A special meeting to talk about firing Solvang’s contract city attorneys ended abruptly on Wednesday evening because the mayor who called the session was absent.

The Solvang City Council, minus Mayor Ryan Toussaint, assembled for the 5:30 p.m. closed session calling for discussion of public employee discipline, dismissal or release of the city attorney.

Another closed session topic called for public employee appointment of an interim city attorney and special city auditor. 

But the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

At the start of the session, Councilwoman Karen Waite read a statement that she had not been notified of the meeting or subject matter before it became public.

“This proposed action to terminate the contract of our city attorneys, as listed in the subject matter of the closed session, 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 director of administrative services yesterday,” Waite said.

New City Manager David Gassaway, currently community development director for the city of Indian Wells, begins his new job on April 8. Sandra Featherson has served as director of administrative services.

“I am perplexed as to how and why this agenda has come forward, clearly without any discussion involving me and apparently without cause,” Waite said. 

She added that she has never heard any negative comments about the city attorneys, David Fleishman and Roy Hanley of Hanley and Fleishman, LLP in Atascadero.

“This idea of making changes to make changes, in my opinion, is not the way we should conduct city affairs,” she said. 

She made a motion to dismiss the meeting and cancel the closed session. 

Interim City Manager Rick Haydon confirmed that the mayor called the meeting. 

“I have tried talking to him regarding some of his reasons for this meeting,” Haydon said. “He said he was not at liberty to talk to me regarding that.”

Haydon suggested tabling the matter until Toussaint could be present.

Waite’s original motion failed on a 2-2 tie, with Waite and Mayor Pro-Tem Robert Clarke voting in favor, while councilmen Daniel Johnson and Chris Djernaes voted against it.

Instead, Djernaes offered an alternative motion to table the item until the mayor could attend and participate.

“We don’t know what he wants to do,” Djernaes said. “We don’t know what this meeting’s about. I think that tabling it’s a more appropriate action.”

That motion passed by a 3-0 vote with Waite abstaining.

“I’ll abstain from this because I don’t think this meeting should have ever happened,” Waite said.

Clarke adjourned the meeting without taking public comment.

The attorneys have filled the city attorney role for Solvang since at least 2006, and have worked for assorted other cities on the Central Coast and beyond. 

— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.