Judge Tentatively Orders Milpitas to Release Records About Former City Manager Tom Williams

The public’s right to know about a former Milpitas city manager’s alleged misconduct outweighs the official’s right to privacy, according to a Wednesday court ruling.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Sunil Kulkarni’s tentative decision requires the city to release documents related to alleged wrongdoing by retired City Manager Tom Williams, who last year sued to prevent their disclosure.

“Mr. Williams argues that because he has retired, ‘disclosure of this highly sensitive information will serve little public purpose at this juncture,’” Kulkarni wrote. “Not so. Even if Mr. Williams is no longer with the city, his claims against the city live on, and the public has a right to know information about those claims. The public also should know what steps, if any, the city and its elected officials have taken or are taking in response to the allegations made against Mr. Williams and made by Mr. Williams. Moreover, Mr. Williams may well seek another public sector job in the future, and the public has a right to know what kind of person it is hiring.”

In his 12 years as city manager, Williams presided over extraordinarily high turnover of department heads of high-ranking city officials. He was personally involved in a litany of costly payouts to settle litigation over retaliation, harassment and discrimination. And toward the end of his tenure, he was caught misusing taxpayer money to pay for personal legal fees. That is, he tried to get the city to pay $37,000 to explore a lawsuit demanding $1 million in damages from its own coffers.

City attorney Chris Diaz told Williams to pay the money back last spring. Williams apologized. A few months later, he resigned and took a job as a land-use consultant.

But none of that fazed the Millbrae City Council, which hired him as interim city manager just a couple weeks ago.

Millbrae officials have yet to respond to requests for comment. But in an interview with the Milpitas Post last month, Councilman Reuben Holober said he doesn’t believe the allegations against Williams.

In addition to erring on the side of disclosure, Judge Kulkarni said he plans to put Williams on the hook for attorney’s fees for the First Amendment Coalition, a free speech advocacy nonprofit that joined the case as part of a broader effort to fight so-called reverse-CPRA lawsuits.

Attorneys for the First Amendment Coalition explained that Kulkarni’s decision is a procedural step that’s nearly certain to result in a final judgment requiring public access to the records sought.

They also noted that the records in question, which are expected to be released within the month, implicate misconduct by not only Williams, but Milpitas Mayor Rich Tran.

“We are grateful these records will finally be released, but they should have been made public more than a year ago, when newspapers first asked for them under the CPRA,” FAC Executive Director David Snyder said in a statement on the nonprofit’s website. “The fact that it took so long for this information to become public highlights the enormous problem posed by reverse CPRA lawsuits.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

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