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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fishing village

This is sad to hear in regard to the SLO Council meetings. Yes, this type of disruptive behavior does discourage public participation and keeps people away from the meetings. . There have been a number of well written articles about the need for respectful behavior at meetings. The League of Women Voter’s president wrote a meaningful piece just recently. I hope the conditions improve. Who needs it?!


Geez…what a dysfunctional family!


But it must be just the type of family the voters in SLO want.


Readers may be interested in how CCN obtained the coverage, including quotes, of the retreat.


I suspect that Karen got the quotes the same way The Tribune did–they attended the public workshop as members of the media. Where was New Times, Hodin? Oh. Wait a minute. Everybody quit New Times—nobody left.


Geez, I plain ol’ forgot to send a reporter down there, silly me. Wish you would have called me with a reminder.


Isn’t the media that is supposed to inform the public and not the other way around?


That was exactly my original comment. Now we’re thinking alike.


Readers of the new times may also be interested finally seeing a funny cartoon.


You’re welcome. Thank for reading.


Lol, you (R.Hodin) posted the same pointed questions on facebook, it’s called casting aspersions.

So tell us who’s campaign do you volunteer for?


Wow, you use social media? I’m impressed.


Xrist what an * hat


Chance of seeing a funny cartoon in New Times are slim since they canned Jerry James.


Oh the irony ! The humorless in electronic media making editorial comment to a message board of mainly stolid dunderheads.


Glad you’re still hopeful, Dave.


The New Times still has readers? Really?


Readers may be interested in why R.Hodin is implying that something is wrong here?


I know something is wrong here. That’s exactly why I spend so little time here.

black sheep

“The public is watching the City Council meetings like some bizarre reality show,” Marx said. – when you take tens of millions of dollars from the public due to overpaying yourselves and whatever other corruption, your lucky it is just the public that’s watching you. I mean to misplace or miscalculate 30 million dollars and be putting up with these clowns?,, mine as well elect some poly students. depending on who, I could imaging atleast an effort to keep good ole slo as organic, local, and sustainable as possible.


“Marx asked. “This is my turn to get roasted.””

With Jan’s support of Adam Hill and PG&E’s, I am sure Tom Jones could be available to MC that.


That would be nice but no.

This Tom Jones

Also here with Adam Hill at a team hill event oals-stevenlieberman-tomjones.jpg


I think turning off his microphone is a good idea, then if that does not work take a break, if that still does not do anything, adjourn the meeting you aren’t getting anything done any ways.

Maybe then the PEOPLE will get fed up enough to ask for a recall of Ashbaugh.

John you need anger management, is that how you educate by yelling, over speaking and being rude to others?


I think Mr. Ashbaugh IS educating people. I, for one, now have learned what a complete, self-absorbed A-HOLE this guy is. Thank you for letting me know, John! Consider me educated on that.

Rich in MB

John is the prefect personification of today’s left….mean…belittling… Arrogant….obnoxious…and living in a world where only his opinion and point of view matters in his self absorbed world.


That’s just not “today’s” progressive. That is a progressive through and through. Read up on them, especially the early 20th century ones…


Funny, I can think of several characters on the right (especially at the national level, and even here at the county level a decade or two ago) that had those same attitudes. I think you only notice them when the opposition has them — especially when that opposition has political power.


We could say the exact same thing about you, word for word.

How would that help?

Then what it it really about?


I have always said that there is something wrong with John Ashbaugh. Let’s hope he doesn’t have a melt down at a council meeting.


Given that council meetings tend to end up with predictable 4-to-1 votes on issues where there is any disagreement, they might as well be entertaining. An Ashbaugh meltdown might be just the thing.


Obviously brash, rude, and immature. Why does Ashbaugh keep getting elected?


He is an honest representative of his constituency.?

some advice for Jan,

1 shoulder pads,

2 pencil on strong eyebrows,

3 hold a large fountain pen when you speak from “the chair”

4 use the pen as a pointer ,

5 fake beard, use when ‘faced’ with ‘mansplain’ behavior from council.

(more Carl less Groucho)

6 hire an organizational psychiatrist

city council meetings simultaneous group therapy

7 broadcast / stream live

8 profit!