SLO City Council, a bizarre reality show

May 24, 2015
Councilman John Ashbaugh

Councilman John Ashbaugh


It was supposed to be a workshop about the San Luis Obispo City Council working together with an acceptable level of decorum. It turned into an eight-hour session with curses, yelling, threats to walk out and fist pounding on furniture by Councilman John Ashbaugh.

Behaviors were turning the Council’s work on city issues into some kind of embarrassing public display, Mayor Jan Marx said.

“The public is watching the City Council meetings like some bizarre reality show,” Marx said.

The Council brought in facilitator Trudy Sopp from the Centre for Organization Effectiveness in La Jolla. Before Thursday’s workshop, Sopp interviewed the city manager, city attorney and the five Council members. She also reviewed tapes of multiple meetings.

The majority of staff and Council member complaints were about Ashbaugh interrupting his fellow Council members and engaging in long-winded rants, she told the Council.

Following are some of the highlight of the eight-hour contentious workshop:

Sopp began by listed concerns from city staffers and Council members. Sopp offered Marx several suggestions for running an effective and efficient Council meetings including turning off Ashbaugh’s microphone as needed.

“Isn’t it like pompous?” Marx asked. “This is my turn to get roasted.”

Staff complained about Ashbaugh’s habit of asking question after question. That drew a reply from Ashbaugh that he was attempting to educate the public about issues before the Council. He said he was, after all, an educator.

But, Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said that during presentations, Council members should focus on facts.

“Early questions should be about facts,” Christianson said “Even though this is between Marx and Ashbaugh, others are impacted.”

Marx offered a comment about the process.

“I call it arm wrestling,” Marx said.

SLO City Council

Jan Marx, John Ashbaugh, Dan Carpenter, Carlyn Christianson and Dan Rivoire

Sopp then suggested that Council members stop yelling during meetings in order to bring back decorum noting that most of the yelling, in the past, occurred during interruptions.

Ashbaugh replied that a raised voice was an effective means of getting a point across.

Marx did not agree.

“To me it is immature and really embarrassing,” Marx said.

Councilman Dan Carpenter responded by asking Ashbaugh to stop calling people names and using God’s name in vain during closed sessions.

“It happens in open session too, we have yelling and name calling,” Christianson said. “It is usually John.”

Sopp said that Ashbaugh’s interruptions and failures to stay on topic had led others, primarily Carpenter, to shut down during deliberations.

“There is a desire for Marx to keep things on topic,” Sopp said. “You guys have let this go on too long.”

Sopp then noted that Marx needed to take on a stronger role when heading meetings.

With the exception of Ashbaugh, Marx had worked well with the Council, she said.

“I’ve always had a very good time chairing meetings, except with this Council,” Marx said. “I end up dreading vice council most.

Vice Council Ashbaugh’s behaviors were not disruptive when then-Mayor Dave Romero was chair, she said.

“It feels to me like you are wrestling me for dominance,” Marx said to Ashbaugh. “You didn’t act that way with Dave Romero.”

“If I hear three simple words, ‘out of order,’ I will usually stop,” Asbaugh said

Carpenter said that Christianson had regularly tried to get Asbaugh to stop interrupting others, to no avail.

Ashbaugh slammed his fist on the table at that point.

“How do you know what will happen?” he yelled. “When I am argumentative, those three words would help.”

But Mayor Marx disagreed.

“I’ve done that in closed session,” Marx responded. “It didn’t work.”

Councilman Dan Rivoire said there need to be consequences when Ashbaugh violates the rules of order.

“When Mayor Marx says you are off topic, you need to stop,” Rivoire said to Ashbaugh.

“And I do,” Ashbaugh responded. The rest of the Council shook their heads, no, as the words left his mouth.

Sopp told Ashbaugh that she had timed his speeches and discovered he took 10 minutes to ask questions while the remaining Council members spoke for about one minute each.

Mayor Marx noted her long relationship with Ashbaugh and the problems he creates with interruptions and off-topic rants.

“This is especially frustrating because John and I have been friends for over 25 years,” Marx said.

Sopp asked Ashbaugh if he could subordinate the role of educator for the good of the Council.

“If I am out of order, I will stop speaking,” Ashbaugh replied. “I have my own relationship with all of you. I have no relationship with Carpenter, and I don’t want one.”

He then characterized the process as one designed to silence him

“It doesn’t matter, I am who I am and who I am will be a lot more quiet,” Ashbaugh said, adding, “What you are saying is ‘Ashbaugh shut up.’ “

City Attorney Christine Dietrick said that the staff and Council’s concerns were about the impact on public participation.

“We are trying to be helpful,” Dietrick said. “Our concern is that your delivery style is causing the public to disengage. We want to help you. This is not directed at a character flaw.”

Ashbaugh changed the subject by accusing Carpenter of asking to stay off several side committees and regional boards as a means of freeing up time to run for the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors. Ashbaugh then claimed Carpenter had announced his candidacy in January.

Carpenter explained that he had a personal issue in the fall that prompted his request and that he did not announce his candidacy until March. He said Ashbaugh’s allegations were untrue.

Ashbaugh responded by yelling, “Out of order.”

Sopp explained that out of order pertained to Council meetings and not the workshop.

Ashbaugh then jumped up from his seat saying he wasn’t going to take the “vicious attacks” anymore and he was leaving.

After several of his fellow Council members pleaded with him to stay, Ashbaugh sat back down and the topic turned to interruptions during Council deliberations.

“I need an example,” Ashbaugh said.

Carpenter described a discussion about land use when he spoke of three meetings and Ashbaugh interrupted claiming incorrectly that there had been only two meetings on the topic.

“We were both correct,” Ashbaugh said. “My reference was to the two meetings following the initial meeting. I wasn’t trying to dismiss Carpenter, I was trying to protect the Cultural Heritage Committee.”

“The point is that you were not recognized,” Carpenter said. “This is about your inability to control yourself.”

City Manager Katie Lichtig interceded.

“It is not about who is right,” Lichtig said. “We feel like we are having to intercede with two parents fighting.”

Mayor Marx counseled self-discipline.

“John, you have to be more restrained,” she said.

“It is taking all my ability to stay restrained right now,” Ashbaugh said, his voice raised.

Carpenter chided Ashbaugh about the need to conduct the workshop.

“We need to make agreements to use three words because you are acting like a child,” Carpenter said.

Ashbaugh looked over at Carpenter and said,” Out of order.”

Sopp told Ashbaugh again that “out of order” pertained only to Council meetings.

“I was being personally attacked in a most vicious way,” Ashbaugh replied.

Marx spoke out.

“You have been told at least four times and you are still not listening,” she said to Ashbaugh.

In the end, the Council agreed that when a member violates procedures and policy, Marx will either say out of order or call for a recess.

“I am extremely skeptical these rules will work,” Ashbaugh said.

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A bizarre ‘realty’ show. New kind?


Well, I started a couple comments, but the place and council (except Carpenter) are so bad, I couldn’t hold it down below 500 words.

Ashbaugh does poetically fit the paradigm, however. He’s as brash, disruptive, illegal and offensive as the unmuffled city-approved motorcycle creeps that blast the ears. I’d like to see them ALL adopt civilized mufflers and public speech standards. Fat chance.


At last, someone like you.


It’s just liberalism. It’s a mental disorder.


No, it’s not “liberalism.” It’s dysfunctional, ultimately unacceptable behavior. Trying to define it in political terms does nothing but mask the problem and help to perpetuate it.

Rich in MB

Its who liberals think and view others that are not “smart enough” to think like they do….the left is intolerant of different views, so they treat those people with disdain and hate. The true haters today are the left…just try to disagree with them and you will find out!


I can think of some Conservatives who think and act the same way. Dick Cheney comes to mind. The only difference is that he is less long-winded in his obstinance. Sam is right. It is not about political viewpoints but about arrogance and that can come from either side.


Side_Show_Bob says: “It’s just liberalism. It’s a mental disorder.”

Really? You do realize that it is an actual mental disorder to think people with other opinions have mental disorders.

Organizational dysfunction crosses all party lines, costs everyone lots of our dollars.


Realty…or reality?


ask Dalidio


While driving around San Luis Obispo (SLO) last week, it is apparent SLO has become a sterile community. SLO is no longer the organic community. (Too many planning regulations?) The Council and their planning staff have produced a “Stepford Wife” community, which is bland, lacks originality, and is plastic. Very sad to see the lack of creativity in design by the community development department, planning commission and Council.

Mike Byrd



Disappointing behavior from a child, let alone a ‘councilman’. Perhaps related to frustration over the efforts on behalf of the Dalidio development planners.


“on behalf of the Dalidio development planners.” And the approved developer, now that the other developments in the city (by others) were built out during the delay and some sold off $$

SLO Mayor admits her role in anti-Dalidio development campaign

State probe casts a shadow on new San Luis Obispo mayor

Please be sure to Vote.


This is the most dysfunctional council I have witnessed in my 35+ years in SLO. It’s the mayor’s responsibility to control the meeting and there is one, only one, person who is

the unruly child….Ashbaugh. I usually turn the mute key when it’s his turn to speak as I

know it will be a long-winded speech, mostly off topic or questioning the

staff about something that was already explained. Other council members should back

up Marx when he’s on a rant.


One has to wonder if Ashbaugh has begun to suffer the early stages of Alzheimers or some other form(s) of dementia? Whatever his issues, the council’s performance is also being impacted by Marx’s lack of leadership — her inability to guide a meeting. In the end it’s SLO residents who are paying the price for a poorly performing SLO City Council and some hideously performing staff employees.

I know, maybe the SLO Council can approve an additional donation of $75,000 of city taxpayer money to the Land Conservancy to help pay for real estate in Pismo Beach? Yeah, that should do it. That should make everything good again!


“Off-topic!” “Out-of-order!” :-)


***Slams fist on the table*** “I am extremely skeptical these rules will prevent me from acting like a long-winded jerk…”

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