Bouquets and Brickbats: Sketchy goings-on in Atascadero

What the heck is going on in Atascadero? After just three years on the job, Jim Mulhall is out as police chief. First, we’re told that he wants to “take a break” and spend more time with his family.

Then, we learn that the city has agreed to pay him a hefty $126,000 settlement — and has promised to give him a positive reference. In exchange, Mulhall has agreed not to sue the city.

We don’t know why such a settlement was necessary, since city officials aren’t talking, citing the infamous personnel reasons.

This secretive deal would stink no matter when it occurred, but it’s especially galling to spend this kind of money when local governments are facing huge shortfalls and cutting services to taxpayers as a result.

Just think, $126,000 would have been almost enough to pay the salaries of two city police officers for an entire year. (Remember, this is Atascadero, not San Luis Obispo.) Instead, the good citizens of Atascadero get nothing more than the assurance that Mulhall won’t sue.

Based on such sketchy information, it’s hard to say who’s most at fault here. Still, the buck has to stop somewhere. So for this sorry use of taxpayer dollars, we’re delivering two battalions of brickbats — one goes to the city manager’s office and the other to City Council chambers.

One way or another, taxpayers pay

We toss a pay-your-own-way bouquet to state Sen. Sam Blakeslee, who’s proposed legislation that would require the state to reimburse counties for conducting state-ordered special elections.

We agree that counties should not be stuck footing the bill, and for that reason, we support Blakeslee’s legislation. But it should be noted that taxpayers ultimately shoulder election costs, whether the money comes out of state or county coffers.

Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to try to avoid special elections whenever possible?

We think so, yet Blakeslee didn’t seem so concerned about saving money last year when it came to scheduling the special election for the 15th District Senate seat — an election he wound up winning.

Mail-in balloting a no-brainer

While we’re on the subject of election costs, County Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald is among those again urging passage of state legislation that would allow counties to conduct special elections by mail-in balloting. The county would save an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 per election if it could switch to mail-in voting.

We like the idea, especially since there could still be a limited number of voting centers open on Election Day to deal with any last-minute questions or snafus.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a resolution supporting the legislation on Tuesday. With government in such desperate financial straits, this is a no-brainer. Frugal bouquets all around if legislators finally make it happen.

Nonagenarian bagger loves his job

Finally, we toss a huge bouquet of evergreens to Wes Hemenway, the 90-year-old Vons courtesy clerk profiled in last Friday’s Tribune.

Wes started in the grocery business when he was just 16 — and he’s enjoyed the work so much that he’s never stopped. He now works four mornings a week bagging groceries for Vons customers.

“It doesn’t seem as if I’m 90,” he told a Tribune reporter. “Sixty, 70, 80, 90 — it still feels the same.”

That’s refreshing — and encouraging to those who have yet to reach those milestones.

Keep up the great work, Wes.