Monday, October 23 , 2017, 4:45 am | Fair 52º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Residents Chastise Lompoc City Council Members For Their Behavior

Council schedules closed session meeting to improve communication between the city manager and council members

Lompoc City Council members were scolded by members of the public at Tuesday night’s meeting.
Lompoc City Council members were scolded by members of the public at Tuesday night’s meeting.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

After a scolding from residents Tuesday, the Lompoc City Council took a more conciliatory tone and scheduled a meeting to try to improve communications among themselves and with their city manager.

A steady stream of residents spoke out against the City Council members’ behavior, calling it childish, unprofessional and appalling, with many speaking in support of City Manager Patrick Wiemiller.

The comments during Tuesday's meeting came after two council members — Jim Mosby and Victor Vega — asked at the end of the previous meeting to schedule a session to discipline or fire Wiemiller.

They failed to gain a third vote, but Councilman Dirk Starbuck suggested they bring the item back to the Sept. 19 meeting.

Tuesday night, Starbuck suggested the council meet with Wiemiller behind closed doors at the Oct. 3 meeting to talk about employee performance and council communications, estimating it would require 90 minutes.

“I spent a lot of time thinking about this because I think there was a lot of overreaction and reactions and we’re seeing the repercussions of that right now,” Starbuck said. 

In response to Mayor’s Bob Lingl’s question about how the item would differ from two earlier performance reviews of Wiemiller, Starbuck said the session would not be about discipline or termination. 

“I think as a group it would be good for us to sit down and talk to Mr. Wiemiller,” Starbuck said. “I also feel that it might be good to discuss some of our things out of public and in closed session.”

Councilwoman Jenelle Osborne said she viewed the meeting as an internal workshop,

“As long as this is part of us evaluating ourselves and how we communicate with each other as well our city manager I can support this,” Osborne said. 

The worsening relationship between some council members and Wieimiller peaked with budget review, when staff recommended asking voters to approve three tax measures in 2018 and proposed slashing funding for several local groups and programs. 

A testy exchange in August between Wiemiller and Vega prompted the city manager to apologize publicly, which was followed by Mosby and Vega making unsuccessful motions to discipline the top city employee.

Firing the city manager would not be cheap. Wiemiller's contract calls him to receive severance pay equal to 9 months of his annual salary, which is $175,000. The payout would be more than $131,000.

Earlier in the meeting, residents criticized the accusations and recriminations tossed about in council meetings. 

Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller listens as  City Attorney Joe Pannone speaks during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Click to view larger
Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller listens as City Attorney Joe Pannone speaks during Tuesday’s City Council meeting.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“It’s time to take that tone down. There’s a lot of work yet to be done,” resident Tim Smith said, adding the budget approved “treads water” and the city needs to find more revenue.

Resident Linda Lee likened the bickering to her squabbling grandsons, adding she was not a stranger to high emotions, but expects council members to work together to solve problems.

“Even though the City Council is faced with much bigger problems and it’s not the same situation, I do believe that kind of the sentiments might be same,” she said. “I would like to remind the council and the city administrator that we are all on the same team.”

Former councilwoman Ann Ruhge said the council’s behavior “has embarrassed and appalled the total community,” turning Lompoc into “the laughingstock of the county.”

Ruhge said, “Your disrespect, disregard and lack of support for our city staff, especially our city manager, is what is leading many of us to speak tonight in favor and support of these highly trained, loyal and capable people.”

She called for the council to “cease and desist this deplorable display of outright antagonism toward Mr. Wiemiller. Remember we’re all registered voters and we’re watching.”

“Amen,” a man in the audience said.

Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl listens to public comment during the City Council meeting Tuesday night. Click to view larger
Lompoc Mayor Bob Lingl listens to public comment during the City Council meeting Tuesday night. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A small number of speakers spoke out on the other side.

“This is not a family. This is a business and this is a right to work state,” said businessman Brandon Bridge. “When an employee comes to you disingenuously saying they're not going to follow the direction of the leader or leaders, it’s disheartening.”

Another resident, Chris Darling, called for the council members to continue to question staff, adding that democracy is “a messy business” and urging the elected officials not to be a rubber stamp.

“In our democracy we have a right to question things and I hope you continue to do it,” he said.

One speaker labeled Wiemiller “a rogue administrator,” while another accused some council members of trying micromanage city staff. 

Former Mayor Joyce Howerton noted the turmoil had one surprising outcome.

“This council has been able to do something that nobody else has done in a long time. You’ve been able to bring the most conservative people in Lompoc and the most liberal people in Lompoc together,” she said, drawing chuckles from the audience.

“You have brought some of the oldest and some of the youngest people together. They’ve all come together because of your outrageous behavior, starting with the motorsport projects and then the longevity and the silliness of the city budget,” she added.

She urged council members to read their handbook, which spells out roles and responsibilities of the five elected officials.

“I can tell you, reading that handbook will take a lot less energy and time than dealing with a grand jury investigation or a recall (election),” Howerton said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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