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Changing job description? Allison K. Sampité | Sat, Mar 03 2012 12:00 PM

The Chula Vista City Council voted 3-2 to add a measure to the June ballot that would ammend  the city's charter with relation to its elected city attorney.

Chula Vista Councilman Steve Castaneda said he put the language together with Councilman Rudy Ramirez and Chula Vista resident Earl Jentz due to conflicts with the current duties of the city attorney.

Outside counsel Thomas Brown of Burke, Williams & Sorensen was retained to provide legal analysis and advice for the proposal.

Mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan opposed the proposed amendment.

If the majority of the public votes yes, the measure would revise the duties and compensation of City Attorney Glen Googins and create a new office and position of legislative counsel to advise council on specific issues.

Googins currently earns $208,000.

“All I’m looking to do is change the charter so when the city attorney has a conflict on a particular issue … that we receive advice from legislative counsel,” Castaneda said.

Ramirez said he is asking for straight advice that’s depoliticized.

“We’re a country and government of laws, not of men,” he said.

Brown said the initial measure created a conflict arising from the fact that the council cannot override the city attorney’s professional responsibility to determine his or her own conflict.

He also said the measure created potential personnel issues and risks of litigation by simultaneously designating the position of legislative counsel as both a classified civil service employee and an at-will employee.

For example, he said that a situation could arise when two council members take opposite positions on the same issue and each requests legislative counsel to advise them on a position.

In order to place a measure on the June 5 ballot, a resolution must be filed with the County of San Diego by March 9, including full text, a ballot label and council authorization.

Of issue to some council members, was whether the measure could be placed on the ballot without prior submittal to the city’s Charter Review Commission or Board of Ethics, but Brown said that wasn’t an issue.

Bensoussan, who vehemently opposed the measure, said money could be better spent on the well- being of the city.
While the city faces a $3 million budget deficit for the 2012-13 fiscal year, one ballot measure could cost up to $190,000, depending on it’s length, according to the County of San Diego Registrar of Voters.

However, staff said that the actual cost of the proposed ballot measure would depend on the salary and benefits set for the new position as well as the cost of any support staff.

Chula Vista resident Kevin O’Neil spoke in opposition to the measure.

“Many of you could go to multiple attorneys on the same questions — that would be chaos,” he said. “Other than your desire to have an independent council, I don’t know that you’re trying to fix something that doesn’t need fixing.”

Castaneda assured the council that the elected city attorney position is not going away.

“The city attorney will still deal with 99.9 percent of issues,” he said. “This streamlines the city attorney’s role as it relates to the City Council. It provides the City Council with an avenue of obtaining legal analysis and advice outside of an elected individual, when things are political in nature.”

Googins told the council if they don’t think the city attorney serves the council they should do away with the position.

“…But don’t create something that creates a conflict of interest … don’t undermine it,” he said. “Don’t try to fix it with an ambush that skips the deliberative process.”

Googins said the proposal substantially undermines his authority.

“The irony for me in some respects about the relationship, is if anything, an elected city attorney eliminated the conflict and enabled him to be more independent,” he said.

Bensoussan said the proposal negates the purpose of having a charter review commission.

“It imposes term limits when this was overwhelmingly voted on by the voters that they did not want term limits,” she said.

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