Morro Bay contretemps does not warrant a recall

Without the full story, voters should allow him to do his job

letters@thetribunenews.comSeptember 30, 2013 

Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons announces the no-decision on the fate of the city manager and attorney.

DAVID MIDDLECAMP — dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

The sudden effort to terminate Morro Bay’s city manager and attorney is cause for concern, but it doesn’t warrant recalling a mayor who has been in office less than a year — and faces re-election in just nine months.

Certainly, it’s frustrating that we don’t know why Mayor Jamie Irons, together with Councilwoman Christine Johnson and Councilman Noah Smukler, have been considering termination of two top, longtime employees who enjoy solid support in the community.

Absent information, there’s been speculation and suspicion, which isn’t fair to any of the principals in this conflict.

So let’s stick with what we do know, which is this:

In city and county government, it’s not uncommon for administrators to leave unexpectedly — whether through termination or resignation — because they are no longer in sync with elected office-holders.

In fact, Morro Bay is developing a pattern for that.

The city’s previous manager, Bob Hendrix, suddenly resigned in 2007 after seven years on the job.

“The council now wants to head in a new direction,” he said at the time. “I am not able to help them achieve their new goals, so it is time to make a change.”

Prior to Hendrix, David Cole resigned as Morro Bay city manager in 1999, saying it was clear he no longer enjoyed the support of the full City Council.

It may seem harsh, but as at-will employees, City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Rob Schultz serve at the pleasure of the council.

“They don’t have to have a reason (to terminate),” Schultz said. “That’s their right, they can do that at any time, and we live with it.”

Schultz added, though, that he takes issue with the way the process has been conducted.

We agree that it could have been handled much better.

We especially dislike the rushed, stealthy nature of the first meeting to discuss termination or other discipline — a special session called with just 24 hours’ notice.

But absent information about the underlying reasons for the action, we aren’t going to rush to judgment and condemn Irons.

We continue to believe that he was the strongest candidate for mayor and offered the best opportunity to lead the city forward. So do voters who swept him into office in the 2012 primary election. And attempting to undermine that win by pointing out that Irons won in a primary, when turnout is typically low, is ridiculous. If voters cared that much about the candidates — or about the future of Morro Bay — they would have showed up at the polls, regardless of when the election was held.

We’ll let the vote count speak for itself: Irons won handily with 52 percent of the vote; the next closest finisher had 20 percent, in an election with nearly 60 percent turnout.

Not only that, but in the same primary, voters also elected Johnson and re-elected Smukler, who share Irons’ views on many issues. That was a clear mandate for change.

We believe that decision should be respected. We urge Morro Bay voters to give Irons the opportunity to do the job they elected him to do by rejecting the recall.

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