A Morro Bay City Council member has been granted a 90-day leave of absence by his peers to recover from a severe eye condition.
Matt Makowetski a href="http://www.sanluisobispo.com/2015/08/27/3780857/matt-makowetski-morro-bay-council.html">requested the leave, unanimously approved by fellow City Council members Tuesday, to deal with a rare, serious infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis.
The condition is caused by bacteria invading the cornea of the eye in contact lens wearers. Makowetski, who wears contacts, believes he may have contracted the illness from surfing or spearfishing.
Makowetski’s leave will commence at the next council meeting on Sept. 22. The council agreed to continue his full compensation of $500 per month plus benefits.
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If the council hadn’t granted the leave and Makowetski was absent from all regular council meetings over a 60-day period, he would lose his seat.
The first-term councilman, whose term runs through 2018, began noticing the irritation around the beginning of July, and he thought it would pass.
But the condition worsened, and a San Francisco medical specialist diagnosed him after Makowetski made several doctors’ visits locally to try to address his issue.
The infection has severely limited his ability to read staff reports and prepare for meetings, as well as conduct his duties as a teacher in the Lompoc Unified School District. Makowetski also is taking time off from his teaching job.
“This is serious,” Morro Bay Councilman Noah Smukler said at Tuesday’s meeting. “He doesn’t have any control of this. It definitely warrants granting the leave.”
Smukler said if Makowetski has to leave his position on the council, it could lead to an appointment process to replace him, which he hopes the council can avoid.
The council discussed whether to approve Makowetski’s compensation during the time he’s missing the council meeting — ultimately voting 4-0 to authorize his pay. Smukler said he viewed the situation as a worker’s compensation matter.
Council members also reasoned that Makowetski was elected by a significant percentage of voters, 61 percent, and that he’ll be conducting duties from afar, including keeping up on his work as best he can from home.
“He was duly elected by a sizable number of voters, and his term runs through 2018,” Councilwoman Christine Johnson said. “Ninety days or three months is not a large chunk of time in relation to the time he has begun to serve. I do agree that Matt can decide how much he’s doing or not and how he may keep that compensation.”
Smukler said that Makowetski told him he didn’t wish to keep his pay, and suggested that Makowetski could donate that money to a charitable organization if he so chooses.
Makowetski told the council in an Aug. 22 that he’d inform them “as soon as possible” if he felt he couldn’t return to his duties.
Makowetski’s absence will temporarily render a four-member council, possibly splitting the vote with a tie on any divisive issue.
However, the council has had few divisions on votes since the last election that saw the departures of George Leage and Nancy Johnson.
The scenario of a split vote on an issue wasn’t discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.