A shakeup could be in store at Lompoc’s City Hall after two councilmen on Tuesday night attempted to begin the process of potentially firing the city’s top administrator.
Councilmen Jim Mosby and Victor Vega both made requests during Tuesday night’s meeting for reviews — either in closed session or at a special emergency meeting — that could ultimately lead to the ouster of City Manager Patrick Wiemiller.
Tuesday night’s meeting wasn’t the first time that either councilman has made a request of that nature, but Tuesday’s requests were the clearest indications from anyone on the City Council that Wiemiller’s job, a position he has held since December 2013, could be in jeopardy.
Mosby was perhaps most direct when, near the end of Tuesday’s meeting, he made a council request for an emergency meeting to be held within 48 hours “for possible disciplinary action or termination of the city manager.” Vega then followed that up with a request of his own for the council to conduct a personnel review of the city manager’s performance, again for “disciplinary action or possible termination.”
While neither request was successful — they both needed at least two other members of the council to go along with them, but they only got support from each other — Councilman Dirk Starbuck left open the door for a potential review of Wiemiller’s performance when he asked that Vega restate his request at the council’s next regular meeting Sept. 19.
The two requests provided the latest twist in what has been a contentious budget process over the past five months. The governing body has deliberated over the budget at a dozen different meetings, and members of the council have frequently been at odds with each other and with city staff during that time.
The first indication this summer that anyone on the council was concerned about Wiemiller’s performance came June 6, when Vega made his first request for a personnel review of Wiemiller. He noted then that the council has “benchmarks for our city manager” and asked for a review to be conducted before the end of June.
In response to Vega’s June 6 request, City Attorney Joe Pannone pointed out that the potential review would need to be labeled as either an evaluation or for possible discipline or dismissal. Vega said at that time that he’d like to label it as an evaluation. He ended up getting two votes of support.
That review was apparently conducted Aug. 1 in closed session. At the start of the open session of the council’s Aug. 1 meeting, Mayor Bob Lingl noted that a review had been performed and that Wiemiller was determined to have been doing a “more than satisfactory” job.
After Vega made his similar request on Tuesday — “I’d like to try again,” he said — Lingl, seemingly in opposition to another review, pointed out two reviews already had been conducted.
Mosby had also previously raised concern when, during the council’s Aug. 22 meeting, he requested that the city’s attorneys look into whether the city, led by Wiemiller, had violated city and/or state policies by dipping into the city’s emergency funds without proper approval. Assistant City Attorney Jeff Malawy said then that he would need at least a month to investigate before returning with a report.
While it is unclear if Wiemiller had any prior knowledge about the requests that were made by Mosby and Vega on Tuesday, he did use his platform early in Tuesday’s meeting to apologize to Vega personally for his tone during an exchange with Vega at the council’s Aug. 22 meeting.
During a budget discussion at that meeting, Wiemiller stated that he would not allow the council to dictate specific personnel changes, as he believes that falls under his purview.
Vega questioned the legality of that statement and asked Wiemiller if he recognized the council as being the policymakers who provide direction to city staff.
“If we were to place this (employee moves) as a direction, as a directive, would you follow it?” he asked Wiemiller.
After a few seconds of silence, Vega said, “It sounds like you’re telling me you wouldn’t.”
Wiemiller responded by saying he wouldn’t answer the question, which led to the following exchange:
Vega: “It’s a direct question and I’d like an answer for it, sir.”
Wiemiller: “I’m sure you would.”
On Tuesday, Wiemiller said he watched video of that portion of the meeting and felt like he owed Vega an apology.
“In the course of my offering my unwillingness to answer, upon reflection and looking back at the tape, I’m not satisfied with myself, certainly with the tone that might’ve been perceived from my refusing to answer,” he said.
“I certainly meant no disrespect and it was not my intent to offer any disrespect; I was merely trying to end the conversation,” he later added. “But nonetheless, that’s no excuse for the tone that I may have used. It’s certainly not the tone I would like to give as an example for my colleagues to use.”
After Wiemiller's apology, Mosby asked Pannone, the city's lead attorney, if Wiemiller's comments Aug. 22 could be defined as an act of insubordination.
"That is a very legal conclusionary word to use that has a lot of implications, and I wouldn't want to try to address something like that in open session because of the possibility of what that could mean," Pannone said.
Vega reiterated Tuesday that he believes asking tough or difficult questions should be required of elected officials in a representative government.
“We’ve already seen what happens here: If we don’t ask questions, things happen and then people say, ‘Wow, what happened?’” he said.
“There are people in politics that all they do is subscribe to what City Hall wants and the city workers,” he added. “I’m a representative of all the people in the city of Lompoc, including City Hall, the union people and all the workers. It seems that most people, they take the path of least resistance and always say, ‘Hey, why don’t we agree with staff; they’re the professionals.’ We’re a representative government for a reason: to ask these questions in case they need clarification. It’s not that city staff is trying to mislead us, it’s just that we also have a different direction from which we can pull from more ideas.”
Vega noted that many of Mosby’s ideas and requests during this budget process, which began May 2, have been “met (with) quite a bit of resistance.”
“I do have an issue with that,” Vega said, “partially because us as a representative government, we’re finding resistance from city staff.”
While Vega and Mosby raised issues with aspects of Wiemiller’s performance, another member of the council made a plea for everyone on the dais to conduct themselves more professionally.
Jenelle Osborne, who was elected to the council in November 2016, said near the end of Tuesday's meeting that she’s been ashamed at times by what she termed as personal attacks over the past several months.
“Normally I don’t do this, but there’s a level of professionalism that we’re expected to bring to this when we’re elected, and the current behavior from council has been abhorrent,” she said. “I’ve been embarrassed numerous times when I’ve been visiting out of our community representing it. I don’t mind us asking the difficult questions, I don’t mind having hard discussions, but when we impugn individuals, when we attack personalities, when we’re disappointed with them because we don’t agree with them, we are behaving badly.”
Osborne went on to suggest that businesses and families could be discouraged from operating or living in Lompoc due to what they see happening in and around council meetings.
“They sit and watch these council meetings and they watch our behavior, so we don’t just represent the community, we represent our behavior and what might be expected at City Hall,” she said. “So I would implore my fellow council members to think about professional behavior and what that means and what that reflects on you and how it reflects on our community.”