Morro Bay mayor recuses himself, then lobbies council

March 31, 2016
Monica and Jamie Irons

Monica and Jamie Irons

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons removed himself from a vote on housing regulations last week to avoid a financial conflict of interest. However, Irons then lobbied the council both orally and in writing to vote in a manner that would benefit him financially.

Following Irons’ lobbying efforts, the remaining council members voted 3-1 to halt a vacation rental ban that Irons opposed. The sequence prompted a Morro Bay citizen to submit a complaint to the Fair Political Practices Commission alleging Irons breached state conflict of interest laws.

California laws on conflicts of interest can be confusing. For example, while the law allows a public official who has a financial interest in an item to speak during public comment after he recuses himself, the law also prohibits the official from using his position to influence the government decision.

In a complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission, Morro Bay resident Linda Stedjee says Irons used his position to influence the council decision on the vacation rental ban. Irons told CalCoastNews he did not do that, and that he was speaking based on personal experience, not personal interest.

Last week, the Morro Bay council voted on changes to regulations for secondary dwelling units and guest houses.

Irons and his wife, Monica Irons, the human resources director for the city of San Luis Obispo, own multiple properties in Morro Bay. One property they own has a secondary dwelling unit, and they have submitted plans, as well, to construct a guest house. Irons recused himself from last week’s vote because of the secondary unit and the guest house plan, he said.

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Morro Bay City Council

The proposed ordinance would have banned property owners from using secondary dwelling units as vacation rentals. City staff initially argued it was necessary to enact the vacation rental ban so secondary dwelling units would remain options for affordable long-term rental housing.

Nevertheless, on March 21, the day before the council meeting,  Morro Bay Community Development Director Scot Graham changed direction and sent a memo to the city council recommending the vacation rental ban be stricken from the the secondary dwelling unit ordinance.

At the council meeting, Morro Bay planner Whitney McIlvaine said staff decided to strike the vacation rental ban in response to comments and questions received by the city. The council correspondence packet for the March 22 meeting only contained two letters about the vacation rental ban. One of the letters came from Jamie and Monica Irons.

The mayor and his wife submitted the letter the morning after Morro Bay staff recommended eliminating the vacation rental ban. Irons said his input did not affect planning staff’s decision.

However, sources had previously told CalCoastNews Irons would frequently meet with city planning and management staff in attempts to influence decisions that pertain to his property holdings.

Stedjee’s FPPC complaint questions whether Irons lobbied the city on the vacation rental ban prior to submitting the letter and speaking at the council meeting.

“Until just a day before the council meeting, staff had strongly stated its support for the prohibition of using secondary units as vacation rentals, and had made a strong case to support its position,” the complaint states. “Then, suddenly, right before the meeting, and after the original agenda was published, they completely reversed their position — something obviously financially beneficial to the mayor.”

Irons disagrees. He said he recused himself out of an abundance of caution and his comments to the council were not focused on the vacation rental ban.

“The comments submitted to council were our comments based on personal experience, not personal interest and addressed the ordinance as a whole with eight requests for consideration,” Irons said. “My public comments were merely an expansion of the letter we submitted to council.”

In his letter to the council, Irons included eight directions on how the city should construct the ordinance. Number three included Irons’ views on vacation rentals.

“Prohibited uses of vacation rentals — remove entirely from secondary unit and guesthouses,” Irons said in his letter. “Vacation rentals in conjunction with residences, should be encouraged not discouraged as it provides income to offset home ownership and provided TOT and business license revenue to the city.”

The council voted to pass the ordinance without a vacation rental ban. The ordinance will return to the council for final approval on April 12.


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taxpayer

Josh,

How about a story concerning how much is being spent ot attorney fees by this mayor and council compared to when the city had a real city attorney? I think a lot of reader might be interested in that!


MBwaiter

And don’t rely on the budget because they are hiding the amount paid. Just do a PRA asking for all legal fees paid in 2015. Josh, you will shocked.. More than double and and for less service. Of course that is what Irons wants. No one telling him what he is doing is illegal.


coco

Good question, on the cost of City Attorney. They justified hiring the Assistant City Manager by letting go of Joe Woods head of Parks & Recreation, in exchange for hiring the assistant city manager.


taxpayer

And then the City Manager denied that was the reason that he did it. That cost the City over $70,000 in severance pay. That’s another good subject for Josh to look into: How much money has been spent on severance pay since Irons, Johnson and Smukler were voted into a dominant voting position on the Council? I know for a fact that it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars.


MBwaiter

It would be one thing if we were better off now but we are not. We are paying much more for less qualified people.


horse_soldier

At least in Arroyo Grande they got it right. Out with Ferrara, in with Jim Hill.

Morro Bay got it wrong with Irons, just how wrong remains to be seen…


fishing village

The 50’s plusers seem to be needing a lot of money, our world is being run by them. We are surrounded by voracious people who will do anything to get rich. It is a real problem.


whyisitok

All I can think to say is – I think the City residents need to take a look at the City Manager as being as culpable in this situation as the City’s Mayor. Like the Mayor, he is not somebody you can trust or rely on. For different reasons, they both are incredibly dishonest, irrefutably selfish, and basically in the game for themselves. If you live on Nutmeg – beware. If you are hoteliers, beware. If you think that they are looking out for your best interests, beware. They lie, they are dishonest, they have no vesting in Morro Bay, they don’t care about the citizens, they don’t care about the employees, they don’t care about your safety, they only care about themselves. For this, I am sorry, you all deserve better.


mkaney

I’m not vouching for him on the whole because I don’t have enough information either way, but on this issue it sounds like he handled it in a reasonable and fair manner. Whether its technically appropriate or not i don’t know, seems like a pretty straightforward way to handle it though.


MBwaiter

Violating the law is “a pretty straightforward way to handle it”. Really??? The Political Reform Act states “The people find and declare …a) State and local government should serve the needs and respond to the wishes of all citizens equally,without regard to their wealth; b) Public officials, whether elected or appointed, should perform their duties in an impartial manner, free from bias caused by their own financial interests or the financial interests of persons who have supported them….


”Under the Act, a public official will have a statutory conflict of interest with regard to a particular government decision if it is foreseeable that the outcome of the decision will have a financial impact on the official’s personal finances or other financial interests”.


King Irons violated the law by attempting to influence staff and his fellow Council members to change the law so that he can rent out his secondary dwelling units to vacationers for more money. It is the exact situation the law is trying to prevent from happening.


Pretty straightforward that he violated the law. This ILLEGAL activity has been going on since he was elected. If staff refuses to change their recommendations, King Irons fires them. King Irons is the most corrupt unethical politician in the County.


coco

MBwaiter: This is true!

Actually many citizens in Morro Bay, and many that have supported Irons in the election have caught on to his illegal, self serving corrupt way of running Morro Bay. He is very sneaky trying to control the Council and Staff decisions. Irons has his own agenda and vision for Morro Bay, and it is not what the citizens want to see happen in Morro Bay.

He needs to be voted out!


fishing village

The vote was 3 to 1 (John Headding against), so did the mayor really need to lobby the council?


kkeene88

Well, its been years since I have commented, but this issue with irons is just the tip of the ice berg. Christine Johnson, Noah Smuker and Irons are such a deceitful group that any resident in Morro Bay should be disgusted they are associated with the City. They have brought a huge amount of disparagement to the city and know that Morro Bay is the laughing stock at the League of Ca Cities. Morro Bay residents, get a grip and get this ship of fools out of office. The sooner the better and it will be beneficial to take Buckingham and that little guy that is the assistant city manager along as well.


hijinks2

What should amaze readers is how a government bureaucrat married to a former power plant handyman went from neither owning a home 10 years ago to owning 5 homes in their names locally and several other properties under fictitious names locally and yes a home in the mountains. And during this time Jamie was partially unemployed, than became the Mayor of Morro Bay. They are both as crooked and rusted as old Iron. She is one nasty, nasty ho.

Let’s also not forget how some of the council members have gone from incomes of less than $50k a year combined with their spouse to amazing 4 rental properties in Morro Bay and Los Osos in just 5 years. Did they win the lottery and hide it from everyone.

Simple answer is that they are all paid horrors, selling us all out.


kayaknut

“Simple answer is that they are all paid whores, selling us all out” welcome to government service. How do you think Adam Hill affords to live at the Country Club??? He thanks PB Companies, and others all the time by voting and supporting their projects


Niles Q

I heard Monica got a big inheritance and they went on a property buying spree.


fishing village

I’ve been watching government meetings for many years and I’ve never see a Council vote against whatever another councilmember/mayor has recused themselves for. It does seem odd that Scot Graham would reverse himself?


MBwaiter

Its not odd at all that Scot Graham would reverse himself. Irons has been bullying staff since he was elected. He fired Lueker and shultz because they wouldn’t change their recommendations and refuse to violate the law. Graham, Buckingham and the new city attorney have zero professional ethics and want to keep their job so they will change their recommendations and violate the law if Irons tells them to do so. So sad that no one in the public has figured this out and I have no idea how any of them can live with themselves.


MBvoter

Interesting – Assessors office shows Mayor Irons has 5 properties in Morro Bay

No wonder he’s helping guide the planning dept. and council regarding rental and zoning uses.


mbactivist1

Good research, MBvoter. He has five properties, but wants his second unit to be a vacation rental to make more money for him, instead of being affordable housing for the many, many people for whom owning even one property is an impossible dream. Nice….