News Analysis: The right to fire


The rather cursory announcement at the end of the City Council meeting Monday night by Councilman Tom Hasse, relating to the dismissal of Nidia Birenbaum as his appointed commissioner on the Malibu Telecommunications Commission, failed to disclose the full extent of the tensions going on beneath the surface. For the past week, ever since Hasse had advised Birenbaum that she either had to resign or be fired, she and husband Sam Birenbaum had been lobbying Hasse heavily with phone messages left on Hasse’s answering machine. There was also an exchange of lawyers’ letters between Interim City Attorney Richard Terzian, on behalf of the city, and attorney Sam Birenbaum, on behalf of his wife, related to the proposed dismissal.

Hasse in the past had reportedly talked to and counseled Nidia Birenbaum about public outbursts. Her reported actions at the last Telecommunications Commission meeting apparently were the last straw. Terzian, in his letter, advised Sam Birenbaum a council member has the power to remove an appointee. He also characterized some portion of Sam Birenbaum’s letter as a threat and indicated Hasse intended to carry out his independent discretion as a public official “despite these threats.”

Sam Birenbaum in his letters charged the dismissal was essentially unfair and uncalled for, saying Nidia Birenbaum was the one who was actually the abused party at the hands of City Manager Harry Peacock and others. He also charged the tape of the meeting was incomplete because it didn’t record the arguments, saying there was a “deceitful attempt to withhold and/or destroy evidence or to fabricate some other excuse about the record, to cover up inappropriate and abusive behavior by Mr. Peacock during the meeting ….”

Hasse turned over some materials related to the event to the Sheriff’s Department, which is reportedly conducting an investigation.

Sources say Hasse’s decision to dismiss Birenbaum was his own and required neither the concurrence nor a vote of the council. However, it was clear at the council meeting not all agreed with Hasse’s move, as was apparent in a comment made by Councilman Walt Keller implying this was solely Hasse’s decision, one with which Keller apparently didn’t agree.