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Defying Masry, Council Votes to Keep City Attorney

Politics: Instead of being fired from his post in Thousand Oaks, Mark Sellers receives show of support from public and again during closed-door session.

March 29, 2001|MARGARET TALEV | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — In a rebuff to its most famous member, the City Council this week not only rejected Ed Masry's bid to remove City Atty. Mark Sellers but also gave the 18-year veteran a vote of confidence.

Since his campaign last year, Masry had repeatedly called Sellers incompetent. Most recently, he tangled with Sellers over the Western Plateau agreement, a city land swap that Masry felt unfairly favored developers.

A gruff trial lawyer who handled the case that inspired the hit film "Erin Brockovich," Masry said his action against Sellers was nothing personal.

"You have to understand, I come from an environment where we go to court, bash heads, call each other every name we can think of and then go out and have a beer together," Masry said. "My whole life has been confrontation, negotiation and understanding that when it's all over you go out and have a beer."

The council's actions came late Tuesday in a two-hour closed-door session following a regularly scheduled council meeting. Earlier, council members heard more than 90 minutes of impassioned public comment, with supporters of the city attorney outnumbering Masry supporters about 5 to 1.

In the closed session, Mayor Dan Del Campo and Councilmen Andy Fox and Dennis Gillette agreed to give Sellers a vote of confidence. Councilwoman Linda Parks joined Masry in opposing that vote. Parks also abstained in a 4-0 vote of confidence for City Manager MaryJane Lazz.

Masry said his actions would not affect his ability to get along with Sellers in the future.

"We move on," he said. "Sooner or later you have to work together for a common good."

Sellers declined to comment.

Council members, including Masry, refused to discuss the private meeting. Del Campo said Wednesday only that the votes of confidence were intended to restore "the credibility of the staff in total, the morale of the staff in total and the confidence of the public in the city's ability to operate on a day-to-day basis."

Fox said the city attorney and the city manager "have established a long track record of outstanding service to the residents of Thousand Oaks." Neither Parks nor Gillette could be reached for comment.

Masry has drawn criticism in his first months in office for bringing confrontational tactics to the dais.

But he said Wednesday he never wanted to handle the personnel issue publicly. He said somebody else last week leaked his intentions regarding Sellers' dismissal to reporters and in doing so incorrectly implied that he also wanted to oust Lazz, who has been with the city for 21 years.

In any case, he characterized the uproar over his proposal as an over-reaction.

"Maybe," he said, "people in public service should be a little more thick-skinned."

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