A 'blackballed' SLO City critic is appointed to an investment panel



Following what some locals considered to be a not-so-secret snub over a citizen appointment to an oversight committee, the San Luis Obispo City Council narrowly appointed outspoken critic Steve Barasch after he laid down a scathing public condemnation of their alleged efforts to block his participation in city affairs.

The city has previously taken heat from members of the local financial sector for not including residents in its Investment Oversight Committee, which is tasked with reviewing the city’s nearly $67 million portfolio to ensure compliance with its investment policies and making recommendations to the city treasurer, currently the director of finance and information technology, Wayne Padilla.

The committee is currently comprised of Padilla, the city manager, the assistant city manager, the finance operations manager, and the city’s private auditor. On Oct. 1, the council was set to discuss appointing one council member and one member of the public to that committee, on which roles are advisory in nature and hold no real power.

The application period for the position came and went from mid-July to August, with Barasch as the only resident to throw his hat into the ring. The SLO-based architect and former mayoral candidate pointed out to New Times prior to the meeting that he wasn’t even named as the only applicant in the item’s staff report, indicating that the city was going to try to gloss over his appointment and reopen the application process for a “more friendly” nominee.

“This is a big issue. It’s about where the taxpayers’ money is going. Where’s the objectivity, the autonomy?” he said. “We’re losing money every year, effectively every month, to cost of living.”

According to the latest quarterly investment report, the city yielded only 0.38 percent on its investments—less than a private consumer would in a standard savings account.

At public comment prior to the council vote, Barasch held up a thick stack of applications for every appointment he’s applied for—unsuccessfully—since 1993 and lambasted the council and staff for what he called a “just kidding” application solicitation.

“I’ve been blackballed. … I really can’t accept the fact that this has become a Stepford town,” he told the council. “You may like me; you may dislike me. But I followed this very clear process.”

He concluded: “Please, tonight, don’t say ‘thank you’ for my testimony.”

“Thank you,” quipped Mayor Jan Marx, Barasch’s opponent in the oft-contentious 2013 mayoral race.

Breaking with his usual voting majority, Councilman John Ashbaugh joined council members Kathy Smith and Dan Carpenter in supporting Barasch’s appointment.

“I think it’s time we take Mr. Barasch’s advice and run with it,” Ashbaugh said.

Marx, explaining her opposition to Barasch’s appointment, said she wanted to advertise the opportunity once more to gather more applicants.

“All the decisions ever made to appoint, it’s always been a real decision,” she said. “In my memory, we’ve never had a just one applicant. That’s not a decision—it’s just default.”

Ultimately, the council voted 3-2, with Councilmember Carlyn Christianson also dissenting, to give Barasch his day in the sun.

The group will meet quarterly to review the city’s portfolio performance, and the addition to the committee’s membership now means those meetings will be subject to the Brown Act. Documents resulting from the meetings will be available for public review.

But perhaps the process will finally allow Barasch and Marx the opportunity to make nice. The mayor was unanimously selected as the council’s representative on the committee.

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