Merced Mayor Mike Murphy and City Manager Steve Carrigan butted heads publicly this week after the administrator did not share cannabis survey results with the council before its members voted on marijuana-based businesses.
The city hired Oakland-based Lew Edwards Group to conduct a survey on whether residents support cannabis-based businesses and taxes on them, among other questions, according to Carrigan.
He said the results came in just a few hours before a council meeting and had not been developed into a strategic plan to sell a special tax on marijuana to voters so he held onto them.
According to the survey, about 53 percent of Merced residents supported allowing marijuana-based business while about 47 percent did not, Carrigan said. About 66 percent supported a special tax on cannabis purchases.
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"I didn't see that adding to the conversation in any way," Carrigan said on Wednesday, adding the results favored marijuana businesses.
Murphy said he did not want to renew the contract with Lew Edwards Group, voting an "emphatic no" during the previous day's City Council meeting. But, the rest of the council disagreed, and the contract was extended for $70,000 by a 6-1 vote.
The passage of Proposition 64 opened up the options for cities that want to allow cannabis-based business.
The results of the survey came in on Nov. 20, about two hours before the City Council approved cannabis-based businesses including dispensaries, according to Carrigan.
Officials with the Lew Edwards Group did not immediately return a request for comment. The firm is also working with the city on its potential ballot measure to help pay for the next police station.
Murphy said he's not sure the survey would have changed any council members mind, but said the consultant should be transparent with its findings.
"Our residents are essentially divided on cannabis in our city," he said. "We're the policymakers. We need to make this decision."
He went on to say he was "disappointed" that Carrigan, too, did not share the survey's results. "It's disappointing," he said. "As mayor, I want the best information. That produces the best decisions."
The firm had been specifically told to keep the council informed on survey results, Murphy said.
Councilman Matthew Serratto said he did not know enough about the survey and the decision not to share the information to comment on it specifically. "I think as a general matter, we'd like to know as much as we can," he said.
Councilman Michael Belluomini said he supported the contract extension because the city is in a time crunch to get a special marijuana tax on a ballot.
"I think it's unfortunate that they failed to follow direction from the mayor and staff," he said. "But, (the survey) didn't reveal anything largely different than we knew."
Merced County voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized the adult use of marijuana, with 54 percent approval.