After gun store vote, 3 of 5 councilmen face ethics complaints

The members of the San Carlos City Council are, from left, Mayor Bob Grassilli, Vice Mayor Cameron Johnson, Mark Olbert, Ron Collins and Matt Grocott. Photo from the city website.

BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer

Three of the five San Carlos City Councilmen are the targets of ethics complaints following a contentious decision to halt the opening of a gun store.

Matt Grocott, the lone vote in favor of the gun store at a Nov. 13 meeting, was the subject of about a dozen complaints Mayor Bob Grassilli received within three days of the meeting. Then, as the complaints about Grocott became known in the community, other residents lodged grievances against Mark Olbert and Ron Collins. They were two of the four councilmen who voted for the moratorium to stop the store from opening.

It appears the complaints against Grocott came from opponents of the store while the complaints about Olbert and Collins were from those who supported the store.

Selection of mayor, vice mayor

The discussion of ethics investigations came on the same night that council picked its mayor and vice mayor for the coming year.

Grocott was vice mayor this year and would normally move up to the job of mayor. But last night he turned down the job of mayor. He said that he wasn’t planning to run for re-election next year and wanted to spend more time with his son.

Grocott then nominated Grassilli to stay on as mayor, which was unanimously approved. Cameron Johnson was unanimously selected as vice mayor.

 



 

The ethics complaints stem from a Nov. 13 council meeting that drew a standing-room-only crowd at city hall. Council voted 4-1 to impose a 45-day moratorium to stop a chain of Southern California gun stores, Turner’s Outdoorsman, from opening a location at 1123 Industrial Road, near REI.

Opponents of the gun store said they felt Grocott was disrespectful to residents during the meeting.

“I was deeply offended by (Grocott’s) behavior at the meeting. He was rude, condescending and disrespectful to you and those of us in attendance,” Nilu Jenks wrote in an email to all of council but Grocott.

Pastor’s involvement

During his remarks Nov. 13, Grocott mentioned that a pastor talked about the gun store with his congregation.

“It is not fair for this business to get as far as it has with an application and because a priest learns about it, a firestorm happens,” Grocott said at the Nov. 13 meeting.

Grocott was referring to Alan Gates, a pastor at Episcopal Church of the Epiphany.

Gates last night said he has received threats on social media regarding his stance on the gun store moratorium and expressed his discomfort with being mentioned in Grocott’s comments both at the Nov. 13 meeting and a subsequent discussion on the gun store moratorium on Nov. 27.

Grocott told the Post that Grassilli received 12 to 13 emails complaining about his comments at the Nov. 13 meeting, saying they perceived his comments as personal attacks or hurtful.

Grassilli said he has started an initial investigation into the first round of complaints, the ones about Grocott, and will give an update on whether an independent investigator should be hired to look into the issue further at council’s Jan. 8 meeting.

Grassilli will also look into the complaints about Olbert and Collins.

 



 

Complaints about Olbert and Collins also stem from the Nov. 13 meeting.

‘Hell, yes’

Last night, resident Romain Loprete said she felt Olbert and Collins’ behavior at the Nov. 13 meeting was also unethical. She said she took issue with Olbert’s “hell yes” vote for the moratorium, the two high-fiving after the moratorium was passed and Olbert’s comments about Grocott later in the meeting.

At the Nov. 13 meeting, Olbert said he was taken aback by the chastising tone of Grocott’s comments (though Olbert did not mention Grocott by name). Olbert said that is not “the general tone of this dais” when responding to residents.

Resident Andrew Taylor wrote on NextDoor that as a result of a public records request he and other residents filed regarding the moratorium, he believes that Olbert was “openly lobbying and politicking” before the meeting on behalf of the proposed moratorium.

Emails from Southern California

In the emails that were unearthed due to the records request, Olbert shares his opinion with people and even forwards some emails he’s received to Pastor Gates.
Taylor attacked Olbert for forwarding the emails to Gates and other proponents of the moratorium. But Gates pointed out that the emails Olbert sent him were from Southern California residents who wrote to the council, including one who called the council “S.O.B.s” for even considering the moratorium.

Grassilli said last night that there will be an update on this ethics investigation at council’s Feb. 12 meeting.

According to the city’s code of ethics, it is up to the mayor to investigate the allegations and recommend whether an independent party must look into the accusations further.

Collins said last night he didn’t want to comment on the investigation. Olbert did not return emails from the Post for comment.