Morro Bay council ousts city attorney, starts process to fire city manager

City Attorney Robert Schultz listens to public comment during the Morro Bay City Council's special meeting Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at the Veterans Memorial Building.
City Attorney Robert Schultz listens to public comment during the Morro Bay City Council's special meeting Monday, Oct. 21, 2013, at the Veterans Memorial Building. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Ending two months of controversy, the Morro Bay City Council on Tuesday reached a unanimous agreement with city attorney Robert Schultz to end his tenure at the city as of this Friday.

The council also voted 3-2 to begin negotiating with city manager Andrea Lueker to end her employment, Mayor Jamie Irons announced after the council came out of a closed session meeting.

Irons was joined by council members Christine Johnson and Noah Smukler in voting to oust Lueker. Council members Nancy Johnson and George Leage opposed the move.

Lueker remains as city manager while the terms of her release are negotiated, Irons said.

Before the closed session, several residents addressed the council and Lueker, thanking her for her service to the city, which began in 1987 when she was a lifeguard. Lueker declined to make any comments.

Irons hasn’t given any reason why the council decided to fire Schultz and Lueker. But the departures come at a cost.

Schultz’s annual salary is $151,589 and Lueker earns $152,244 per year. Their contracts stipulate that they will receive nine months of severance pay, which amounts to about $114,000 each if they are fired without cause. Schultz could also receive as much as $4,500 in accrued sick leave and an unknown amount of accrued vacation.

Irons has contracted with attorney Steven Simas of the law firm Simas and Associates, to handle the process of terminating Schultz. Simas will now undertake the same work with Lueker, Irons said Tuesday.

Simas’s original contract called for him to be paid no more than $12,500. However, as of last week, Simas had charged the city $11,200. Irons asked the council Tuesday to approve an additional 20 hours or another $5,000 for Simas to complete his work. The council is expected to approve the additional money, which would come from the city’s risk management fund.

Irons began pushing to remove both Schultz and Lueker in early September, citing employee confidentiality as the reason for not telling the public why he wanted them out. As at-will employees, no reason has to be given if a majority of the city council votes to terminate them.

In a series of special closed door meetings and 3-2 votes, Irons, Smukler and Christine Johnson undertook the process of terminating Schultz. He was placed on paid administrative leave on Nov. 1 and San Luis Obispo attorney Anne Russell was hired as a short-term, interim city attorney.

Russell is paid $100 an hour and is expected to work 30 hours a week.

The city also started the process of finding a longer-term interim attorney by sending out a request for proposals. A subcommittee consisting of two city council members and a city department head will rank the proposals received and present the results to the city council Dec. 10.

Interviews of the top candidates are scheduled for the week of Dec. 16 and the position is expected to be filled in January.

The longer-term interim city attorney will hold the position until a permanent replacement for Schultz can be found, a process that will take months to complete.