Truce in Oceanside Baby War : City Manager Suffers Public Abuse for Lack of Sitter

Times Staff Writer

Anne Elizabeth Foucault-Nelson, the 9-week-old adopted daughter of Oceanside City Manager Suzanne Foucault whose presence at City Hall has ignited controversy, can continue to accompany her mother to work until March 1, the City Council decided Wednesday.

After meeting for nearly two hours in closed session, the council voted 3-2 to set the deadline, then voted unanimously to formulate a policy on city employees' rights regarding children in the workplace.

Council members said they had not decided what would be done if the city manager failed to line up child care by the deadline.

For the last several weeks, Annie has spent two days a week in a corner of Foucault's office and accompanied her father, Del Mar City Manager Bob Nelson, to work the other three weekdays. The couple, whose adopted daughter arrived in December with only 10 days' notice, say the arrangement is only temporary, pending the hiring of a baby sitter.

The infant became an issue in Oceanside last week when Councilman Sam Williamson protested the infant's presence at City Hall as "disruptive of city business" and "unprofessional."

Citing numerous complaints from residents, Williamson called on Foucault to either hire a full-time baby sitter immediately or to take a leave of absence from her job as Oceanside's top employee. Several Oceanside residents who agreed that City Hall is no place for an infant addressed the council on the issue Wednesday.

At some points, their testimony was so shrill and accusatory that the meeting began to resemble a public tribunal, with some of those taking the podium literally challenging Foucault's qualifications for motherhood.

"A good mother will not care what she has to give up in order to look after her child," said Julia Rush, a self-described "mother of four and grandmother of 13" and one of Foucault's harshest critics. "I think it is time for her to step down and go home to take care of her baby."

Margaret (Mickey) McKenna, a one-time council candidate, joined in the chorus of voices denouncing Foucault, charging that with a combined "income of $100,000 a year" the couple "ought to be able to afford a baby sitter."

"I was pretty neutral on the issue until last Monday night . . . when the city manager had the baby here in the council chambers at 9 p.m.," McKenna said. "This is no place for a child. That child should have been home in bed where it belongs."

Sitting less than 10 feet from the speakers who attacked her, Foucault endured the barrage of criticism with her head bowed; at times, she appeared to be on the verge of tears.

Only one of the six people who spoke on the issue came to Foucault's defense.

"Personally, I think this is much ado over nothing," said City Treasurer Marvin Bledsoe, while several members of the audience jeered. "I've heard a lot of input, all positive. I think it makes it seem like Oceanside has a heart, like we're welcoming Annie down here at City Hall."

Apparently, three councilmen--Ted Marioncelli, Walt Gilbert and John MacDonald--agreed, and voted to grant Foucault more than a month to make other arrangements.

Mayor Larry Bagley joined Williamson in opposing Annie's continued presence at City Hall, saying, "I thought there were better alternatives discussed in closed session." He declined to identify those alternatives.

"I hope we stand out as a . . . city that has shown a little of the milk of human kindness here today," Gilbert said after the vote.

Williamson, however, maintained that "it is not proper to have a baby on the job. I think what the council has done here is create a policy that it's OK to have kids at work. I think that's wrong."

The crux of Williamson's protest, he said, is that Foucault is setting "a bad example" for her staff by bringing Annie to work.

"If I let Suzanne bring her child in, then I can't in good conscience say no when other city employees want to bring their kids in as well," Williamson said. "Soon, we'll be running a full-time baby-sitting service here."

Foucault, meanwhile, maintains that she is not the first city employee to bring her child to work. It is because of her high-profile job that she has become the subject of attention, she said.

For that reason, the council decided that an official policy on the matter is necessary. At the council's direction, Foucault will meet with representatives of city employee groups to discuss setting up a commission on the sensitive issue. The panel's goal will be to formulate a policy covering issues such as when it is appropriate to bring children to work, whether the child disrupts work, how long the child is allowed to accompany an employee on the job and what the city's liability for a child in the workplace is.

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