At 1:21 p.m. on Sept. 11, just as New Times was going to press, the newsroom’s inbox received a nebulous e-mail from the City of Morro Bay. It was a notice for a special closed session meeting for “PUBLIC EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE/DISMISSAL/RELEASE.”
In public employee personnel matters, the specific employees in question aren’t typically disclosed. Yet, the titles of city manager and city attorney were prominently listed on the notice.
That would be Andrea Lueker and Rob Schultz, respectively, two long-time popular employees of the city.
When Schultz and Lueker entered the Vets Hall, they were greeted with a standing ovation from a clear majority of the nearly 200 people attending the standing room-only meeting. Former Mayor Bill Yates later told New Times that, of all his years as a resident, he’d never seen such a turnout at a city meeting.
“There’s no easy way to go about this,” Irons said at the onset. “This is an emotional, difficult decision because of our care and concern for Morro Bay, to determine whether we have the right people in key positions.”
For the next two hours, Irons and council members Christine Johnson and Noah Smukler—who agreed to the meeting—were berated by city employees, residents, and council members Nancy Johnson and George Leage, who objected to the meeting.
“You should hang your heads in shame,” said resident Garry Johnson, husband of council member Nancy Johnson. “We’re going to get you out of office—all three of you.”
“How are you going to replace 25 years of loyalty?” asked planning commissioner and former councilman Rick Grantham. “This is a bad day for Morro Bay.”
“I don’t believe this is the appropriate time or place for this,” said Morro Bay firefighter Todd Gailey. “This reeks of backdoor politics.”
Two residents announced that they began a petition to recall Irons.
But about 10 of the roughly 70 people to speak supported the decision to review possible disciplinary actions against Lueker and Schultz. Resident Nancy Bast, for example, said that Schultz’ legal advice has led to litigation and has unnecessarily cost the city.
“It all boils down to money. The advice has cost us millions of dollars,” Bast said amid boos and harrumphs from the audience. “It is very courageous of these people to bring this before us. Something needs to be done.”
Critics of Lueker and Schultz allege that the city administration has historically been difficult to deal with, if responsive at all. Many cite the city’s years-long pursuit of building a new wastewater treatment plant at the existing plant site when all indications were that the project would never make it past the state permitting process. The project has cost the city millions of dollars in designs, contractors, and consultants. Others accuse the city administration of favoritism, and cite an ongoing legal battle over a permit issued to a prominent local developer to develop his house on private property atop Cerrito Peak, a city landmark, as well as constructing a driveway on public land.
Following public comment, Irons clarified—or attempted to, anyway—the reasons for calling the meeting. He was limited as to what he could say, it being a personnel matter and all, but if one read between the lines, it became clear that the issue boiled down to someone in the council not being happy with the performance of either Lueker or Schultz, or both.
Irons stated that he wasn’t intending to terminate either employee with cause, and that there were no charges or complaints made against either. According to the municipal code, charges and complaints against an employee come from outside the council, Irons explained. And, being at-will employees, termination resulting from performance-related issues would equate to termination without cause.
After Councilwoman Nancy Johnson questioned his motive for the meeting, Irons said he called for a 24-hour notice rather than a standard 72-hour notice to speed up the process and keep it confidential. He said his original notice didn’t include the employees’ names, but that Schultz insisted on adding their names to the notice.
Lueker remained more or less silent during the open session, but Schultz, in his own defense, asserted that he was given a positive evaluation at his last performance review in April 2013. He also disagreed that Irons was following Brown Act rules on public meeting transparency.
Following two hours of council and public back-and-forth, the council convened to an hour-and-a-half long closed session. When they returned, it was reported that no action was taken.
As of press time, New Times found no indication the matter would appear on an agenda any time in the near future.