attorney Dan Gilleon.

In addition to the grounds made in the former claim, the new one is based on California’s “whistleblower” law, which states that an employee can’t be fired for refusing to violate a law or for reporting a violation.

“She’s taken a stand, and it’s going to benefit everybody,” Gilleon said Friday, March 2.

“This kind of abuse of power … is not good for the rest of us,” he said.”It took a lot for her to say she wants to speak out on this.”

Vergne, a 37-year Del Mar employee, also filed a wrongful termination claim that the city rejected. He has since filed a lawsuit.

A four-month investigation found evidence that Vergne had improperly waived fees for the use of the city’s Powerhouse Park and community center, allowed events without permits, abused overtime, used a city credit card for personal purchases, and misused public funds.

A subsequent investigation by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

Rogers’ wrongful termination claim states she was fired Sept. 21 in retaliation for her “disclosure of multiple violations of law by City officials and employees.”

Those violations include the use of a city vehicle for personal activities, authorization of payment for hours not worked, inappropriate and sexual-related comments to new lifeguards, the use of city employees to work at a personal residence while on the city clock, the use of city power tools at personal residences and more.

All of Rogers’ allegations are against the Community Services Department’s deputy director, Mark Rathsam, and lifeguard Lt. John Edelbrock, whom the city promoted to Vergne’s former position in January.

She also claimed Rathsam and Edelbrock had used the Powerhouse facilities for personal events without obtaining the necessary permits or paying the required fees.

The lifeguard department investigation has roiled the community for almost a year. Many residents have called for the termination of City Manager Scott Huth, saying Huth had unfairly accused Vergne of wrongdoing.

However, after the completion of an extended performance review, the City Council voted in February to extend Huth’s employment contract to 2020.

Huth also received a 3 percent consumer price index increase, a 2 percent merit increase, and a 4 percent one-time bonus on his base annual salary of about $210,000.

--Phil Diehl is a writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune

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