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Oceanside City Manager Forced Out; City Pays Him $289,000

Sixteen months after Steve Jepsen was hired as Oceanside’s city manager, he was forced out of the job Wednesday by a majority of the City Council.

The action wasn’t a total surprise because the council agenda said a closed session was being held to review and possibly dismiss Jepsen. The council voted 3-2 to give him a $289,000 settlement that includes 15 months of salary, earned leave and holiday pay.

Voting against the settlement were Councilmen Jack Feller and Jerry Kern, who were two of the three councilmen who voted to hire Jepsen in October 2013. The other was Gary Felien, who lost his re-election bid last fall to Chuck Lowery.

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Lowery is part of a new majority on the council that includes Mayor Jim Wood and Councilwoman Esther Sanchez. All three voted to approve the settlement to get Jepsen to leave.

Jepsen, who also was Oceanside’s city manger from 2000 to 2006, issued a statement after the council vote and suggested personnel decisions were behind his departure. He said that “hiring and promotional practices need to remain merit based at all times.”

Feller, who praised Jepsen for his service, said in comments at the meeting that the mayor had tried to get the city manager to hire a city public information officer who had been Wood’s campaign spokesman when he unsuccessfully ran last year against county Supervisor Bill Horn.

Wood disagreed with Feller’s description of what happened, but he declined to elaborate because he said he wanted to take the high road.

Lowery, who supported the city manager leaving, said it was due to a difference in philosophy and work expectations.

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“That was the most demanding of all the decisions I had to make,” Lowery said. “I went to the public and took opinions of the people who counted to me, who think about what they’re saying. And I also went to city staff and got comments from them that helped me decide.”

Deputy City Manager Michelle Skaggs Lawrence will serve as interim city manager while Oceanside launches a nationwide search for a replacement for Jepsen.

Jepsen said that after 35 years in public service a settlement agreement to leave the city manager’s post would not have been “my first choice for an exit strategy.”

“Oceanside has been described as a city with much potential, that has never been more true than today,” he said in his statement. “Oceanside is on track for greatness which can only be sped up by positive policy guidance. I remain hopeful that my departure will allow the council to focus on (a) proactive agenda for services to the residents of Oceanside.”

Jepsen said he intends to retire and look for volunteer opportunities.

Corrected: April 24, 2024 at 2:31 AM PDT
Promise Yee is a North County freelance writer. Contact her at promise.yee.1@gmail.com. Twitter: @promisenews. Facebook: promise.yee.1.