The sanitation agency off Joerger Road in Truckee has been on a rocky road for the past few years, with multiple investigations by state agencies and allegations by employees of mismanagement. Now, the two issues for Tahoe-Truckee Sanitation Agency have seemingly come to a head at the same time. But the timing is just coincidental, say agency representatives.

On July 7, the California Public Employment Relations Board issued its final decision regarding case number SA-CE-1090-M, Philip Fay versus TTSA. PERB is a quasi-judicial administrative agency responsible for protecting basic civil rights for many state and local public agency employees. The ruling comes after nearly three-and-a-half years of investigation of Fay’s firing in 2019 from the agency, as well as an appeal by TTSA, and ultimately resulted in a settlement outside of formal proceedings.

About the same time the settlement was reached, LaRue Griffin, general manager for TTSA for seven years, resigned. His last day was June 23, though he continues to work in an administrative capacity to help transition in a new GM. Per the resignation and release agreement, which Moonshine Ink obtained on July 26, Griffin is receiving a regular monthly salary of $19,461.69 until no later than March 20, 2023.

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Agency representatives maintain the PERB decision and GM resignation are not related.

Of the coinciding events, Richard Shanahan, the agency’s legal counsel, said, “We had a window of opportunity to deal with the PERB matter, and that was the trigger, the fish or cut bait time, in resolving the Fay matters and that window happened to be now.”

Fay believes Griffin’s resignation and the resolution of his case are related, pointing out that the settlement between the two parties was agreed upon on June 15. On Tuesday, June 21, Griffin sent an email to staff notifying them of his resignation. By that Friday, he was gone.

For the past three years, Griffin’s performance has been on the table for discussion at nearly every regular monthly TTSA board meeting. For much of 2020, 2021, and up to his departure, the closed session portion of the agendas had included an employee performance review of the GM position.

“Regarding the frequency of [Griffin’s] performance reviews within the past two years, both the board and LaRue believed it to be in the agency’s best interest to maintain open and ongoing communication to ensure that the board’s direction and expectations of the general manager were clearly communicated on an ongoing basis,” shared TTSA Board President Dan Wilkins in an email with Moonshine. “This was the reason for the more frequent performance reviews than had been conducted in years past.”

The Fay case was first submitted to PERB in February 2019, with Fay claiming that TTSA “retaliated against him for protected activity [efforts to unionize agency staff] by requiring him to take unpaid leave, assigning him arduous work, reprimanding him, and terminating his employment,” according to PERB documentation.

Griffin asserted in an email earlier this year that Fay’s firing was because of a physical altercation between Fay and another employee at TTSA in November 2018. Fay says he never intentionally struck anyone.

In a Feb. 15, 2022 ruling on the Fay case, PERB determined that TTSA unlawfully reprimanded and terminated Fay, but the use of unpaid leave and assignment of work were not unlawful. PERB ordered TTSA to reinstate Fay as an employee, provide back pay from the date of Fay’s termination date (Jan. 14, 2019), and provide written notification of these actions taken to PERB. TTSA appealed the decision.

After some negotiation on amount of backpay, the proposed settlement by Fay and his attorney and agreed upon by provides Fay with $512,500 in backpay, and required a full waiver and release of claims on the matter for TTSA. Fay will not return to the agency as an employee, telling the Ink, “They don’t want me back there and I don’t necessarily wish to go back there.”

PERB was notified of the settlement on June 24 and officially dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the case has been finalized in all court settings.

Currently, Richard Pallante, maintenance department manager, is serving as interim GM, with Operations Department Manager Michael Peak functioning as interim assistant GM.

TTSA’s violations in recent years include: A 2020 PERB verdict confirmed that TTSA had retaliated against attempted unionizing (for which Fay was interviewed, though this verdict was separate from the 2022 decision); in the fall of 2020, California’s State Water Resources Control Board documented violations and deviations during an on-site investigation by the board’s Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program; and between 2010 and 2020, the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board identified numerous violations of the agency’s discharge quality and levels of compliance. Moonshine Ink has reported on each of these findings, see the Related Stories list at top right.

Author

  • Alex Hoeft

    Alex Hoeft joined Moonshine staff in May 2019, happy to return to the world of journalism after a few years in community outreach. She has both her bachelor's and Master's in journalism, from Brigham Young University and University of Nevada, Reno, respectively. When she's not journalism-ing, you'll usually find her reading a murder mystery, pounding the pavement on a run, or eternally throwing the ball for her dog.

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