It was a turbulent first term for Mayor Jamie Irons, who weathered a failed recall effort launched amid controversy over the terminations of two top city employees.
We will never know the full story behind the dismissals of City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Rob Schultz, which were supported by the mayor and two City Council members. Because it was a personnel matter, reasons for the action were never made public. But as we pointed out at the time, it’s nothing new for a Morro Bay City Council to become disenchanted with key administrators. The two previous city managers — Bob Hendrix and David Cole — both resigned because they no longer had the full support of the council.
Rather than dwelling on speculation over the dismissals, we believe it’s more constructive to focus on
(1) what was accomplished during Irons’ first term and
(2) the course he’s charting for the future.
In his first term in office, Irons was a leader in the effort to abandon an ill-conceived and potentially hazardous plan to locate a new wastewater treatment plant at its current location, which is in a flood plain and tsunami zone.
That location would never have been approved by the state Coastal Commission. The former council’s insistence on sticking with it — primarily because it was the least expensive alternative — was ultimately a waste of time and money and put short-term expediency over the long-term welfare of constituents.
Consider: In March 2011, the City Council asked for — and received — a state declaration of a local emergency after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan led to a local tidal surge that did nearly $500,000 in damages to the Morro Bay Harbor. That, in itself, should convince the council of the folly of building a sewer plant in a tsunami zone.
Moving forward, Irons stresses the need to build a new plant at a location that the Coastal Commission and Regional Water Quality Control Board will approve. We agree completely.
We also are impressed by Irons’ focus on securing the city’s water future by working to re-permit the desalination plant, improve conservation and develop new supplies.
Also under Irons’ leadership, there has been more transparency in handling leases for waterfront properties, including the Morro Bay Aquarium. We’re impressed, too, by the commitment to substantially improve waterfront properties, rather than settling for quick, superficial facelifts. The economic development of the downtown and the marketing of the city is going to be especially critical with the city facing the loss of $800,000 in annual revenue from closure of the Morro Bay Power Plant.
Irons’ opponent, former Morro Bay council member Carla Wixom (formerly Carla Borchard) has a strong business background and, like the incumbent, recognizes that economic development and a safe, dependable water supply are critical to the city’s future.
We endorsed her when she ran for City Council, and we remain impressed by Wixom’s knowledge of and commitment to the city. We believe, however, that she erred in supporting the flawed plan to rebuild the sewer plant at the existing location, rather than pressing for an examination of alternatives.
One more word about Irons: While we were disappointed in the way he handled some aspects of the dismissal of Lueker and Schultz — the first meeting on the matter was called with just 24 hours notice, for example — we were impressed that even under harsh, unrelenting criticism and a recall attempt, Irons did not lose his cool. Nor did he resort to petty criticism of his opponents. That says much about the strength of his character and commitment to the city.
Morro Bay continues to face many challenges, and it’s critical to have strong leadership that will take the city in a new direction. The Tribune strongly endorses Jamie Irons for a second term as mayor of Morro Bay.
ELECTION: MORRO BAY MAYOR
Term: Two years
Jamie Irons, 54, incumbent mayor, property manager
Carla Wixom, 55, business owner, former council member
The Tribune endorses: Jamie Irons