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City manager called Sacramento developer ‘mentally ill.’ Now the developer’s filed a claim

Developer Paul Petrovich has filed a claim with the city of Sacramento saying he suffered embarrassment, emotional distress and harm to his reputation when it was revealed that the city manager called him mentally ill in a text message to a councilman.

The claim is the third legal action Petrovich has taken against Sacramento since the city refused in 2015 to grant him a permit to build a Safeway gas station in his Crocker Village development adjacent to the Curtis Park neighborhood.

In two ongoing lawsuits, Petrovich contends City Council members colluded against him before the vote to deny him the station permit. An October hearing has been set on the main lawsuit.

The new claim, filed with the city clerk, involves a text message that since-retired City Manager John Shirey sent to Councilman Jay Schenirer a few weeks before the council vote.

Petrovich was pushing City Hall for permit approval during a bitter fight with local residents. In one email a few weeks before the planned council vote, he accused Schenirer, the area’s councilman, of trying to start a race war and appeared to reference Schenirer’s Jewish faith.

“I have read all of Paul’s blasts to us today,” Shirey texted Schenirer that night. “I have concluded he is mentally ill and is in serious need of psychiatric treatment.”

The Shirey text remained private until earlier this year, when the Petrovich legal team discovered it among texts and emails it had requested from the city as part of its ongoing lawsuit.

The Petrovich team made the quote public in March in a document it submitted to the Sacramento Superior Court, citing it as evidence of “personal animus” city officials have toward Petrovich. The Sacramento Bee published the quote a few months later.

In his claim, Petrovich said people contacted him after the Bee article came out, “inquiring into his mental health” and asking if he was OK. The claim says that Petrovich “has suffered severe emotional distress, humiliation, embarrassment, mortification and shame.” It called Shirey’s statement defamatory and said it harmed the developer’s “goodwill, trade name and reputation.”

The claim asks for payment for damages of not less than $25,000.

For his part, Shirey told The Bee in May that he didn’t hold ill will toward the developer, but felt Petrovich needed some professional help. Shirey and his staff recommended the council grant Petrovich the permit to build the gas station. The council, however, voted 7-2 to deny the permit.

Crocker Village is a planned community of homes, apartments and stores under development in the former railyard next to Curtis Park and north of Sutterville Road. Petrovich hopes to land a Safeway store for the site. But Safeway has said it will locate there only if it is allowed the gas station.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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