Sanitary District moves to oust board member
Citing the potential for conflicts of interest, the Costa Mesa Sanitary District will seek a court order to remove Jim Fitzpatrick from his elected position on its governing board.
Board members voted Tuesday to seek Fitzpatrick’s ouster, arguing that his role with the Sanitary District conflicts with his role as a city planning commissioner, a position he’s had since 2009.
Fitzpatrick argued that there is no conflict of interest and that some of the other board members conspired to kick him out because they do not like the types of questions he poses.
In a closed session, the board voted to seek a “quo warranto” suit, where a judge rules whether a board member can legally retain two seats believed to be in conflict.
Fitzpatrick was not permitted to attend the section of the meeting that dealt with him. While the board decided his fate, Fitzpatrick was literally left out in the cold.
He spent the time outside the Sanitary District’s 19th Street headquarters, standing in the brisk morning wind and chatting with reporters and two supporters: Costa Mesa Parks and Recreation Commissioner Ethan Temianka and John Agamalian, president of SoCal Sweeping.
Fitzpatrick said the board’s issues with him are personal and are possibly payback for his 2010 election win over incumbent Arlene Schafer.
Board members told Fitzpatrick last week and in meetings before then that their issues with him serving are rooted in principles and legal issues, not personal disagreements.
When the closed-session meeting ended, officials announced the board would retain Meyers Nave, a Los Angeles-based law firm specializing in public agency affairs.
The lawsuit will cost between $10,000 and $15,000 to file, with the process climbing up to $50,000, if Fitzpatrick chooses to defend himself against it.
Sanitary board President Bob Ooten cited two legal opinions that Fitzpatrick’s seats are incompatible. One was from Meyers Nave, which submitted its opinion last week and is now taking on the lawsuit contract; the other was from district’s counsel, Alan Burns, who voiced his concerns in 2010.
However, Fitzpatrick maintains a section of California’s Health and Safety Code contains a caveat that excuses legislators from being disqualified for sanitary district seats. The exemption applies to City Council members, such as Mayor Gary Monahan, who held concurrent seats on the council and on the Sanitary District board.
Ahead of the vote Tuesday, Fitzpatrick’s requests to seek his own legal opinion on the issue and to delay the vote were rejected by his fellow board members.
“You just want to blow through this and move on your merry way,” Fitzpatrick declared. “What is the rush to judgment here? The board has made up its mind, and come hell or high water, spend whatever it takes to move forward on this item.”
He said the board was “ambushing” him and said the item concerning him was added to the agenda Saturday, when he was out of town.
The board, however, agreed to add the item during Thursday’s meeting, when Fitzpatrick was in attendance.
“He accuses us of doing things not based on any factual merit,” said board member Mike Scheafer. “I’m very concerned that I’m getting accused about doing things I frankly didn’t do.”
It could take weeks or months before the district hears if it can move against Fitzpatrick in court, officials said.