San Luis Obispo City Councilman John Ashbaugh escaped a formal censure by his colleagues Monday night but was publicly shamed by them for his prior public disclosure of what occurred during a closed-session meeting.
At a meeting Monday, the council discussed the best remedy for Ashbaugh’s actions and considered three options: public condemnation, criticism or disapproval of what happened, a formal censure or referral for a county grand jury investigation.
The council chose the first.
Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson described the Oct. 21 incident as a “personality conflict that is not healthy for our city or our community.”
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Prior to the council’s discussion, Ashbaugh made a short statement before recusing himself from the meeting.
“I was wrong. I’m sorry,” Ashbaugh said. “I regret that this matter must take valuable time and I trust you will do what is in best interest of the city.”
Ashbaugh’s alleged violation of the state Brown Act, which governs open meetings, occurred during an October council meeting when Ashbaugh accused Councilman Dan Carpenter of being unprepared and not asking any questions of legal staff during a prior closed-session meeting.
At the time the council was discussing the possibility of overruling the Airport Land Use Commission in order to implement an updated general plan, the city’s blueprint for growth. Ashbaugh’s disclosure angered Carpenter, leading to a heated exchange on the dais and a warning by City Attorney Christine Dietrick that closed session discussions are a matter of attorney-client privilege.
On Monday, Dietrick said that she does not have the jurisdiction to make the legal determination if the Brown Act was violated.
Carpenter said Monday night that he wanted Ashbaugh to resign.
“What John did was he was a bully and a bully should never be rewarded,” said Carpenter, adding that he did not want to pursue a formal censure or a grand jury investigation. “For me it is more about the cure than the punishment.”
Carpenter asked his colleagues on the dais to find a way to guarantee that the privacy of future closed session meetings would not be violated. None were suggested.
However, San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx said that the council’s public disapproval of Ashbaugh’s actions, was “the very most effective thing that we can do at this time.”
Twelve people spoke during public comment at Monday’s hearing, held at the request of the council majority. Most of them acknowledged Ashbaugh erred and asked the council to move forward without an official censure.
Ashbaugh’s alleged violation, however, angered some residents. Kevin P. Rice, a frequent council critic, filed a request after the October meeting asking that the city take disciplinary action against Ashbaugh.
San Luis Obispo resident Stephan Lamb, a retired Cal Poly administrator, also asked the council to issue a vote of “no confidence” against Ashbaugh and ask him to resign.