Nearly one month after a narrow Morro Bay City Council majority floated the idea of disciplining or even terminating its two top city administrators, the backlash from a segment of the politically divided community isn’t letting up.
No action was taken at that Sept. 12 special meeting, but accusations of cronyism and questionable motives continue to fly from both sides: residents loyal to longtime City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Rob Schultz, and those supporting Mayor Jamie Irons.
The Oct. 8 City Council meeting had a number of important items on the agenda, but none overshadowed Irons’ decision—backed by council members Noah Smukler and Christine Johnson—to consult with outside legal counsel over how to proceed with the personnel issue, even as residents pursue a recall effort to unseat Irons.
And the awkward moment of the year: The council opened the meeting by recognizing Lueker’s recent 25-year service award from the International City/County Management Association.
But if the 200 or so residents who showed up to blast Irons at the Sept. 12 meeting ruled that day, more residents have shown up to support the embattled mayor in subsequent meetings.
On Sept. 24, 30 residents signed and filed a notice of intention to circulate a recall petition, the first step in a signature-gathering effort to get a recall on a ballot. According to City Clerk Jamie Boucher, the petitioners would have to gather 25 percent of the city’s registered voters—about 1,700—to make it to a ballot.
The next city election is scheduled for June 2014, when Irons’ seat will be up for re-election.
The notice of intention states as reason for the recall attempt Irons’ “detrimental” effect on the city, alleging that in his first year in office he “[disregarded] his campaign promise” by withdrawing the wastewater treatment plant upgrade from Coastal Commission review (New Times notes he did so after the commission indicated it wouldn’t support the upgrade at the plant’s current location). The recall supporters further allege Irons “acted precipitously” to dismiss Schultz and Lueker, “demonstrated a lack of respect for the law by attempting to take actions without the knowledge and approval of the entire council,” attempted to edit staff reports, and didn’t follow through on campaign promises by raising building fees and supporting tax increases.
On Sept. 30, Irons shot back a point-by-point response to his critics. He countered in writing that his stance on the wastewater plant has remained consistent; that, to date, no dismissals have occurred; that he has improved transparency by allowing public comment on every agenda item and addressed issues of waterfront leases in open session; and that he has questioned the accuracy of staff reports but never edited them. He also argued that no building fees have been raised, nor new taxes levied.
According to clerk Boucher, holding a special election for the recall effort could cost the city approximately $56,000, or roughly $8 per registered voter, but she emphasized such a figure is very approximate at this early stage. Should the recall be lumped in with the June election—when Irons and two other council members are up for re-election—that cost could be as little as $1,000, she said.
“We don’t have a primary in Morro Bay, we have a general election in June,” resident Jane Heath said before the council Oct. 8. “Voters are already going to vote for a mayor in June. [The recall] really doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”
“We’ll have an election in June that won’t cost as much. But I don’t think that is what this is really about. It’s about divisive politics, and that’s all they care about,” said resident and former city planning commissioner John Diodati. “You should ask yourself what is the real agenda of those asking for a recall?”
According to those residents, the “real agenda” continues to be support for the city administration and a disdain for Irons.
“This seems like a circus, a complete circus. Andrea and Rob have been great employees of the city. … All of a sudden, Mr. Irons, you come in and have a big problem and become a dictator,” resident Kathy Wells said directly to the mayor. “What is wrong with you? I don’t like you.”
Boucher told New Times she anticipates the recall petitioners will file two copies of the blank petition, as well as proof that they have published the notice of intent to circulate the petition, in two public media by Oct. 10, the deadline.