COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Fifteen words or less

By Sheila Cameron

There has been a lot of media coverage of the harassment complaint filed by Encinitas Councilwoman Teresa Barth. The issue has been distorted and muddied and needs some clarification.
Glenn Sabine is the Encinitas city attorney. His job is to give sound legal advice to each individual council member as well as to legally guide the council as a whole. That is his primary job. He reports to no one else.
For this, the taxpayers pay him a healthy salary of more than $200,000 a year. We also give him an office and assistants.
Councilwoman Barth went to the city attorney to file a complaint against Councilmen Jerome Stocks and Dan Dalager based on the city’s “zero tolerance” policy against harassment. Her complaint of verbal harassment, hostile work environment and retaliation was based on her right as a city employee.
If Mr. Sabine knew the law, he could have immediately given her an answer in “15 words or less.”
If Mr. Sabine was ignorant of the law regarding the status of whether a council member was considered an employee under the rules regarding elected officials, he could have taken 20 minutes to look it up!
The answer would have been clear — “Elected officials are not considered employees and Barth was not covered by the city’s employee policies.” The action should have ended there. No money would have been spent.
Instead, Sabine and City General Manager Phil Cotton turned this simple legal question over to an expensive Los Angeles law firm, which apparently is no smarter than Mr. Sabine. They took months and siphoned off more than $15,000 of our tax money to answer a question in “15 words or less.”
Which begs the question, who is actually responsible for running up this bill?
Stocks and Dalager have accused Barth of mean spiritedness. If there is any mean spiritedness that has been exhibited by a council member, it is not Teresa Barth. She has shown herself to be an honest, straightforward representative of the citizens of this city. She does her job with integrity and without malice toward anyone.
In contrast, we have seen malicious, inflammatory personal statements against their colleague in the San Diego Union-Tribune, North County Times and The Coast News by Councilmen Stocks and Dalager, who went to great lengths to malign her. They attacked her positions on open government and the Brown Act and her request to put items on the agenda for public debate — for example, the cutting down of the trees in Orpheus Park. The failure to agendize that subject for a public hearing had citizens all over this city in an uproar and created a lot of ill will.
A teacher/aide at Paul Ecke Central School told me that Dan Dalager went to the school and ripped the teachers and students for protesting against cutting down the beautiful trees. That park was created as a partnership between the school district and the city, and the teachers and students are entitled to exercise their First Amendment rights. In cutting down those trees and planting other unsuitable species, city staff violated the master plan for that park.
Councilwoman Barth’s lone voice was saying “Wait a minute, let’s discuss this publicly at a City Council meeting before these trees are cut.” She was the only one watching out for the people and the integrity of the park. She showed leadership; the male council and city manager showed disdain for the citizens and for the public process.
I believe revenge was on the menu and extracted by denying Barth the position of deputy mayor. Dalager told the media that he would never support her for mayor. In fact, she would be mayor now, if any council person had had the grace to step aside, as all of them have been mayor previously.
What was the ultimate conclusion by the law firm? In 15 words or less: “Elected officials are not considered employees and are not covered by the city’s employee policies.”
When approached by Barth, this statement should have been the first thing out of attorney Sabine’s mouth. He is responsible for the process reaching this point today by his failure to know the law and speak those “15 words or less.”

Sheila S. Cameron is former mayor of Encinitas.


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