County supervisors gave the go-ahead Tuesday for a new department to plan an international airport at the former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station but went out of their way to praise the performance of County Executive Officer Jan Mittermeier, who some suspect may sue them for establishing the new office.
Mittermeier, whose mother is ill, was not at work and did not attend the board meeting. But her attorney, Wylie A. Aitken, called the board's action a breach of Mittermeier's contract and a weakening of the county's management structure she initiated six years ago.
"If forced to leave the county, [Mittermeier] will do so with great pride and a deep sense of personal accomplishment and satisfaction after a wonderful career of 25 years," Aitken said.
Tuesday's action, which must be ratified next week, would establish the Local Redevelopment Authority to oversee airport planning. At a closed session today, county supervisors will discuss which candidates might be suitable for the new position of executive director and who might fill in on an interim basis.
Should the board approve that action next Tuesday, Aitken said, supervisors would effectively be terminating Mittermeier because her contract calls for her to oversee all county matters, including El Toro. The severance terms of her contract would take effect 30 days after adoption and she would be due about $170,000 in severance pay, Aitken said.
In recent years, Mittermeier has fought with board members over the scope of her job. Many view Mittermeier as frustrated by the recurring battle over her authority and by an antagonistic relationship with supervisors who oppose an airport being built at El Toro.
Though supervisors have disagreed with Mittermeier's management of the massive project, they complimented the executive officer in their statements.
"This is by no way a reflection on our CEO," said Supervisor Jim Silva, who moved for a new department. "But this is to establish the position of an executive director who needs to report to the Board of Supervisors."
The board was not in complete agreement about the new office.
Chairman Chuck Smith said he believes the department may be "temporary, like a special task force," that might be absorbed by county government in the future.
Supervisor Cynthia Coad was confident the new office would establish a more open planning system by having "full disclosure" of the airport planning process. Antiairport supervisors have accused Mittermeier of concealing public information and sabotaging their efforts to learn more about airport-related expenses.
In related business, supervisors failed to agree on filing a lawsuit against the State Lands Commission, which has delayed a decision on whether to give the county police authority at El Toro.
The action is necessary before the Navy can approve a master lease for the former base and essential to keeping the base open after July 1 for a variety of community activities, including a golf course, RV parking, child care center, horse stables and swimming pools.
Transferring police powers for El Toro has been opposed by South County cities fighting the county's plans to build a commercial airport there. The cities argued that the transfer was the first step toward building an airport.