By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A state appeals court has ruled that Sonoma County had the authority to fire former Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville last year.
County supervisors dismissed Neville after she allegedly created a toxic work environment, lied in a county-led investigation and failed to show leadership.
Neville subsequently sued the county, contending that supervisors acted illegally in retribution for her politically unpopular decision to fire Amy Cooper, the county’s former director of Animal Care and Control. Cooper has since been rehired.
The 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco sided with county attorneys who argued that supervisors had the authority to fire Neville last March. Neville contended that only the state could take that action.
Neville was paid an annual salary of $153,413, plus $80,102 in benefits. She is seeking reinstatement to her job plus back pay and attorney’s fees.
Stephen Murphy, Neville’s San Francisco-based employment law attorney, said Tuesday that she will appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court.
“If this decision is allowed to stand, it exposes (agricultural) commissioners to political influence on the local level, which is the reason why the Legislature many years ago made the decision to take the power to terminate out of the hands of the board of supervisors,” Murphy said.
But county counsel Bruce Goldstein said the appeals court “understood the need” for Neville’s conduct to be addressed by her employer on issues of “local concern.”
Neville declined comment Tuesday.