Redevelopment Agency member Charles V. Smith was voted out as chairman this week after a bitter split decision by the City Council, in its role as the agency's board, to change rules on how that post is filled, a move denounced by opponents as politically motivated.
At the agency's meeting Tuesday, members voted 3 to 2 to change its bylaws so they require that the chairman be elected by the board each December. Agency members Joy L. Neugebauer, Lyn Gillespie and Frank Fry Jr. supported the change, and Craig Schweisinger and Smith voted against it.
Under the previous rules, the mayor automatically chaired the agency, the mayor pro tem assumed the vice chair post, and the rest of the City Council filled the other seats as regular members. However, Neugebauer moved to amend board rules to allow members to choose the chair themselves, noting that when the agency was created, the mayor was not elected directly by residents, but by the council members who rotated the position yearly.
"This (change) would enable the board to choose the person most able to lead the agency. . . . Our Redevelopment Agency would be better served," Neugebauer said before the vote.
After the rules to elect a new chair were approved, the agency chose Fry as chairman and Neugebauer as vice chair. Both votes were 3 to 2, with Gillespie, Fry and Neugebauer supporting the winning candidates and Smith and Schweisinger voting for themselves. Smith then turned over the meeting to Fry.
Before the vote, Schweisinger repeatedly asked why the rules change was necessary.
"I question the motivation at this time as to why agency member Neugebauer wants to change these bylaws," he said.
Commenting further Wednesday, Schweisinger added: "What they basically did last night was strip the power of the mayor for their political gain. This is election-year politics. Agency member Neugebauer slapped the mayor in the face last night, slapped him out of his seat."
He said the rule change denies residents the opportunity to elect, indirectly, the agency chair. He also alleged that the board majority had violated the Brown Act by deciding more than a week before the meeting to oust Smith, a charge Gillespie, Fry and Neugebauer denied.
Gillespie said she supported Smith's ouster because he allegedly withheld information from the other members and represented the agency on occasions without the other members' knowledge.
She further alleged that after one such instance earlier this month, the agency was forced to act on an urgent redevelopment matter with insufficient information.
Smith left on a personal trip to Ohio and was unavailable for comment. However, Schweisinger said Smith's behavior has consistently been proper and routine.