Mayor's actions not in Morro Bay's best interests

November 3, 2013 

As a former mayor of Morro Bay, I disagree with The Tribune’s editorial comment (Oct. 27) that the mayoral recall petition is something “undertaken on a whim to embarrass or undermine a political opponent.” On the contrary, those of us supporting the recall feel that Mayor Jamie Irons’ actions, as noted below, have been “incompetent and an abuse of power” and definitely not in the best interests of Morro Bay.

Despite campaign statements that he would let the Coastal Commission decide our wastewater treatment facility application, immediately on taking office Irons requested that the project be denied, not withdrawn, as our Cayucos partners in the Joint Powers Agreement requested. In my opinion, this action wasted seven years of work and damaged a hard-won cooperative relationship with the Cayucos board.

New project cost estimates range from an additional $90 million to $160 million dollars and will substantially increase our sewer bills, something I predicted during the election and was accused of “fear-mongering” by Irons.

The council has every right to terminate the city manager and city attorney without cause because they are both at-will employees; however, to attempt to remove both at once, on 24-hour notice, with no plan of succession to cover the city’s operations and ongoing legal matters, was foolhardy and irresponsible. Irons’ action showed no consideration for the confusion and anger it would cause in the community, the perception of impropriety within Morro Bay city government, or the impression of wrongdoing by two long-term, dedicated public employees.

When citizens rallied in protest, Irons compounded his missteps by submitting a council item, approved by council members Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson, authorizing him to personally choose outside legal counsel to assist in the terminations. Irons wrote and signed a contract, with no staff or council review, which omitted the “not to exceed” cost wording specified in the council motion. When pressured by all four council members, Irons added an addendum to include the wording.

While Irons clearly stated that there are no complaints or charges against either employee, his supporters cite a Brown Act violation as reason for the city attorney’s removal. The issue was Rob Schultz’s severance term, which was nine months under his original 2002 contract. It was changed to six months in 2010 without negotiation. In November 2012, the previous council reinstated the nine-month term. Schultz was not present at the meeting but advised then-Mayor Bill Yates, and subsequently, Mayor Irons to agendize the matter for council to confirm or rescind the action in open session. Irons obtained corroboration of this advice by outside counsel but declined to follow it.

Schultz, who was willing to stay on the job until a replacement was found, was instead put on administrative leave, and the city will hire two interim attorneys before selecting a permanent successor, an unnecessary waste of taxpayer funds.

The recall effort is not about losing an election. In fact, I and others involved voted for some of the winners, believing their promises of transparency and doing what’s best for the city. Given Irons’ actions over the past 10 months, we are sincerely concerned for the future of our city and the welfare of its citizens if he continues as mayor, even for a final six months.

That is the reason for the recall.

Former Mayor Janice Peters retired from her seat on the Morro Bay City Council in 2010.

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