Morro Bay City Attorney Robert Schultz was placed on paid administrative leave Thursday on a 3-2 vote by the Morro Bay City Council.
After nearly four hours of closed-door deliberations, the council also voted 5-0 to have the city’s special counsel Steven Simas continue to negotiate with Schultz to terminate his contract.
Schultz is an at-will employee, meaning the council does not have to give a reason for terminating him.
No further open- or closed-session meetings on the matter of Schultz’s employment have been scheduled, Mayor Jamie Irons said after the meeting. The scheduling of such meetings will depend on the outcome of negotiations between Simas and Schultz.
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The action is the latest move in a controversial process that began about seven weeks ago. The City Council held a meeting Sept. 12 to discuss the proposed disciplining or termination of both Schultz and City Manager Andrea Lueker. About 300 people attended that meeting, most of whom were opposed to their firings.
By contrast, a handful of people attended the meeting Thursday morning, with only two offering public comment, both in support of Irons’ attempt to terminate Schultz.
“I’m behind you 100 percent with whatever you decide to do,” Morro Bay resident Lynda Merrill said.
Lueker remains city manager, and no additional moves to remove her have been made. Irons is now subject to a recall effort, in part because of his proposed moves regarding the top two city employees.
As part of his contract with the city, Schultz could receive nine months of severance pay. Schultz earns $151,589 a year. The details of his severance package would not be known until his negotiations with Simas are complete.
Also on Thursday, Irons clarified the city’s contract with special counsel Simas. When the City Council gave Irons the authority to hire Simas, they capped his contract at $12,500.
However, the original contract with Simas dated Oct. 9 omitted the cap on his legal fees. On Thursday, Irons and Simas amended the contract to include the cap. Irons and Simas signed only the amended contract.
Others, including former City Councilman Bill Peirce, have questioned the legality of hiring Simas. Peirce said the council should have prepared documents seeking responses from law firms.
Tom Newton, executive director of the California Newspaper Publishers Association, said the move does not appear to be a violation of the state’s open meeting law, the Brown Act.
As long as Irons received authorization from the council to retain outside legal counsel and adhered to that authorization, the law was not violated, Newton said.
Irons said he will respond in writing to all of Peirce’s allegations by Nov. 15.