Four directors of the Costa Mesa Sanitary District unanimously voted Thursday night to pursue litigation against Director Jim Fitzpatrick, contending that his prior simultaneous service on the district and the city’s Planning Commission were incompatible and that he should be removed from his district seat.
The move came after Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and Deputy Attorney General Daniel G. Stone issued an opinion this week giving the district the authority to pursue the lawsuit.
Four of the five directors – excluding Fitzpatrick – met in two closed sessions before deciding after each one to go ahead with their lawsuit to oust Fitzpatrick.
The second closed session was called after Fitzpatrick, citing at least five emails sent to the board members in his defense, urged the directors to consider those toward their rationale and that they be part of the public record.
“They don’t care what I have to say, what members of the Assembly have to say, or the members of the public,” Fitzpatrick said. “Their intention is to remove me from office at all costs to the ratepayer.”
He repeated his past statements Thursday that he feels the case is more about a personal grudge and his questioning of some district policies.
Fitzpatrick was elected to the Sanitary District in November 2010. He later resigned his planning seat in an effort to keep his district position. Despite the move, the directors have continued to seek legal action against him.
Assemblyman Allan Mansoor (R-Costa Mesa) has said he will introduce legislation that will show that service on a city planning commission is inherently compatible with service on a sanitary district.
“I’m disappointed that they wish to spend ratepayer money to address this issue when a no-cost option is available,” Fitzpatrick said in reference to Mansoor’s legislation. “What’s the rush? There is no harm to the district by having me serve.”
Mansoor said a state Assembly bill from 1970 shows that any “activity within the scope of a city’s legislative body is compatible with service as a sanitary district director.”
As of press time, the directors were not available for comment and were conducting their regularly scheduled meeting.
Sanitary District counsel Alan Burns wrote earlier this week that the attorney general’s opinion “makes it clear that an office holder cannot pick and choose which incompatible position is kept, but that by ‘leapfrogging’ positions, the first incompatible office held is forfeited when the second one is accepted.”
Director Bob Ooten, who was president of the board until Thursday, when he took a new board position, has called the opinion “a substantial verification of what the board of directors has asked for.”
“The basic opinion was Fitzpatrick did not win on a single point,” he told the Daily Pilot on Wednesday. “They actually increased their concerns for his incompatibility of office.”
Ooten has contributed some of his own funds in the case against Fitzpatrick, the total costs of which, as of July, amounted to more than $25,000.
Planning Commissioner Robert Dickson attended the board meeting at the district’s West 19th Street headquarters to support Fitzpatrick.
He contended that legislation will make the entire saga moot within a matter of months.
“The precedent is very clear … it seems clear that this board is not interested in considering that the legislation run its course,” Dickson said.