After serving two years as mayor in a city fraught with controversy over the handling of key issues, Jamie Irons announced his candidacy for re-election Thursday, citing his commitment to building new infrastructure including a sewage treatment plant.
The primary election for the mayoral seat is set for June 3.
Irons survived a recall effort that failed to obtain enough petition signatures by a Jan. 16 deadline.
He said in a statement released Thursday that he has achieved campaign promises of “vision, transparency, and leadership.”
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Two issues seemed to be at the forefront of the recall. The first was Irons’ role in the forced resignations of two longtime city employees: former City Manager Andrea Lueker and former City Attorney Rob Schultz.
The city also remains divided about the best location for a water treatment plant.
The state Coastal Commission denied a proposal last year to rebuild the aging plant at its current location by the beach. Irons opposed that proposal and has championed building a new plant inland.
Among their complaints, recall leaders accused Irons of wasting city funds. They say his support for moving the sewer plant will cost the city millions of dollars more than rebuilding at the current site.
Irons called the recall effort a “character assassination” and contends the city can’t continue to fight the Coastal Commission. Pursuing a seaside location for the plant despite the commission’s opposition has also dearly cost the city time and money, he said.
The sewer controversy and the forced departures of Lueker and Schultz were supported by council members Christine Johnson and Noah Smukler. But Irons has been the lightning rod for criticism, leading to the recall attempt.
Irons said Thursday he’s prepared to discuss his position on the treatment plant site, but the employee resignations were a more “delicate decision,” he said. No reason for the forced departures has been given.
“All I can do for the residents, within the law, is to try to convince them there are two other reasonable people who thought that it was a good idea (to replace Lueker and Schultz),” Irons said. “Do you think the three of us made a bad decision or was there justification?”
Critics such as former Mayor Janice Peters, who participated in the recall effort, say Irons’ leadership has misguided the city.
“I think his method of doing things is not in the best interest of the city,” Peters said. “His choices on how to take action have been divisive.”
Peters said the process of removing Schultz and Lueker was “painful” for the two of them and that the discussion shouldn’t have dragged on for months.
In announcing his candidacy, Irons cited a goal of updating the city’s 26-year-old general plan with a $250,000 grant from the Ocean Protection Council.
The city faces other major issues, he said.
“Our city water supply is at risk with the drought, and much of our infrastructure hasn’t been updated since we incorporated as a city,” he said. “The recent closure of the power plant and future use of the property is also a major issue for Morro Bay.”
In a phone interview Thursday, Irons said, “Two years (as mayor) is really just a starting point. To really follow through with what has been started requires some more years. … Obviously, there has been a lot that has transpired in the last 12 to 14 months.
I don’t feel I could walk away from what has been started.”
Irons said his first-term accomplishments include planning a bike path and bridge connecting North Morro Bay to the Embarcadero, funding street resurfacing and rebuilding relations with the Coastal Commission.
“We have made progress,” Irons said. “I think our relationship with the Coastal Commission has improved.”
Peters said no competing candidate from the recall group has stepped forward but “I think there’s a better candidate” who will run.
“I don’t know who that is yet,” Peters said.
Morro Bay resident and former Councilwoman Betty Winholtz said she has supported Irons and felt he has made good decisions about the sewer and the handling of the departures of Lueker and Schultz.
“I would just like to see faster progress with the building of the sewer,” Winholtz said. “The council is dragging its feet in terms of moving forward with that project. They’re too cautious.”