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‘A’ and ‘B” Are Easy. ‘C’ is Complicated on the April 8th Ballot

There are three proposed changes to the City Charter on the City election ballot April 8th. Two of them are house keeping in nature. The third is not.  

Charter Amendments A and B should be approved. All they do is set the third week in May for swearing in newly elected City Council Members and the Mayor. Current charter language has Monday as the day. The Council no longer meets on Monday. By changing the time frame to the third week in May, flexibility is built in to the system. Makes sense to me.  

Charter Amendment C is more complicated.  According to current language, the Legal Officer, commonly called the City Attorney serves as legal counsel to the City Council and the Mayor(note the Council is mentioned first).  The Legal Officer/City Attorney is appointed by the Mayor, with advice and consent of the City Council. The term is four years.  There is no language in the Charter dealing with a mid-term termination of the City Attorney.

Out-going Council member Sue Aguilar brought to the Charter Revision Commission language, as she describes it “to give the City Attorney the independence needed to work with both the Council and Mayor.” She further states the language will provide “checks and balances.”

Here is the important language in the proposal:

“… the Legal Officer may be removed by the mayor during the mayor’s four year term of office only with the consent of a majority of the eight members of the council.”

The role of the Legal Officer/City Attorney is a unique one in City Government. The City Attorney has, in simple terms, two “clients.” The Mayor and City Council. When there is no conflict there are no problems for the City Attorney to serve both clients. When there is conflict, the Mayor may want to handle a legal issue one way, the City Attorney another, and the Council another.  

This proposal as Aguilar states provides “Checks and Balances.” In other words the Mayor can’t fire the City Attorney without explaining to the Council his reasons and receiving at least five council votes affirming his decision.

As a former Mayor, seeking permission from a part-time council to terminate an employee whose performance I am not happy with, would be very frustrating. On the other hand, the fact that the Charter states the Legal Officer/City Attorney serves both the Council and Mayor complicates the issue.

There are inherent problems when an attorney has two clients. Ethical conflicts abound. It is not an easy position to be in.

We elect the Mayor to run the administrative functions of the City. The Mayor should be able to replace employees who are not performing to the standards set by the Mayor. If the Council were to not grant permission to the Mayor to change the City Attorney, more conflicts would probably arise, slowing up both the administrative and legislative function of the City. The Council does have the authority and the money to hire outside council under special circumstances. At this point I think that is enough of a “Check and Balance.”

With respect, I am voting “No.”

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