Laguna Niguel Councilman Jerry Slusiewicz resigned from his position as mayor Monday night minutes before the council was supposed to decide on removing his largely ceremonial title.
“A few moments ago I resigned as mayor because I could not in good conscience preside over a phony proceeding convened in the name of Laguna Niguel taxpayers,” Slusiewicz said, reading from a prepared statement in the parking lot of the city hall after announcing his resignation from the dais.
“To put it bluntly, my colleagues do not want me as the mayor, and I cannot lead a body suffering from the great disability of indifference."
After reading his resignation letter to the council, Slusiewicz handed it to City Clerk Eileen Gomez and left the council chambers.
He will remain on the city council. His term ends in 2020.
Slusiewicz’ resignation follows several months of disputes involving a $410,000 cost overrun in a city tree trimming contract that Slusiewicz wants the city council to investigate and allegations raised in recent weeks that he bullied city staff and others in the community.
At its July 24 special meeting, the council decided to hire an outside attorney to investigate claims Slusiewicz used his city office to try to influence a business owner and a local theater. Former City Manager Rod Foster also alleged Slusiewicz tried to intimidate him over the $410,000 overpayment on a city tree trimming contract.
The city hasn’t examined the overpayment yet, although it is part of a financial audit that hasn’t been released to the council or the public -- but a press release from the city said the auditors will release it Sept. 5.
There was no investigation report for the council Monday night regarding claims against Slusiewicz.
Slusiewicz has previously said that the allegations of bullying and intimidation began after he found the contract overpayment.
“The greatest trick some members of this council ever played was convincing the public that tonight’s proceeding was about finding the truth. Facts and the law were not going to get in the way of a back-room deal cut in Mid-July,” Slusiewicz said from the dais, before he resigned.
He continued reading his prepared statement from the dais.
“If I don’t step down as mayor, it legitimizes this hasty sham removal process and may have the legal consequence of ratifying prior Brown Act violations thereby allowing certain decisions to avoid public scrutiny,” Slusiewicz said.
As he read his unexpected statement, the other city council members reacted with silence. His resignation came just as the council was about to take up a resolution to remove his title as mayor.
Earlier Monday, City Attorney Terry Dixon wrote a letter that addressed concerns about Brown Act violations and confusion about the investigation.
“...at no time did the City Council vote to have the findings of the law firm regarding the investigation of the Mayor’s conduct presented on August 7, 2017, or at any other time,” Dixon wrote.
“Further, at no time did the City Council determine that the consideration of the removal of the Mayor would not occur until there had been an investigation of certain or all of the items set forth in the agenda report and proposed resolution for the July 24, 2017, meeting, including investigation of the Mayor’s conduct.” continued Dixon’s letter.
But Slusiewicz stated in his resignation letter the council voted July 24 to hire outside attorneys to assist Dixon in the investigation and report back with their findings on Aug. 7.
“These facts make clear the city manager and city attorney had been in coordinated contact with a majority of the members of the City Council well in advance of the July 24 meeting,” Slusiewicz wrote.
Moreover, Dixon wrote that when an Aug. 3 decision was made -- he didn’t identify who was involved -- to call the special meeting, they were well in advance of the Brown Act’s required 24 hour notice for special meetings. He said Slusiewicz would have had only four days from that date if they went with the Aug. 7 date.
However, the July 24 staff report and agenda also scheduled the meeting Aug. 7.
“The City Council authorizes and directs the City Attorney to report on the status of the matters set forth in this report at a special meeting to be held on or before August 7, 2017,” reads the July 24 agenda.
Additionally, Dixon said the Burke, Williams & Sorenson law firm was contacted on Aug. 2 to assist the investigation into the claims against Slusiewicz.
Yet Voice of OC obtained a copy of the $25,000 contract — the maximum amount a Laguna Niguel department head can sign without council approval — between the city and the law firm Burke, Williams & Sorenson that was signed July 17 by Foster, nine days before the July special council meeting. The contract is for unspecific “general municipal law advice and litigation.”
“No attorneys were contacted to assist in this investigation until after July 24, 2017,” according to Dixon’s letter.
Slusiewicz indicated in his letter that officials at city hall had been talking to the Burke law firm before the council voted on it July 24.
“On July 17, 2017, the law firm … was retained by the city manager and city attorney of Laguna Niguel to investigate how I have carried out my official duties and responsibilities as Mayor,” wrote Slusiewicz’ in his resignation letter.
Mayor Pro Tem Fred Minagar is slated to be sworn in as mayor at Tuesday night’s regular council meeting.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC reporter who covers south Orange County and Fullerton. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.