The Public Eye

Rocklin paid its former city attorney $270,000 to leave – without explaining why

Rocklin City Hall
Rocklin City Hall

The city of Rocklin gave longtime City Attorney Russell Hildebrand a $270,000 severance check last year after forcing him to resign with little explanation, helping to give him the third biggest lump-sum payment by a California city.

Rocklin City Council members last year forced Hildebrand to resign despite knowing that they would have to pay him a year’s salary and stating that he had “served the employer well during his long tenure,” according to his separation agreement.

Hildebrand’s replacement as city attorney, Steve Rudolph, said council members can’t discuss their decision because of a confidentiality agreement. Hildebrand said he’s still in the dark about his ouster, and the one council member who backed him said more than a year later he’s still upset about his colleagues’ decision.

Hildebrand’s lump-sum payment, along with his regular salary for working through April 2016, gave him total pay of $418,000 last year. The lump-sum payment was $335,585, which included a cashout of unused vacation and sick time.

According to the State Controller’s Office, Hildebrand’s lump-sum last year was surpassed only by a $340,000 payment to an Oakland police officer and a $2 million payment to a former Vallejo firefighter that a jury found was wrongly terminated. The Oakland Police Department did not return a call seeking more information about the payment to its officer.

Lump-sum payments are often the result of accrued vacation and sick time cashed out upon retirement, but in some cases involve settlements such as Hildebrand’s.

Hildebrand started in Rocklin as a deputy city attorney in 1998 and was promoted to the top position five years later. His contract said he would receive one year of salary and benefits if he was terminated and was still “able to perform the city attorney’s duties.”

His contract had four months remaining when he met with the City Council in February 2016 for a scheduled meeting on his annual performance review, according to city records.

“It became very clear early on that this was not a performance review,” Hildebrand said in an interview. “They just said, ‘We want you to resign.’”

“It was very abrupt and I was never given any kind of explanation,” said Hildebrand, who now works with a Roseville law firm that provides attorneys on a contract basis for local governments across the state. “After 19 years with the city, and just being shown the door without an explanation … it was very disappointing and I don’t think it was very professional.”

At a council meeting the following month, the board voted 4-1 not to renew Hildebrand’s contract. The agreement signed by Hildebrand and then-Mayor Greg Janda states the city “desires to seek and retain a new city attorney” and “has asked employee to resign, without cause.”

Two of the four council members voting for Hildebrand’s removal are no longer with the city. The two who remain, Janda and Scott Yuill, did not return messages seeking comment.

Hildebrand’s replacement, Rudolph, said he advised the council not to talk because of the confidentiality agreement.

George Magnuson voted against the motion to end Hildebrand’s contract. Nearly a year and a half later, Magnuson said he’s still bothered by Hildebrand’s removal.

“I thought he did a good job,” he said. “That’s why I voted the way I did.”

Magnuson said the treatment of Hildebrand was one reason he decided not to run for re-election last fall, after 25 years on the City Council.

“There were certainly things I didn’t like about the way things were being run,” he said.

Magnuson declined to explain further his frustrations with city management. He also declined to say the reasons other City Council members gave for pushing out Hildebrand since they were discussed in a closed-door meeting as allowed under state law.