The Laguna Niguel City Council will decide next week whether to remove Councilman Jerry Slusiewicz’ largely ceremonial title of Mayor, following a list of complaints filed with the city about Slusiewicz’ alleged bullying.
While the meeting date was originally Aug. 7, it was moved to Aug. 14, even though there wasn’t an apparent public vote to do so.
“Ask Terry Dixon (city attorney) — I’m not included in the discussion,” Slusiewicz said via text Sunday afternoon about the meeting date move. Dixon could not be reached for comment.
The rest of the five-member city council didn’t respond to questions about who moved the meeting and why.
Laguna Niguel, like many Orange County cities, is a council-manager form of local government. That means the mayor is appointed by the council, 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.
Slusiewicz previously called the alleged bullying issue a “witch hunt” that started after he raised questions about a city tree trimming contract that’s gone nearly $410,000 over the authorized amount. Slusiewicz, in an Aug. 1 interview, called the bullying claims against him “a bunch of allegations that are made up to block the main story (the tree contract).”
At the July 24 special meeting that started the process of removing Slusiewicz as mayor, a local business owner claimed Slusiewicz’ attempted to use his position in the city to get a better price on carpets.
Mary Gail Hentzen, owner of Tuttle’s Carpet One Floor and Home, said Slusiewicz came in around 2014 and got into a heated exchange with a sales associate over pricing.
Hentzen said she intervened and “(Slusiewicz) immediately informed me that he was on the city council and knew many people in town and demanded better prices based on his stature in the community.”
However, Slusiewicz said this claim is not true. While he acknowledged he had a problem with pricing, Slusiewicz, during the Aug. 1 interview, showed a Voice of OC reporter two receipts from the store dated August 2009, three years before he was elected to the Council.
“There goes that claim,” Slusiewicz said.
Among other allegations in the staff report are claims from Jeremy Golden, artistic director for Laguna Niguel Community Theatre, that allege Slusiewicz threatened to get rid of fee waivers and financial support because his daughter didn’t get a part in the play.
“Not only did they get their money, I bought an ad in the program,” Slusiewicz said.
The agenda packet doesn’t contain any emails or claims by former City Manager Rod Foster, who alleged Slusiewicz began in April bullying him and his staff. Foster said, via email to the council, that Slusiewicz called and tried to intimidate him into removing the West Coast Arborists contract from the May 16 agenda.
Slusiewicz said he gave a text message heads up to Foster, who was looking for work at the time. Slusiewicz shared that text message with the Voice of OC:
“Rod – it probably is a horrible idea to put the West Coast Arborist on the agenda Tuesday. What were you thinking? I have no choice but to rightfully rail on you! Why now? Hopefully no one outside the city will be watching,” the May 13 text message reads.
Slusiewicz said he did it as a professional courtesy because he knew Foster was looking for a job at the time.
“The reality here is I am actually trying to help Rod here,” Slusiewicz said in an Aug. 2 text message. Foster removed the item from the agenda. He retired July 24.
The Aug. 14 agenda also doesn’t list an email from Public Works Director Nasser Abbaszadeh, who claims Slusiewicz told him to remove Foster’s name from a city plaque.
The claims were initially included in the July 24 special meeting agenda that still was not in the city’s agenda archives as of Sunday afternoon.
Slusiewicz said he had Foster’s name removed from the plaque because by the time the bridge in Crown Valley Community Park was going to be dedicated, Foster would no longer be city manager. He said in the Aug. 1 interview he doesn’t have a problem with having Foster’s name on the design team portion.
A new claim was included in the agenda packet for the Aug. 14 meeting.
Philip La Marche, a former board member for soccer club United Football Club, said Slusiewicz threatened to make sure the club wouldn’t get more city field use permits if his son wasn’t allowed to switch soccer organizations mid-season, according to La Marche’s July 28 email to the council
Slusiewicz, in a Sunday text message, said there were no threats or issues on United FC’s field use permits.
“At least a decade of our family’s life was spent volunteering our weekends on our local soccer fields. However, my son hasn’t played for United FC in many years,” Slusiewicz texted, adding he helped the soccer team secure field use for practices during winter break and tournaments.
If Slusiewicz is stripped of the title of mayor, he still will serve the rest of his term on the council, which expires in 2020.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.