The Voice of OC provides its perspective on how the city leadership of Laguna Niguel is dealing with a Councilmember who is not playing team ball according to their preferences.
I love to work with reporters and deeply appreciate the journalism profession. Since it’s not too often when the reporter of a piece is referred to as an intern, after reading the Voice of OC piece below, I have a few suggestions to offer. And I do it as someone who wants to mentor, as I think this piece is the first of many more.
First, be more specific about what is actually happening. Do you remove someone from the city council? That would be done through a recall. Do you remove someone from the ceremonial position of Mayor? That would only take three votes of the city council. Not necessarily a big deal and should be in Robert’s Rules of Order.
Second, what is the cause or compelling reason for a special meeting? Asking that former employee’s names not be included on a brass plaque? Oh my. Finding out that the Mayor was a disappointed father who vented when his daughter was scorned? Whoa. This is not significant stuff.
Third, clarify what my relationship is to this brouhaha. I am currently a State Senator. But, I do not now have an "advisory committee."
Let me provide a little helpful elaboration. Current Laguna Niguel Mayor Jerry Slusiewicz served on my Treasurer’s Oversight Committee while I served as the elected Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector more than ten years ago.
Jerry has been involved in the community long before he ran for city council. And, he was an asset to my team and to the County of Orange (see MOORLACH UPDATE — “Vaxxed” — December 15, 2016 december 15, 2016 john moorlach). For a 2002 mention, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Proper Etiquette — December 4, 2012 december 4, 2012 john moorlach and, for a 2006 mention, see MOORLACH UPDATE — Toll — December 2, 2011 december 3, 2011 john moorlach.
Fourth, scratch below the surface. There was a special meeting to address a potential removal from the office of Mayor. Really? There is a better way to handle strong personalities than this. So, there must be something more.
Fifth, ask one of the best editors and publishers in the county, your boss, if you can spend more time on this matter. Perhaps the draft audit report must be very damning for the staff and its possible release may not reflect well on the sitting city council?
I get the sense that the audit report is providing awkward reportable conditions. What’s to do? Suppress it? Or go after the member who won’t go along with this tactic? Didn’t someone say that the cover up is even more disturbing than the crime?
I’ve been here before. I know what it’s like when a governing board has made up its mind and finds that retracting their position is too difficult. So let me provide some context. It happened to me a couple of times while serving on the Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) Board.
The first was a closed session meeting where we were informed of concerns about the system’s CEO. This was not the first time that issues were brought against her and I voted to terminate. The Board went nuts. They loved the CEO. How dare I step out of line and not support their idea to move her to a completely different building, where she would not have to interface with staff? Are you kidding me? For a glimpse of this fun experience, see MOORLACH UPDATE — POBs — February 5, 2011 february 5, 2011 john moorlach.
The second experience was the fixation of the OCERS Board to purchase premium land from The Irvine Company, as facilities at the Santa Ana Civic Center would be too dangerous. Are you kidding me? For an account of this fun chapter, find it in a classic Rick Reiff interview some twenty-one years ago, that garnered statewide attention, in MOORLACH UPDATE — Wild Animals — August 5, 2011 august 5, 2011 john moorlach.
Sixth, the publisher of the Voice of OC knows that drafts are not subject to public records requests. But, audit workpapers are not client privileged documents. Jerry Slusiewicz is dropping bread crumbs. Follow them and you may have a really note worthy story and a great intern experience.
BONUS: It’s time for a summer BBQ near the beach. Please come to my August 10th evening BBQ at the Baugh residence in Huntington Beach. For an affordable fund raiser that is filling up quickly, go to MOORLACH CAMPAIGN UPDATE — BBQ Invitation — July 22, 2017 july 22, 2017 john moorlach.
Laguna Niguel Investigates Complaints Against Mayor And How To Possibly Remove Him
By SPENCER CUSTODIO
The Laguna Niguel City Attorney will investigate a list of complaints and alleged municipal code violations against Mayor Jerry Slusiewicz and explore how to remove the mayor from office, a first for the south Orange County city.
“It’s a witch hunt,” Slusiewicz said during his opening comments on Monday night’s special meeting. “It’s a massive squandering of taxpayer resources.”
The City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to authorize City Attorney Terry Dixon to begin fact-finding on the alleged violations and complaints and come back Aug. 7 with his findings and a process for removing a mayor from office. Slusiewicz voted no.
“I believe it’s a conflict of interest for the Mayor to run this meeting,” Councilwoman Laurie Davies said during opening remarks.
“I’m here to run the meeting,” Slusiewicz shot back. “I’m the Mayor,”
Laguna Niguel, like many OC cities, is a council-manager form of local government. That means the mayor is appointed by the council and steers the council meetings and can place items on the agenda. However, the mayor can’t act on behalf of the City Council — the council has to vote on such directions.
Furthermore, city code prohibits any council member — including the mayor — from bypassing the city manager and giving direct orders to staff.
Since it’s incorporation in 1989, Laguna Niguel has never had a process to remove a mayor.
“In our 28 year history, we’ve never had to consider removing a city mayor. I don’t know, once we have all the information, if that’s something we want to do,” said Councilwoman Elaine Gennawey, adding the city should have already had a policy on how to remove a mayor.
Among the allegations is that Slusiewicz violated the city code by telling Public Works Director Nasser Abbasazadeh to remove the names of just-retired City Manager Rod Foster and former Assistant City Manager Dan Fox from a plaque on a bridge.
Foster retired Monday and Fox left Laguna Niguel for Diamond Bar last month — both due to Slusiewicz, according to a June 8 email from Foster to the City Council and city attorney.
While Slusiewicz didn’t address all of the accusations against him, he did say he was within his rights when he instructed their names be taken down.
“Acting within the scope of my duties as a mayor, that is exactly what I did. Have I bruised some feelings over the past six months? Perhaps. Since when was carrying out my duties as mayor grounds for removal by my colleagues?” Slusiewicz said about removing Foster’s and Fox’s names from the plaque.
Although Dixon didn’t say if Slusiewicz violated city code order or not, he summed up the allegations against Slusiewicz.
“What it really comes down to, to a great extent, is allegations of bullying … by Mayor Slusiewicz,” Dixon said.
“There’s always more than one version of reality,” Slusiewicz said.
Slusiewicz, in a phone interview Sunday, said the allegations surfaced once he started bringing to light possible code violations in a draft financial audit that indicate there are inconsistencies in spending limits within city staff. He also said he has more than 10 years of financial auditing experience, including time on state Sen. John Moorlach’s advisory committee and the city’s investment, banking and audit committee.
“My duty remains solely to the Laguna Niguel taxpayers, if the price of honoring my commitment to the taxpayers costs me the title of mayor, so be it,” Slusiewicz said Tuesday night.
“The audit is a concern of all of us, but the audit is incomplete,” Gennawey said. “I don’t want anyone to think that we are minimizing the audit or any review of the audit.”
Gennawey called on the city attorney to review the audit once it’s complete to make sure it wasn’t interfered with.
However, Finance Director Steve Erlandson said although the draft audit came out in late June, it wasn’t until July 12 that he and Dixon received a copy because of interference from Slusiewicz.
Dixon said Sluciewicz wouldn’t provide a copy of the draft audit and he tried calling the audit firm, but was told they couldn’t provide him with it due to Sluciewicz’ orders.
“That was the first time as city attorney that I was denied that document,” Dixon said, adding he had to “basically, in my opinion, force you to provide me with that draft audit.”
Laguna Niguel has been considered a leader in financial auditing because the mayor and mayor pro tem are permitted to direct the auditing firm to look at areas they instruct, which adds layers of transparency and surprise to the audit that make it harder for staff to hide finances, according to an article published by the OC Register last year.
Others on the council claimed Slusiewicz was sidestepping the real issues at hand by constantly referring back to the audit.
“It sounds like, to me, that you’re using this audit to defer your responsibilities and your behavior how you acted as mayor. And it never has come up yet. You keep talking about the audit,” Davies told Slusiewicz. “It’s your behavior … that’s the bottom line.”
“I support there being a special meeting for one purpose and that is to get out the complaints that were presented to us,” Councilman John Mark Jennings said, reminding residents the meeting wasn’t about the audit. “That’s something I can’t take lightly and you don’t want me to take that lightly.”
Additionally, Slusiewicz allegedly tried to use his city standing to get his daughter a part in a Laguna Niguel Community Theatre play, according to a June 5 email from theatre director Jeremy Golden.
“For the next 26 minutes he yelled at me, stating that he did a favor for me by supporting our fee waivers and allowing us to use city space for our productions and that I had failed to return the favor by granting his daughter a part in the play,” Golden wrote in the letter to Dixon.
Meanwhile, Slusiewicz called on the council to immediately send the draft audit to the District Attorney’s office.
“I don’t want the fox watching the henhouse,” Slusiewicz said.
“At this juncture, to turn over any documents to any other entities, is a little premature,” Mayor Pro Tem Fred Minagar said about turning over the audit, reminding Slusiewicz it wasn’t finalized yet.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC intern. He can be reached at spencercustodio.
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.
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