McElroy: Hit Piece Sources Left Snail Tracks

By Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

There aren’t many people in Santa Barbara possessed with the rare combination of public policy chops, political smarts and communitarian principles as retired fire chief Pat McElroy.

A Gaucho Old School Deadhead who served as a city firefighter for 37 years, McElroy learned local governance first-hand from a wide range of perspectives, including two decades as a union leader and a career-capping five-years as chief.

The Poodle once labeled him “the best natural politician operating in Santa Barbara County that nobody ever voted for,”and his vast network of connections has expanded since his retirement three years ago, amid an avocational occupation with the non-profit/volunteer universe, most notably his leadership of the Partnership for Resilient Communities, organized in the wake of the Montecito catastrophe.

Pat returned to Newsmakers TV last week with multiple matters on his mind – and on his chest.

On policy, he expressed his most urgent concern that the city act swiftly to consign some earnest money towards a new countywide emergency services dispatch center: “This is like a once-in-a-generation opportunity and Santa Barbara’s got to commit to it,” he said.

On politics, the ally and adviser to mayoral challenger Randy Rowse panned the performance of the current City Council, for a dearth of non-partisan, non-politically calculated, intelligent pragmatism — a key campaign theme of former council member Rowse: “As the decades proceeded, to win in a city election, you had to get about 8,000 votes. That’s what it took. The current council, all six of them are there with 8,900 votes total, all six offices, 8,900 votes total. And they range from a high of 3,237 in one district to zero in another.”

For hardcore political junkies, most notable in the interview is McElroy’s extended expression of scorn and anger for an unidentified, politically hungry, small cabal, consisting, he said, of several real estate players, a pushy politician or two and a couple of impatient and ambitious city bureaucrats, whom, beginning last year, he asserted, collectively impelled the reporting of a “hit piece” — that famously flawed Los Angeles Magazine article which inaccurately insinuated alleged cannabis corruption at City Hall.

Their purpose was to advance what amounted to a behind-the-scenes soft coup attempt against City Administrator Paul Casey, former Department of Development Director George Buell, former Police Chief Lori Luhnow, and her former top aide, former SBPD public information officer Anthony Wagner, McElroy claimed.

“And there were people, high ranking people in administrative posts in the city of Santa Barbara, openly talking in public about where everybody would end up if he got rid of Paul. ‘How would that advance my career?’ ‘How would I end up here?’ ‘And what if we get rid of George Buell first and then Anthony Wagner next?’ And Chief Luhnow just got tired of the whole thing and left, and then it was, ‘let’s get rid of Paul.’

“But the thing is now, if you think of the people involved, when this article was being first looked at, public enemy number one was George Buell. Well, he’s gone. Anthony was always on somebody’s list. The other person they wanted to damage was chief Luhnow. Well, she retires. So, by the time this article comes out, she’s gone…

“And Paul was probably the ultimate target to be weakened.”

Less than six months before the city election, McElroy’s comments are likely to fuel recriminations and reckonings inside City Hall, along with speculation about litigation over the controversial magazine article, as well as debate in the mayor’s race about a proposal, set forth by mayoral wannabe Deborah Schwartz, to weaken the City Administrator’s authority and give more power to the elected mayor and council.

“There’s definitely going to be litigation” (arising from the story), McElroy predicted. “There’s some people around town who should be awfully nervous.”

“It’s not like there’s not snail tracks all over the place of where this came from,” the former chief told Newsmakers.

You can watch our conversation with Pat McElroy vis YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here.


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at

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  1. RHS, I agree. I watched this interview, and the one he did with Randy Rowse a year ago, and thought wow, Pat has moved into the Grumpy Old White Men crowd, with Randy. These two would really love to steer us back to about 10-15 years ago, when they were kings around here and everything was apparently fine. Well I remember those times, and things were not fine. Fire in particular was not exactly a great community partner. Police were better at that, shockingly. While the insight on City Hall Intrigue around ousting George Buell, and perhaps Paul Casey, is kind of interesting, it also tells you what Pat is doing with his day: stirring the pot.

  2. Having Pat McElroy offered as an impartial observer is rich. He lived in the crappy political world of the fire fighters union and the government insiders. Like most firefighters he spent a lot of his ‘down time’ schmoozing and angling for advantage. He has no record of accomplishment that gives him status and certainly he has no objective competence to say that district elections are a failure. Yes, he would like to go back to city wide elections but that is only because they are easier for machines to dominate. Democracy needs to be close to the voters so that they can actually know the candidate.

  3. Who the heck ever said McElroy was an impartial observer, or wasn’t one to stir the pot? Certainly not him. No record of accomplishment? Where were you during the fires and other major emergencies he led this community through? His advocacy at the State level on needed reform will change the Fire/EMS service forever for the better. Seems to me that he has rankled the very people who need rankling. McElroy is a shit disturber, but he is a principled and honest public servant. He’s got his sites on people in our community who aren’t, and I say good for him.

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