Morro Bay city attorney’s job back on chopping block
October 19, 2013
By JOSH FRIEDMAN
Morro Bay City Council members have set special meeting for Monday to discuss terminating city attorney Rob Schultz.
Schultz and City Manager Andrea Lueker have been battling to keep their jobs since September 11, when Mayor Jamie Irons called a special council meeting to discuss firing the city’s top two executives. Though Lueker’s job security remains in question, the council has not scheduled another meeting to discuss firing her.
Last month, Councilman Noah Smukler and Councilwoman Christine Johnson supported Irons in calling for a September 12 closed session meeting to discuss firing both Schultz and Lueker. The meeting spurned outcry from more than 50 members of the public, and the council chose to take no action.
Later in September, the council voted to hire outside legal counsel to provide advice over the employment dispute. Irons since hired San Luis Obispo law firm Simas and Associates to handle the matter.
Supporters of Schultz and Lueker responded by initiating a recall of Irons.
On Monday, the council will meet at 3 p.m. to discuss firing Schultz. The hearing will occur in closed session, but the council will take public comment beforehand.
Irons has yet to publicly provide a reason for promoting the termination of either Schultz or Lueker. Firing both employees without cause will cost the city more than $300,000 in legal fees and severance pay.
The contracts of both Schultz and Lueker call for nine months of severance pay, but critics contest whether they are entitled to all of the money.
On November 1, 2012, the previous Morro Bay council amended the contracts of both Schultz and Lueker to include nine months of severance pay. Their contracts previously stipulated for six months of severance pay.
The council made the change in a special closed session meeting, violating the Ralph M. Brown Act. The Brown Act requires changes in executive pay to occur in open session.
But, Schultz faults the current council for not correcting the severance pay issue.
A month following the meeting in which the council increased Schultz’s and Lueker’s severance pay, the current council took over. Irons replaced former mayor Bill Yates and Johnson replaced former councilwoman Carla Borchard.
In an email exchange between Schultz and San Luis Obispo Tribune reporter Julia Hickey, the city attorney said he notified the current council that it must either approve or rescind the severance pay changes.
“The new council was informed of this issue and it was my recommendation that the mayor or council place this item on an open session agenda for either ratification or rescission,” Schultz wrote. “Unfortunately the new council refused to schedule the matter for open session.”
Schultz also notes that his contract originally included nine months of severance pay, but the council lowered it to six months in 2011.
“The council unilaterally reduced it to six months in 2011 for no reason,” Schultz wrote. “I have always maintained that I am entitled to nine months severance based upon my negotiated contract.”
A majority vote will be necessary to terminate Schultz’s contract Monday.
Council members Nancy Johnson and George Leage have both expressed opposition to firing Schultz and Lueker. They have also accused Irons of handling the employment dispute with a lack of transparency.
A petition to recall Irons began circulating Morro Bay this week. If 25 percent of registered Morro Bay voters sign the petition, a recall election will occur.