Controversial Lindsay City Councilman Steve Mecum has resigned.
The councilman notified City Hall of his departure by email earlier this month. The resignation became effective July 12. Interim City Manager Bill Zigler said they have had no other word from the often absent council member. Mecum gave no reason for his resignation in the surprise email.
“None,” Zigler said. “It wasn’t expected.”
Mecum was often a source of disruption on the Council when he was present at its meetings, which was infrequently. Last year, Mecum missed eight of the roughly 20 regularly scheduled meetings of the Council. He also missed all its special sessions, budget planning meetings and ethics classes, and skipped all sessions of the county Economic Development Committee after being appointed to represent Lindsay.
The lack of attendance forced the Council and staff to cover the same ground during meetings the errant Mecum did attend to bring him up to speed. He often fought with his fellow council members during public sessions, interrupted them at will and was the sole opposing vote on issues frequently. Notably, Mecum voted against hiring a consulting psychologist to help the Council set common goals and establish a code of ethics. The meeting was held. Mecum did not attend.
He missed both meetings in June, and had he not resigned would likely have missed a third on July 13, possibly forcing him off the Council.
“This is presumptive on my part, but Mr. Mecum has had trouble making it to meetings,” Zigler said, speculating on why Mecum submitted his resignation. “This meeting would have been his third missed meeting in a row, and the Charter doesn’t allow that.”
‘Nightmare in Lindsay’
Perhaps most damning, calls came for Mecum’s resignation following the revelation of sworn testimony from a former police officer who said Mecum, Mayor Ramona Villarreal-Padilla and Mayor Pro-Tem Rosaena Sanchez encouraged him to file a wrongful dismissal suit against the city in an attempt to discredit its former manager. The manager, Rick Wilkinson, eventually resigned, receiving the large severance pay package the officer alleged the council members were attempting to avoid by encouraging his lawsuit.
The officer settled out of court at a cost of $90,000 to the city.
Those incidents, along with other allegations of impropriety, were the subject of a Tulare County Grand Jury report entitled Nightmare in Lindsay. The report–which is available in its entirety online at ourvalleyvoice.com–found the payouts to former city employees caused much of the financial strain under which Lindsay now labors.
‘Read My Lips’
Mecum also contributed to Lindsay’s budget shortfalls by following in the footsteps of the first President Bush, who famously quipped “Read my lips: ‘No new taxes!’” Taxes eventually went up under the watch of the elder Bush, but Mecum was more steadfast. He opposed attempts to raise taxes and increase rates for city services despite operating losses and a wide budget gap.
“I’m against this,” Mecum said when he declined to consider asking Lindsay residents for a 0.5% sales tax increase, killing the issue with his no-vote, “and I make no bone about it.”
The city was underwater to the tune of just under half a million dollars at the time. Lindsay’s current budget runs a deficit of $500,000 to $600,000.
Still Hurting, Still Hoping
Ironically, saving resources and the falling cost of fuel are hurting the city’s bottom line now. Utility tax revenue is dropping as water is conserved during the drought, and increased solar power generation has cut into the electricity industry’s bottom line, Zigler said. The statewide minimum wage increase is costing the city, too, and so is loss of state gas tax revenue.
“It’s an unfunded mandate, and so it makes our situation worse,” Zigler said. “Gas taxes will go away, because the state needs to maintain its operation as the cost of gas goes down.”
Mecum’s departure may clear the way forward. Previous discussion of a sales tax increase was halted by a 3-2 vote, with Mecum and Sanchez opposing. If the person tapped to replace Mecum is more amenable, the proposal could end up in front of voters.
“I’m hopeful,” said Zigler. “Mr. Mecum was one of those opposed to raising any additional revenue. He would not entertain anything that would raise revenues for us.”
Possible sales-tax revenue figures will be presented to the remaining council members at their next meeting.
Mecum’s term would have ended in November, had he completed it. Now, the Council can handpick its next colleague.
“What happens is if a position has been vacated and there are 90 days or more left on their term, the Council must appoint a replacement,” Zigler said. “We’re already soliciting input about who’s interested in sitting on the Council.”
Would-be city leaders may submit letters of intent and resumes to City Hall for consideration. The Council will discuss the candidates and their qualifications at an August 3 meeting.
“My hope is in the first or second meeting in August they will make an appointment to fill Mr. Mecum’s seat,” Zigler said.
Attempts to reach Mecum for comment were unsuccessful.
Lindsay City Hall is located at 215 E. Honolulu Avenue. The Council will meet there at 6pm on August 3.