By Raiza Giorgi
Tempers flared and name-calling ensued at Wednesday night’s Solvang City Council meeting as personal attacks against a former councilwoman led to her removal from the city’s Board of Architectural Review (BAR).
In the special meeting Wednesday night Mayor Ryan Toussaint, who says he wants to move forward, kept bringing up past issues he has with former Councilwoman Joan Jamieson. He used an email Jamieson sent recently to other BAR members as the reason to remove her from the BAR, alleging she violated the Brown Act for sending the email.
The situation started when Jamieson “replied all” to an email from city staff announcing the cancellation of the most recent BAR meeting, which sent her reply to all the other BAR members. City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt said that action potentially violated the Brown Act, which lays out the rules for public meetings in California.
The email in question with Wullbrandt’s response to Jamieson was sent to the California News Publishers Association, which has staff that is expert in Brown Act violations, and in their opinion, Jamieson’s email was permissible because it didn’t “attempt to influence” the City Council’s vote or take any BAR action outside of a public meeting.
“Jamieson’s email simply asks members to attend the public meeting,” according to Brittney Barsotti, staff attorney for the CNPA.
“I am the city attorney and I can’t read the email in another way, and she intended to do more than just say BAR got canceled,” Wullbrandt said.
During public comment, local attorney Peter Laird agreed with the CNPA opinion and cited California Government Code, saying Jamieson didn’t attempt to influence the council.
Solvang business owner Kenny “Esko” Lama then accused Jamieson of being racist towards him and trying to get influence his landlord to get him kicked out of his business location.
When Jamieson took a turn at the podium, said she doesn’t know Mr. Lama’s landlord and has never tried to do such things. She also said she was shocked to see the agenda item to remove her, and asked why city officials had not first tried to talk to her.
“This email I sent was informational only, and the email from Chip (Wullbrandt) was very accusatory. I obviously don’t have the power you think I do, as none of the BAR members showed up to the meeting,” Jamieson said.
She maintained that she has the right to send an informational email and she didn’t break the Brown Act. She then asked Toussaint if she got “a do-over.”
When the discussion came back to the council, Toussaint cited his reasons for placing the item on the agenda, beyond the potential Brown Act violation with her BAR email. He accused her of attending an allegedly secret meeting of the former Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau, and claimed that members of the previous council told him he needed to support the SCVB and Chamber of Commerce to get elected.
Toussaint also brought up minutes from an Aug. 28, 2017, City Council meeting which he believed showed that Jamieson also attempted to “buy back” a piece of property from former Councilman Ed Skytt, who had been off the council for less than a year. (See the separate story below.)
From the audience, both Skytt and Jamieson yelled that the claim wasn’t true, and Toussaint then raised his voice and demanded that decorum be restored.
Toussaint said it bothered him that Jamieson was present for the allegedly secret SCVB meeting at the “Dolphin Club,” even while the council was trying to recover assets from the tourism group.
“That was not a legal meeting, and … no public person I was aware of knew about it,” Toussaint said.
Jamieson then announced from the audience that she was resigning and walked out. Then other audience members started yelling at the council.
Toussaint wouldn’t accept her resignation and moved to remove her from the BAR with Councilmembers Chris Djernaes and Daniel Johnson voting yes before Councilwoman Karen Waite stopped them because there had been no discussion between the motion and the vote.
“I am completely disappointed in this agenda item. To me, with all due respect, Ryan, this comes across as personal vendetta. This is not a front I want to represent, being supportive of a personal attack and relieving someone of their position. She (Jamieson) has long served this community in honorable and outstanding capacity. I am absolutely against this. This should have been a conversation in person, as we all make mistakes. Simply Brown Act retraining, and we could all could use that.
“When you continued on, it became very personal, and to go after publicly when you have councilmember sitting on this dais (referring to Djernaes) in similar situation for other events that occurred,” Waite scolded.
Djernaes interjected, “You bring this shit up. You knock it off,”, and Toussaint scolded Djernaes for interrupting Waite.
Djernaes agreed recently during a small claims case in Santa Maria Superior Court to resume payments for a personal loan allegedly related to campaign debt, according to a Noozhawk article published Jan. 5. The loan was not listed as required in his campaign-finance reports, which would be illegal.
On Nov. 4, Yuba City resident Meghan Rose McCarthy, a former friend, filed a small-claims court case against Djernaes, for failing to repay her for a loan of more than $10,000 to repay his debt from several individuals that loaned him money for the campaign. The cap for small claims is $10,000.
The article says the first-term councilman’s woes may not be over since the loan was not disclosed as required by the California Fair Political Practices Commission on his Statement of Economic Interests, or Form 700, filed as part of his 2018 campaign.
The meeting recessed for several minutes after the heated discussion, and the council resumed their meeting, which went on until 11 p.m.
To watch the entire meeting, go to www.youtube.com and search for “City of Solvang.”
Potential city purchase of property disputed
At the Jan. 15 City Council meeting, Solvang Mayor Ryan Toussaint said one of his reasons for removing former Councilmember Joan Jamieson from the city’s Board of Architectural Review was that she had tried to have the city buy a piece of property near Hans Christian Andersen park from former Councilmember Ed Skytt in 2017.
From the audience, both Jamieson and Skytt denied the accusation.
The minutes from the council meeting of Aug. 28, 2017, show there was a closed session that night about a piece of property the council was interested in purchasing. Before the closed session, Jamieson said she had been approached by someone who wanted to discuss the city purchasing a vacant lot.
Then-City Manager Brad Vidro said the second topic wasn’t eligible for that closed session, as the city had never talked about purchasing or been approached to purchase the second property. He said it would have to be a future discussion item.
Then-Mayor Jim Richardson and Jamieson said that as a courtesy to the person they wanted to at least discuss it, but the Star cannot find any record of the discussion going any further.
The person Jamieson alluded to was former councilman Ed Skytt, who owns a vacant parcel near Hans Christian Andersen Park. Skytt was recently accused of improprieties by another former councilmember, Solvang resident Fred Koval, for trying to get the council to “buy back” Skytt’s vacant lot, and trying to get city staff at the time to get a lot-split adjustment approved “under the radar.”
At the Dec. 9, 2019 meeting, Skytt spoke about his property, saying the city never owned his parcel, so they couldn’t “buy back” something they never owned, as he bought the property in the 1980s from a private person.
“It has been in escrow for over 800 days. At no time has Jamieson been involved in my lot. When I split the lot in 2017 it did not have a certificate of compliance. It was created in the 1950s when the county took a sliver off for Chalk Hill Road. We had a meeting with the county to verify what had been done and additional requirements I needed to get my lot a certificate of compliance,” Skytt said in December.