LAGUNA NIGUEL — The City Council meeting opened with smiles as council members recognized Girl Scouts one by one.
But such happy moments didn’t last too long.
For more than an hour during the Tuesday, Aug. 1 meeting, embattled Mayor Jerry Slusiewicz questioned Interim City Manager Stephen Erlandson and other staff about the city paying West Coast Arborists $409,694 more than the contract limit for tree trimming services over two years.
City staff acknowledged they made the mistakes of breaking the spending cap and not following purchasing procedures in this instance.
“The issue is that the West Coast Arborists contract was not amended to include the additional work performed, but the City Council’s intent, including Jerry’s, was to have the work done,” Erlandson had told the Register Thursday. The city has been removing trees that died from beetle infestation.
But Slusiewicz went further to claim malfeasance, suggesting it could be part of a larger problem in a city that contracts with more than 670 vendors.
“These are taxpayer monies,” Slusiewicz said as he questioned City Attorney Terry Dixon. “The city attorney just admitted to the council, to everybody, that we don’t follow the rules when it comes to your money.”
“No, that’s not what I said. I said in this one case,” Dixon responded.
At one point, Councilwoman Laurie Davies told Slusiewicz not to intervene when city staff is answering his questions or put words in their mouth.
“You aren’t a judge and jury here,” Davies said. “So please, could we please listen to what they have to say? Be respectful.”
Slusiewicz has recently come under fire over allegations of bullying staff members and seeking favors for his position.
On July 24, the council voted 4-1, with Slusiewicz opposed, to hire outside legal counsel to look into these allegations. The council scheduled a special meeting on Monday, Aug. 7 to hear the results of the investigation and to discuss removing the mayor.
Slusiewicz contends the move to remove him is an effort by the council and city staff to protect former City Manager Rod Foster, whom Slusiewicz claims is responsible for overpaying West Coast Arborists.
His fellow council members agreed Tuesday that the…