John Diodati, who was targeted for firing from the Morro Bay City Planning Commission by two Morro Bay City Council members, resigned last week to fulfill his commitment to coach his son's Little League team after the council, at an earlier meeting, had apparently backed off from adopting a proposed resolution that would have caused his removal.
His surprise announcement at the council's April 26 meeting came in the wake of a confused, two-hour meeting on April 12 when a resolution authored by council members Carla Borchard and Nancy Johnson to remove him was attacked by more than 15 residents and was apparently changed to avoid his immediate removal but leaving his status unclear. Diodati was chair of the commission that rejected the city's proposed wastewater treatment plant project last year, which was overriden by the the current council and sent to the California Coastal Commission for approval.
At the April 26 meeting, Diodati accused Borchard and Johnson of applying "rules (for Planning Commission absences) retroactively," which he said caused the conflict. "People are so upset," he said, and have urged him to remain on the Commission.
But, "I made a personal obligation to 14 children on Wednesday nights," which he said he refuses to break. "I am resigning effective immediately, and I stand by the decisions I made on the Planning Commission."
Before leaving the meeting, he told the council that he was "shocked at council member Johnson for criticizing me" for missing Planning Commission meetings and then she turned right around and missed an important combined meeting of the council and the Cayucos Sanitary District Board on April 14 under their Joint Powers Agreement on the co-owned wastewater treatment plant in Morro Bay.
At the April 12 meeting, the more than 15 speakers—some with young children at their sides—staunchly and passionately argued against his firing.
The council was accused of "capricious, arbitrary and discriminatory" conduct by former City Council member Susan Mullen and "bullying" by another speaker. Diodati was idolized as "a huge asset to the city who asks hard questions and is probably the youngest, most caring member of the Commission."
Subsequently, the council became confused over what action to take, and Johnson said "this has escalated out of control."
Ultimately, the council apparently did not adopt a proposed resolution signed by Borchard that would have removed Diodati from the commission because of his absences to coach his son's Little League team over recent and coming months.
During the meeting, Johnson confessed that although her name wasn't on the resolution with Borchard's, she had co-authored it. "I need to apologize to the council and Borchard because she took the flak for this," Johnson told the council.
After that meeting, whether Diodati would remain on the commission was left up in the air. Under what the council apparently decided on April 12, he could miss one more meeting this calendar year, but if he misses two, his position will be declared vacant automatically (although the council apparently still would have the right to waive that requirement). After the meeting, Diodati said, "I plan on attending as many meetings as I can, either arriving late or being there for the entire meeting." Whether being late will count as an absence was left unsettled.
Some believe his attempted firing was a "political decision," as one speaker put it. This is because Diodati was the chair last December when the Commission voted unanimously to oppose the city's proposed new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) project. The California Coastal Commission on March 11 did the same—rejected the proposed project, based on the Coastal Commission staff's recommendations.
Yet, the city and the Cayucos Sanitary District board, which co-own and operate the plant, have not made clear whether they will comply with those recommendations for the design, size, and location of a multi-million dollar new plant.
A month after Diodati and his fellow Planning Commissioners made their decision on the WWTP, mayor Bill Yates asked the council to fire that same commission. But he couldn't get enough votes among council members to fire them, so he dropped his effort. Both Borchard and Johnson refused to support Yates' proposed firing of the entire commission.
But then, the resolution aimed at removing Diodati and signed solely by Borchard suddenly turned up in the council's April 12 agenda, and word got out quickly, resulting in a packed council meeting with speaker after speaker praising Diodati and castigating Borchard—before Johnson revealed her role. Borchard insisted that "the issue is clearly and only about attendance." She said it is "my responsibility to provide applicants a full opportunity to go before a full commission."
But council member Noah Smukler called it a "subjective charge" against Diodati and "very convoluted." Richard Margetson, a Cambria resident, called Diodati "the type of people you need on the Planning Commission," adding, "When you woke up this morning, Carla, I don't think you had any idea that there would be a backlash like this. I hope he runs for City Council somewhere down the road."
Diodati pointed out to the council at the meeting that he had arranged his Little League coaching schedule prior to the start of this year's baseball season and that was when Planning Commission meetings were being held on Monday nights. Then last January, without consulting the Commission, the council changed the meetings to Wednesdays, which "created the conflict," Diodati told the council. Even the Borchard-Johnson resolution targeting Diodati said, "It is recognized that the meeting night for Planning Commission was changed in January 2011 by
the City Council and this may have caused scheduling conflicts for some members." Smukler said the council "created this conflict."
Despite that admission, Borchard and Johnson went ahead in pursuing their resolution, which said it would "require the Planning Commissioner (Diodati) to adhere to the policies for advisory bodies and meet the attendance requirement or declare the position vacant." That meant adhering to Council Resolution 10-06 adopted in 2006, which requires removal of a member of city boards with bylaws who was absent for four meetings in a consecutive 12-month period.
Since Diodati had been absent from three meeting last year and two so far this year, he could have been removed under Resolution 10-6 since he would have exceeded the limit of four absences in a consecutive 12-month period.
But Diodati contended that the resolution applies to other city advisory boards but not to the Planning Commission, which doesn't have bylaws and which is governed by the city's municipal code, and that the code allows members to be absent three meetings per calendar year with approval of their fellow commissioners. He noted that the handbook of technical information provided by the city to commissioners for their guidance cites the municipal code regarding absences but not Resolution 10-06.
At the meeting, Diodati said he obtained approval of his fellow commissioners for last year's three absences and then on March 2 got approval for five absences this year—all to coach his son in Little League on Wednesday nights—but later said he expects his absences this year to be fewer than five.
Following nearly two hours of overwhelming pro-Diodati comments from the public, Borchard's vebal motion for adoption of her and Johnson's attendance-requirement resolution at the meeting was unclear because it didn't seem to be taken from their proposed resolution in the agenda.
Other council members also were confused. Before acting upon her motion, the idea of changing the time—from 6 to 6:30—of the commission meetings when Diodati indicated he might have to be late was kicked around.
"Anything wrong with moving the next three (commission) meetings to 6:30?" Yates asked. City attorney Rob Schultz said "yes." A staff member noted that the next meeting of the commission on April 20 had already been noticed as starting at six.
"Now I hear 7," Yates said. "Can you be there?" he asked Diodati. "Yes, I can be there," Diodati answered.
"I'm kind of getting mixed up here," council member George Leage said.
"You missed one?" Leage asked. "If he misses three meetings he is out?" Yates countered. Leage said, "If he misses one more and shows up for two? That's three, right? If he shows up, he is still a commissioner?" "If he shows up," Yates said.
"I think everyone is hoping he is going to show up," Yates said.
The council voted 4-1 to adopt Borchard's unclear motion with Smukler voting no.
But city attorney Rob Schultz said later that the motion was "in line with (Resolution) 10-6 except instead of being a 12-month period, council made it by calendar year in order not to cause an immediate vacancy." That is, not to cause the removal of Diodati.
But by changing it from a 12-month period to a calendar year, that would seem to base the rule for absences on the municipal code instead of the Resolution 10-06, which is not what the Borchard-Johnson resolution proposed. The official motion recorded in the meeting minutes was not available from city staff.
So it appears that the Borchard-Johnson resolution as stated in the agenda would have caused Diodati's removal because Resolution 10-06 was to be applied to the planning commission, possibly for the first time. But, as Schultz said, Resolution 10-06 was modified at the meeting in its application to Diodati's case. Schultz later said Diodati had not been in violation of the municipal code, which Diodati had said he understood contained the rules on absences that he followed.
In his comments to the council at the meeting, Diodati said "the city has much bigger issues on its plate" than concern over his absences.
Afterward, Diodati told reporters that the attempt to remove him "in my opinion has to do with other things (than attendance at meetings)." He questioned how the council "with so many issues (to deal with) could spend two hours wasting time and cost to micromanage us."