San Luis Obispo Councilman John Ashbaugh could face possible censure, condemnation by his peers or an investigation by San Luis Obispo County’s grand jury for his recent violation of California’s Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs open meetings.
The San Luis Obispo City Council will hold a public discussion Monday, at the request of the council majority, to determine the best punishment. Ashbaugh will be recused from the discussion.
Ashbaugh’s disregard for the Brown Act has prompted two formal requests for action from citizens who want Ashbaugh reprimanded. One person has even asked that he be forced to resign.
During a contentious City Council meeting in October, Ashbaugh accused fellow 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 violated the Brown Act and in turn angered Carpenter, escalating an already combative relationship between the two councilmen.
Ashbaugh later apologized, admitting that what he did was wrong.
However, Carpenter said, “He has lost my trust.”
Ashbaugh declined to comment Thursday. However, he submitted an opinion piece to The Tribune stating that the council could not afford to get bogged down in personal disputes.
“I pledge a renewed commitment to civility, courtesy, and comity in working with my council colleagues toward that goal,” Ashbaugh wrote.
Carpenter would not specify which punishment he would lobby for Monday.
“I think myself, my colleagues, staff and people in the public are waiting to hear how he addresses what he did,” said Carpenter. “That will set the tone for the rest of evening. I’m not prepared to tell you what I am looking for other than for him to be honest.”
San Luis Obispo resident and frequent council critic Kevin P. Rice filed a request after the October meeting asking that the city take disciplinary action against Ashbaugh for violating the confidentiality of the closed-session meeting.
San Luis Obispo resident Stephan Lamb, a retired Cal Poly administrator, has asked the council to issue a vote of “no confidence” against Ashbaugh and ask him to resign.
“My concern is that whatever happens Monday will set a precedent on how the council deals with breaches of confidentiality,” Lamb said. “If handled too lightly, it gives future councils the ability to ignore attorney-client privilege.”
Lamb said that the inability for council members to speak freely in closed session meetings without fear of the conversation being shared would inhibit necessary city business.
“I see the point of closed sessions unraveling completely,” Lamb said.
The council has three options Monday.
The least severe is for the council to “criticize,” “disapprove,” or “condemn” Ashbaugh’s actions. Should the council take that route, Ashbaugh will be given a chance to defend or explain his actions.
The remaining two options would involve further investigation.
Under the second option, a formal censure, an investigation would be held by the city’s personnel board, an appointed advisory body, and a future meeting would be required. The council has not censured anyone since a city censure policy was enacted in 2012. Censuring is considered punitive but does not include a fine or suspension.
The third option is to refer the violation to the county grand jury for further investigation. The grand jury can only make non-binding recommendations and has no authority of enforcement.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers, 990 Palm St. in San Luis Obispo.