Lompoc City Manager Patrick Wiemiller, during the 2016 State of the City address, instructed his audience to pledge, “We deserve and expect the best in Lompoc.” Wiemiller went on to talk about his belief that Lompoc desperately needed a new fire station, which had been rejected by the City Council the month prior, mostly due to a $14 million price tag that would have jumped to more than $28 million through his financing plan.
“I am willing to put my professional reputation and my career on the line to back that up, because I believe that strongly about it,” Wiemiller said of his belief that the proposed financing plan was in the city’s best interest.
Wiemiller later encouraged citizens to “stay informed and please hold us accountable to make decisions that preserve our collective future.”
So let’s discuss accountability.
The Lompoc City Council has been on the hot seat, especially as of late, for perceptions, described in the Santa Maria Sun’s “Canary” column, as “having blown up with bickering, warring factions, and finger-pointing.” Contentions boiled over in August when Mayor Bob Lingl was accused of motioning a gun with his hand and threatening to shoot Councilmember Jim Mosby in the head, presumably because of Mosby’s digging on the budget. Additionally, councilmembers Mosby and Victor Vega have been portrayed as troublemakers making waves at City Hall for questioning city staff’s proposals to put three new taxes on the ballot in 2018, among other issues, but the facts point to Wiemiller being the problem.
During a council meeting on January 3, 2017, Councilmember Mosby questioned why a $750,000 loan was being proposed to be borrowed for demolition of the closed municipal pool when council had not discussed an approval process. Mosby called it putting the “cart before the horse.” Wiemiller responded at one point, “No, you haven’t taken a vote. I’m trying to put you into a position to be able to take action and take that [pool] down because I don’t think it should continue to stand.”
There lies the first problem: a city manager who manipulates municipal financial needs and directs policy actions without direction from the City Council. A rogue administrator who is planting his vision into the framework while acting resistant to direction from elected policy makers.
Later that same meeting, during public comment, former mayor John Linn spoke out against borrowing money to tear down the old pool. Linn reminded the council that cities like San Bernardino and Stockton, which had previously taken similar measures of borrowing money, were ultimately forced to file bankruptcy.
At the end of public comment, Wiemiller responded to Linn’s concerns by stating that he didn’t “want anyone to leave here with the thought that our proposal here would put us anywhere close to the bankruptcy situations that San Bernardino, Stockton, or Vallejo found themselves in. I would not ever make recommendations to you that would cast us into a situation where we could not thrive financially.”
Fast forward to the May 30, 2017 City Council meeting. Councilmembers Mosby, Dirk Starbuck, and Vega took issue with the proposed budget being balanced under the hope and a prayer that three new tax measures would be approved by voters on the 2018 ballot. In fact, it is questionable whether a budget can legally be declared “balanced” when it requires voter approval of new taxes over a year into said budget.
Mosby made a motion, which passed 3-2, that eliminated any possible ballot measures from future budget discussions and directed city staff to return with a balanced budget that didn’t rely on new taxes.
During public comment, Wiemiller, as a citizen, again pleaded with the council to allow the voters to make a choice on the taxes, or that the city could be forced to file for bankruptcy.
“I’ve avoided using the words ‘Lompoc’ and ‘bankruptcy’ in the same sentence before, but I’ve been over and over this and I really see that we are … in a pivotal point,” Wiemiller said. “I’m not saying this to be overly dramatic, but we are at a point where we’re either going to put this before the voters for their consideration … or I believe we’re looking at bankruptcy. I do not see another way out of this.”
There lies the second problem. With the resistance from city staff comes the introduction to fearmongering. We have seen several examples of this.
After 57 percent of Lompoc voters passed Proposition 64 to legalize recreational cannabis in November 2016, Wiemiller and city staff proposed a city ordinance, without direction from council, to ban recreational cannabis businesses just six weeks after the vote, at the December 20, 2016, council meeting. After dozens of citizens cried foul, city staff’s proposal was killed by a unanimous council vote.
It didn’t take long for city staff to begin the fearmongering. City Attorney Joseph Pannone claimed that gunfights would ensue in the streets. The chief of police claimed alcohol was safer than cannabis and that careless smokers would get behind the wheel and cause accidents and maybe even deaths. We were told children would become at risk and that cartels would move in to operate under the guise of law.
More recently, we have seen through exchanges of hypotheticals the city manager’s resistance to follow the direction of Councilmember Vega when it came to personnel and who had hiring and firing power.
Make no mistake about it, the “bankruptcy” talk was just another attempt to manipulate the council to do the will of Wiemiller.
At the recent September 5, 2017, council meeting, councilmembers Mosby, Vega, and Starbuck finalized the budget process and passed a balanced budget that resulted in no job losses, no cuts to city services, and no new taxes.
I find it alarming that the same city manager who banked his “professional reputation and … career” that Lompoc could afford a new $28 million fire station couldn’t figure out how to pay school crossing guards without raising millions in taxes — because he did not see any other way around it.
After passing the 2017-19 biannual budget, Vega summed up the majority’s justification. “To all the people out there that say about the council, ‘How dare us ask the questions of staff on budgetary issues,’ okay. We’ve already seen what happens here if we don’t ask questions …. I think it’s absolutely within our power and our direction to actually do what we are supposed to be. Be a representative government of the People.”
“We’re a representative government for a reason,” Vega continued; “to ask these questions in case there needs to be clarification … we also have a different direction from which we can actually pull for more ideas. Mr. Mosby, I think, has pointed out that there are a couple other ways to do it; people are appalled that we have another way to do this … I don’t believe that everything Councilman Mosby proposed was met with open arms. I think that he met quite a bit of resistance, and I do have an issue with that.” Vega concluded, “[A]s a representative government, we’re finding resistance from city staff which turns into … political view of what we ‘should do’ and ‘How dare us.’”
The resistance from staff at City Hall should be alarming to everyone, as it impedes upon the foundation of democracy and undermines the principle that government is derived from the People, for the People, and by the People. The mayor and councilmembers have been elected to represent the People of Lompoc and are held accountable by the People in a system of checks and balances that fluctuate through election cycles. When administrators are hired by the People’s representatives, it becomes their duty to see that the People’s will is done through the direction of the elected representatives. Any resistance from administration against the direction from elected officials should be seen as direct resistance to the will of the People.
Whenever democracy is undermined, it becomes the sworn duty of elected officials who took the oath of office to defend the Constitution and the People. A clear message needs to be portrayed that manipulation, fearmongering, and rebellion will not be tolerated at City Hall. This Tuesday, September 19, the Lompoc City Council should vote in the affirmative to conduct a review for possible disciplinary action or termination of the city manager, regardless of whether or not he has had previous reviews, in light of the severity of the situation.
After all, I wouldn’t want to break our pledge that “we deserve and expect the best in Lompoc.”
Joe A. Garcia is a cannabis advocate and the founder of the Lompoc Valley Cannabis Coalition. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.