Morro Bay manager and attorney still employed after fiery meeting
September 13, 2013
Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons led a special city council meeting Thursday to discuss the possibility of firing City Manager Andrea Lueker and City Attorney Robert Schultz. But, the capacity crowd in attendance showed more interest in recalling the mayor than in releasing the city’s highest-ranking employees.
Lueker and Schultz remained employed upon the adjournment of the meeting Thursday, which began in a small conference room in City Hall and moved to the Veterans’ Memorial Building, where a standing room only crowd welcomed the city manager and attorney with a standing ovation. The city manager and attorney remain “at will” employees, though, and the council can, at any point, call a meeting and choose to fire them.
After the council heard more than 50 public comments supporting Lueker and Schultz and only 10 speakers opposing them Thursday afternoon, it met in closed session for more than an hour to discuss the proposed termination of their contracts. Upon returning from closed session, the council reported that it took no action, and neither the council members, nor Lueker or Schultz, would say what, if any, agreements were reached.
Prior to the closed session, Schultz and Lueker requested that the council reveal any charges or complaints levied against them. Irons said there were none.
“Five months ago, I received a satisfactory review from you and each council member and had no idea until 10:45 yesterday that this was going to be called,” Schultz said to Irons.
Schultz, as well as Councilwoman Nancy Johnson, asked Irons to explain his reasoning for considering termination of the contracts. Irons did not say why he called into question the performance of the city manager and attorney.
Schultz also said Irons violated the Ralph M. Brown Act, government code and municipal code in the manner in which he conducted meeting. Irons said he researched and followed the law, but did not seek outside counsel.
Numerous public speakers accused Irons of having a hidden agenda, some suggesting he had pre-picked replacements for Schultz and Lueker.
“I don’t have any response to a hidden agenda,” Irons said. “I called this by myself.”
Irons, along with council members Christine Johnson and Noah Smukler, called for the special meeting on Wednesday, just one day prior to the event.
Nancy Johnson said she was out of town at the time of the announcement and found out about the meeting from a friend. Johnson, who said Thursday that Irons failed to demonstrate transparency, asked the mayor why he scheduled the meeting on such short notice.
“It is not sudden at all,” Irons said. “I have given considerable thought to this. Nor should it be unexpected.”
When the council members arrived in the conference room Thursday, observers were sitting on the floor, lining up in the hallways of city hall and standing outside the building. The council then agreed to move the meeting to the veterans’ hall, where meetings typically occur.
Nancy Johnson said that Councilman George Leage and she requested Wednesday to move the meeting to the veterans’ hall, but they did not receive a response to their request.
Many current and former city employees joined the capacity crowd at the veterans’ hall, most of whom displayed support for Lueker and Schultz. Public speakers repeatedly praised the work of the city manager and attorney, and urged the council not to fire them.
“These people are not incompetent,” said former mayor Bill Yates. “It’s a dumb idea.”
Other speakers described the idea of firing Lueker and Schultz as “insane” and “horse shit.” One said it “breaks my heart.”
Several others said they signed a recall petition, which was circulating in the audience.
Supporters of Irons, Christine Johnson and Smuckler said they trusted the council majority to make the right decision, and that it had the support of the majority of the city’s voters.
“This is here and this is a big deal because the people who are in question decided to make it a big deal,” said former councilwoman Betty Winholtz. “The majority of people who have voted for you, outside the couple that spoke this afternoon, I would suggest they’re still on you’re side.”
Lueker, a city employee for 26 years, became the city manager in 2008. Her current annual salary is $152,224 a year. For the past 16 years, Schultz has served as the city’s attorney. His current salary is $151,588 a year.
If the council chooses to fire Lueker and Schultz without cause, it will owe them severance pay.