ENCINITAS — The swearing in of the city’s first appointed City Council member was not without controversy. Approximately 100 protestors gathered before the meeting Nov. 9 to listen to speakers give a voice to the opposition to the appointment of former Fire Chief Mark Muir who will fill the remaining year of the late Maggie Houlihan’s term on the council. He retired as fire chief Nov. 8.A crowd of Muir’s supporters filled the council chambers during the protest, wearing stickers that read “Thank you Mark.”
Outside, Ian Thompson told the crowd that the council majority of Mayor James Bond, Deputy Mayor Jerome Stocks and Councilwoman Kristin Gaspar “hand-picked” Muir to “add strength to their numbers.”
He said that Houlihan’s vision of a balanced council could not be achieved with Muir as her replacement. Muir’s appointment effectively dismisses the constituency who voted for Houlihan, Thompson said.
Bruce Ehlers, Houlihan’s longtime campaign manager highlighted Muir’s political involvement in local campaigns, including support for Stocks and Bond. He said Muir’s level of activity was far greater than that of a regular citizen and was sometimes done during working hours as a city employee.
Ehlers referred to the mantra of “conflict of interest, cronyism and potentially corruption.” He said Muir’s activities were a violation of the city’s code of ethics that states in part, “City employees should refrain from participating in the election of city council members.”
Signs were dispersed throughout he crowd that read “City Hall Crony” with a picture of the rear end of a skunk, as well as “Dump Stocks.” Deputy Mayor Stocks made his way through the crowd as he listened to some of the comments before the swearing in.
“This is the beginning of the campaign season,” said a Muir supporter who asked that his name be withheld. “It’s going to get ugly, but Mark has a lot of support and a lot of friends.”
In fact, Muir’s wife, Maureen “Mo” Muir, a trustee on the Encinitas Union school board, took their son and another child out of the council chambers in the middle of the public speaker session.
At least one speaker publicly voiced his support for Muir’s appointment. Greg Barth, no relation to Councilwoman Teresa Barth, said that almost every recent conversation he had with neighbors regarding the appointment “came to the same conclusion that Mark Muir was the right person for the job. His intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the city government put him above other qualified candidates.”
Dawn Redman told the council that she voted for Houlihan. “I want my vote to count.” “This is not the city of Encinitas’ finest moment,” she said. “Please represent the constituency that voted for Maggie, please don’t let me down.”
Mary Oren said the appointment of Muir went against Houlihan’s last wish, referring to a video played in the council chambers after her death in which Houlihan endorsed candidate Lisa Shaffer. “The council denied Maggie her final wish, but I just don’t think it was too much to ask for you guys to respect that,” she said. “The person in her place could not be more different and that concerns me.”
Anne Omsted, one of the city’s former Mayors and Council members, welcomed Muir to the city’s “exclusive club.”
“After hearing all this tonight I have to say I am so glad you’re here and I’m not,” she said.
“I feel like I’ve kind of lost faith in the city council to make ethical and responsible decisions,” said Bobby Virk, a local business owner. “The best thing would have been to appoint the person with the second highest votes (in the last election). That’s the citizens of Encinitas speaking, not three people.”
Virk was among several new faces to the council chambers. “It’s a wake up call for the election next fall for people to be more informed about the city council and what they’re doing now,” he said.