ENCINITAS — At least 100 people gathered in front of City Hall before the regular City Council meeting on Oct. 13 to attend a “citizens revolt.” A group of self-described “concerned citizens” staged a protest against what they consider to be questionable business practices and ethics violations within the city government.
“We need T.N.T. from our government,” Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident Andrew Audet told the crowd. “Trust and transparency.”
“After voting favorably for friends who have business before the city, our mayor, Dan Dalager has shown us the tip of the iceberg of corruption at the ‘pay for play’ City Hall,” according to the group. Audet told the crowd that, “City Hall is not for sale.”
Steve Meiche, a Leucadia resident, called for Dalager’s resignation. In fact, when a large number of the protesters went inside to attend the City Council meeting, Meiche and Audet made their demand directly to Dalager. “It’s ridiculous what you’ve done, you need to step down,” Meiche told Dalager. “If you get elected again, we’re going to recall you.”
Dalager called the resignation demand election year politics and dismissed the allegations of ethics violations. He has stated publicly that he “screwed up” by not reporting a $100,000 loan on forms required by elected officials as well as accepting a deeply discounted set of kitchen appliances from a person with business in front of the council.
Meiche also questioned the management of the city’s interim city manager, who retired this summer but has been retained on a monthly salary of $15,000 until a replacement is hired. “I’m disgusted in you,” Meiche told Cotton. “City Hall stinks.”
Others expressed concern about the unsustainable pension obligations that the city has and said that the true financials are being covered up. Charlie McDermot told the crowd that the financial obligations have caused a “tsunami of pension costs.”
“These are superior obligations which means that they get paid before any other city services,” McDermot said.
Access to public documents was another topic of concern the group brought up. Attorney Diane Bond said the council repeatedly violates the state’s open government law — the Brown Act — by giving inadequate notice of closed session meetings to the public. “They (council members) destroy city related e-mails, they keep documents from the public by labeling them drafts,” she said. “This is completely against the spirit of the law.”
“I think it’s too bad that we have to march in order to be heard,” Patricia Townsend said. “I’m not very politically involved and I generally think things are OK with the city, but if this is even a little bit true we need to get some answers,” she said.