City manager claims councilman defamed her over talk of relationship with police lieutenant

Fresno City Manager Wilma Quan threatened to sue the city and demanded an investigation into claims that Councilmember Miguel Arias defamed her, discriminated against her and created a hostile work environment, letters obtained by The Bee reveal.

The legal threats were sparked when Arias told city officials that Quan’s alleged relationship with a top police lieutenant influenced her decision in naming the new police chief.

The letters shed light on the backlash that occurred behind closed doors at Fresno City Hall after city leaders already struggled to convince the public that the process to hire the new police chief was transparent and inclusive.

Mayor Lee Brand and Quan announced in August the appointment of Andy Hall as the new police chief after a months-long search for a new chief. The search, which cost about $40,000, yielded five finalists, but Quan and Brand instead appointed Hall, who did not apply for the job.

Advocates and some council members, including Arias, criticized the decision, calling it disappointing and “a repeat of the good old boy hiring process.”

Hall was sworn in Wednesday after former Chief Jerry Dyer officially retired on Tuesday.

Legal threats and investigation demands

Quan and Fresno police Lt. Richard Tucker hired high-profile Fresno attorney Warren Paboojian to represent them. In September, Paboojian and City Attorney Doug Sloan exchanged several letters, despite Sloan’s assertion in one of them that “letter writing campaigns are not productive.”

Paboojian demanded an investigation into defamatory statements allegedly made by Arias. Paboojian said the comments created a hostile work environment for Quan and Tucker.

“...Mr. Arias has stated that the city manager is ‘f… Richard Tucker and this relationship is why Andy Hall was named the Chief of Police,’” Paboojian wrote, demanding that Arias “cease and desist” any further “false” comments.

Paboojian said the allegations that Quan compromised her position and integrity as city manager were false.

“Ms. Quan has stated unequivocally that her decision to select Andy Hall as the Chief of Police had nothing to do with any personal relationships with anyone,” Paboojian wrote. “To indicate otherwise by Mr. Arias compromises the selection of the Chief of Police and Ms. Quan’s integrity and competency.”

Sloan responded, saying Arias allegedly made the statements to Brand’s chief of staff, Tim Orman. Both Arias and Orman had a valid interest in ensuring the appointment was made without influence, Sloan said. He also said the statement was protected speech.

The letters don’t necessarily confirm Quan and Tucker are in a relationship, but Paboojian does make clear he represents them both.

“There have been a number of discussions about my client’s sexual relationship with Mr. Tucker, to a number of councilmembers, the mayor and staff members,” Paboojian said in one letter. “Not only is this highly inappropriate, it is flat out wrong. …Mr. Arias has no facts to make the comments that he has made regarding the selection of the new chief of police.”

Quan received a divorce in August, according to records in Fresno County Superior Court. Tucker filed for divorce in February, according to court records.

It’s also unclear whether Hall’s appointment benefited Tucker in any way. When Hall was deputy chief, Tucker worked under him as the lieutenant overseeing traffic safety and support services. Now, he’s been assigned to the chief’s office, according to one of Sloan’s letters to Paboojian.

The correspondence between the attorneys also outline claims that Arias discriminated against Quan last winter when he commented about the city manager’s office lacking diversity. Arias is Latino. Quan is white.

About two weeks after his first letter, Paboojian said in another letter that Quan and Tucker would consider suing the city since no investigation was conducted.

Sloan informed Paboojian that initially, Quan told him all she wanted was for Arias to “stop talking about this.” But the demands for an investigation and legal threats had the opposite effect, Sloan said.

“You have placed us in a paradoxical circumstance, asking people to stop talking about it, but at the same time insisting on an investigation that could reach well beyond city hall … If you indeed want people to stop talking about it, then stop talking about it. You are doing far more to further the discussion than anyone else.”

Sloan also pointed out that the threats and demands put the city in a tough position. The city attorney’s office had a conflict in investigating Arias since the city council employs the city attorney. But, Sloan said, the personnel director reports directly to the city manager.

Sloan hired an outside investigator, Fresno-based Andrew Aller of the Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo law firm, according to an email to the city council that was obtained by The Bee. Sloan also said his office was working to retain an outside attorney to defend the case.

Sloan asked the council members not to discuss the issue with his staff or the media. In an email, Sloan asked The Bee to return any client-privilege communications and to “not publicly disclose the contents.”

In an email obtained by The Bee, Sloan said the city council would discuss the matter in an Oct. 10 closed session meeting, where Quan and Arias would recuse themselves. (The city manager routinely sits in on closed sessions.)

But that never happened. On Oct. 3 Sloan updated the council, saying via email, “We may get this resolved. So for now a closed session is not necessary.”

It’s unclear whether the matter ever was resolved or if it will be taken up by the city council during a closed session meeting. It’s also unclear whether Aller ever initiated an investigation into the matter.

Paboojian did not respond to requests for comment. Aller did not return a phone message left by The Bee.

Other city officials involved also declined to comment.

“The administration is not going to engage in any conversation on this subject, either on the record or off the record,” Brand said in a statement to The Bee through an email from a spokesperson.

Arias responds

Arias said in a phone interview with The Bee on Thursday that he wasn’t going to comment on the content of the letters, saying he’d prefer to focus on more important policy matters facing the city.

He said in the interview that he considers the matter closed: When he brought his concerns to the attention of city staff, they reassured him no conflict existed due to personal relationships when Quan made her police chief appointment.

“I accepted that as being the case,” he said.

Arias said he’s not aware of any ongoing investigation related to the matter.

Members of the public and city employees alert council members to many issues, he said. It’s council members’ obligation to alert the appropriate city staff but not go any further than that.

“I’ve always done that, and I will continue to do that,” he said.

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Brianna Calix covers politics and investigations for The Bee, where she works to hold public officials accountable and shine a light on issues that deeply affect residents’ lives. She previously worked for The Bee’s sister paper, the Merced Sun-Star, and earned her bachelor’s degree from Fresno State.