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Watchdog in Manhattan Beach city manager lawsuit dies

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Former Californians Aware director Richard McKee passed away on Saturday. Photo courtesy of calaware.org

Richard McKee, founder and director of watchdog group Californians Aware, died Saturday, nearly six weeks after winning a lawsuit against the city over Brown Act violations in connection with former city manager Geoff Dolan’s departure.

McKee was 62.

He died of natural causes in his La Verne home after complaining of flu-like symptoms and was found by his wife, according to Lt. Fred Corral of the Los Angeles County Department of Coroner. Because of McKee’s medical history, which included high blood pressure, no autopsy was performed, Corral said.

“Richard McKee was a strong advocate for open government,” said Councilmember Wayne Powell. “The City Council appreciated and shared Mr. McKee’s commitment to transparency.”

Last April, McKee filed a lawsuit against the city on behalf of the nonprofit government watchdog group Californians Aware, which ultimately forced the city to release an anonymous letter alleging sexual misconduct by Dolan at a team-building event in Pismo Beach prior to his departure from the city in December 2009. In March, the city settled the lawsuit and apologized to residents in a letter admitting it was “reluctant to be forthright” during and after Dolan’s departure, citing poor legal advice as reason for the decision.

Earlier this month, the city fired former city attorney Robert Wadden, who handled the majority of the lawsuit for the city.

The city also agreed to pay McKee $70,000 in attorney fees, as well as conduct staff training within 90 days on the handling of public records and Brown Act training within 180 days for board members and commissioners.

The Ralph M. Brown Act is a state law governing open meetings by public agencies.

McKee had claimed the city violated the act by not publicly noticing a closed session City Council meeting at which Dolan’s departure was decided. McKee also claimed the city unlawfully sealed documents associated with Dolan’s exit, including his resignation and release agreement, which was made public in January.

“We knew something was wrong there,” McKee told the Easy Reader in January. “In California, these kinds of settlement agreements are unquestionably public documents. When the city attorney said he couldn’t give it to us, I knew inside that something was wrong. I thought, ‘This can’t be.’”

McKee, an activist for open government and the protection of the public’s right to access public records since 1993, litigated 14 successful open government and First Amendment lawsuits. He also served as the president of the California First Amendment Coalition and recently retired from Pasadena City College, where he was a part-time chemistry professor.

“Rich was one of our greatest champions throughout the years, and we truly could not have done any of this without him,” wrote friend and colleague Emily Francke on Californians Aware’s website. ER


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