By Ed Martin, The Leader Editor

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, thus spoke Marcellus to Horatio upon seeing the ghost of King Hamlet in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” on a misty night outside Elsinore Castle. The ghost, for those Shakespeare aficionados, is a treatise on the mystery of King Hamlet’s death, and the anxiety it creates among the people of Denmark.

Marcellus seems to imply with his famous words that the future of Denmark is a dark and frightening one, and sees the appearance of the ghost as an ill omen that foretells turmoil in Denmark’s future.

“Hamlet” may also be a metaphor for Lemoore City Hall, albeit in not so quite a dramatic fashion. However, recent actions by the Lemoore City Council have many wondering if Lemoore might not suffer a similar fate as poor King Hamlet’s Denmark?

A few weeks ago Lemoore’s city manager was sacked by the Lemoore City Council, done in the dead of night with a phone call from the mayor to Jeff Briltz while he was out of town. Thus began a series of events that leads some observers to wonder who exactly is running this community, a group of committed city leaders, or a bunch of amateurs.

As of this writing, The Leader is leaning toward amateurs.

As a former mayor and city councilmember for 18 years, I have no problem with council members wanting to take a different direction, whether to change their manager, cut costs, or streamline city regulations. City managers work at the pleasure of the city council and historically the average tenure is three to four years on the job. Such is the volatility of a position that reports to elected officials.

However, valid reasons for terminating a manager must exist, particularly one who has served with distinction and efficiency. In this case City Manager Jeff Briltz left a striking imprint on the City of Lemoore, guiding this community through a disastrous nationwide recession and the loss of the Redevelopment Agency, an important tool in the revitalization of communities throughout California. His talents were obvious. He left the city in solid financial shape, including leaving the next city manager with a balanced budget and a healthy $6 million reserve.

Lemoore remains a safe place to walk at night and the future indeed is bright. The economy is recovering and builders are returning to Lemoore, planning and building new homes for new residents. The California Department of Finance reported last week that Lemoore is growing at twice the clip of our neighbor to the east, Hanford, and we’re over 25,000 in population now.

The city manager wasn’t the sole casualty in this Shakespearean comedy.

Less than a week ago, members of the city’s planning department were basically handed their walking papers, told to leave the planning department and not speak to anyone. Officially the three members, which included longtime Planning Director Holly Smyth, were placed on a leave of absence.

This was done before the council even had an opportunity to discuss and vote on a staff report from Mayor William Siegel that calls for the immediate elimination of the Planning Department. The report is on the May 7 agenda, but somehow, without any council action, there are three Planning Department employees sitting at home wondering why they can’t come to work.

While Siegel sat on the budget review committee, the only department singled out in his report to the Council, was the Planning Department. Nowhere in the report is there any mention of any other department and what the results of the city-wide review were, nor were there any alternative recommendations for council members to consider. And according to Planning Director Holly Smyth, she wasn’t even interviewed by Siegel as part of the budget review process.

Siegel, interim City Manager Jeff Laws and Finance Director Cheryl Silva were supposed to meet with Smyth to review her department and budget. However, Siegel cancelled and did not show up, or bother to reschedule the meeting, according to Smyth.

The Planning Department seems an odd choice to eliminate considering the importance of wise planning for a community like Lemoore. In fact, the Planning Department’s staffing budget has already been cut by over $96,000 since 2008-2009. The 2013-14 outlay called for an increase to $189,573.

At the crux of this fiasco I fear is a belief that government is much too pervasive and that burdensome regulations have stifled growth and driven prospective business out of Lemoore, a comment heard not only in Lemoore, but also in California. If only city, county and state governments would cut the red tape say government detractors, then we’d all be much better off.

Well perhaps, perhaps not.

Reliable sources tell me that Siegel and his cronies gave Briltz orders to streamline the red tape, and when he didn’t act quickly enough he was forced out.

Good city planning works to improve the welfare of people and our community by creating more convenient, equitable, healthy, efficient and attractive places to live for this generation and future generations. Good planning leads to a better quality of life for a town’s citizens, and it allows our leaders, businesses and the people to play a role in creating a community that people can feel safe when they walk the streets at night.

Good planning also leads to the attraction of business and industry.

A large part of Lemoore’s planning philosophy over the years has been to create a livable community where citizens can afford quality homes in great neighborhoods, with good streets and parks, where businesses can move their goods and services on good streets and efficient rail, both of which Lemoore enjoys.

Often council members are questioned by special interests who may feel burdened by planning requirements or fees that they say force them to look elsewhere. The truth of the matter is those same special interests may work to get a particular council member or legislator elected in hopes of relieving them of what they consider unnecessary fees or regulations. Furthermore many of those special interests, when cornered, can’t identify which federal, state or local, air district, IRS law, or local or state building code is the true burden.

Unfortunately there are many regulations a planning or public works department has to deal with, whether local, state or federal. Granted there may be ways to reduce the impact of regulations on prospective businesses. However, in my experience the regulations and fees were hardly the determining factors in whether a business located to Lemoore. Quite often the factors that determine whether a business or industry locates in Lemoore has to do with the availability of a stable work force or a readily available commodity, such as milk for Leprino’s two mozzarella plants.

In his staff report, Siegel is citing a $179,000 severance payout to Briltz and approval of a $125,000 compensation package for the police department to justify eliminating the Planning Department. This is simply nonsense. The city currently has a $6 million reserve that could easily absorb what in effect is a one-time cost. Furthermore, if Mayor Siegel had done his job he could easily have found cuts in other departments and spared the Planning Department.

Certainly there are cooler heads on the Lemoore City Council who will recognize the importance of planning to Lemoore and send this report back to where it belongs: on the scrapheap of dumb ideas.

Furthermore council members need to reinstate the planning director and her staff and let them get on with the work of planning for Lemoore’s future. And if our so-called city leaders were really smart, they’d bring back Jeff Briltz and let him continue doing the job he was already doing so well.

I wish I could believe Lemoore’s council members would heed my advice, but I fear my words are lost on deaf ears. Marcellus may have been correct in his assessment to Horatio: There is something rotten in the state of Denmark.