A special closed session of the Solvang City Council was tabled Wednesday evening before it was started.
The special meeting set for 5:30 p.m., was called by Mayor Ryan Toussaint to discuss “public employee discipline/dismissal/release” of the city attorney, according to the published agenda.
David Fleishman of Hanley & Fleishman LLP in Atascadero currently serves under contract as city attorney.
But Toussaint was not present at the meeting, which was chaired instead by Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke.
Toussaint's absence was not explained at the meeting, but Friday morning, Toussaint blamed an illness and miscommunication.
The mayor said he had called the meeting for 6:30 p.m., but later the staff contacted him about holding it earlier at 5:30 p.m.
“I thought we settled on 6:30 p.m.,” he said, explaining he arrived at City Hall around 6 p.m. “I actually thought I was early.”
Toussaint noted he had been battling a serious infection that had prevented him from presiding over the previous meeting, indicating that could have been a factor in the miscommunication.
“I am alive,” he added. “I’m not dead. There have been rumors about an ambulance in front of my house.”
As soon as the meeting was called to order but before the council adjourned to closed session, Councilwoman Karen Waite read a statement saying she was unaware the meeting was being called until it was made public and that she knew of nothing to justify it.
“I want to let everyone here know that we were elected to serve this community and to make decisions on behalf of this community in its best interests,” Waite said.
“This proposed action to terminate the contract of our city attorney … is counterproductive to the business continuity of our city, as we are also awaiting the arrival of a new city manager and have regrettably accepted the resignation of our new city director of administrative services yesterday,” Waite continued.
“I am perplexed also how and why the agenda has come forth, clearly without any discussion involving me and apparently without cause.”
Waite said as far as she was aware, only three members of the current council had had any interaction with the city attorney, adding she had never heard anything negative about Fleishman from those council members.
“This idea of making changes to make changes, in my opinion, is not the way we should conduct city affairs,” Waite said.
She moved to dismiss the meeting, in the absence of Toussaint, with a directive to staff that should such a meeting be requested, it should be done in a regular, open session.
But the vote was a 2-2 tie, with Clarke, who seconded the motion, joining Waite in voting “yes” and councilmen Chris Djaernes and Daniel Johnson voting “no.”
Acting City Manager Rick Haydon told the council he had tried to talk to Toussaint about the reason for calling the meeting.
Haydon said Toussaint’s response was that “he was not at liberty to talk to me about that.”
Djaernes argued that since the council didn’t know Toussaint’s reasons for calling the meeting, it should be tabled rather than dismissed, and he made a motion to that effect, seconded by Johnson.
As the roll-call vote was taken, Waite said she wouldn’t vote “yes” but didn’t want to vote “no,” saying the meeting shouldn’t have been called in the first place and should be dismissed.
Asking Fleishman for direction, Waite was told she could vote “yes,” “no” or abstain because of some conflict of interest.
Waite chose to abstain, the final vote was 3-0-1 and the meeting was tabled indefinitely.
The issue was not on the agenda for the March 25 meeting.
Asked if the closed session would be rescheduled, Toussaint said it likely would be.
“I think certainly a performance review is in order,” he said, pointing out that personnel matters are normally handled in a closed session.