When Chula Vista voters passed Proposition C in June, it cleared the way for reducing the city attorney's salary, implementing term limits and hiring a legislative counsel when conflicts of interest arise within the City Attorney's office.
What wasn’t determined was who would draft the actual language of the law and who would be responsible for hiring the ad hoc attorney.
Those issues came to light during Tuesday’s City Council meeting when City Attorney Glen Googins offered a report on the requirements for implementing the law.
Googins recommended his office initiate a draft ordinance with the assistance of special outside counsel.
Ramirez opposed the suggestion, saying Googins’ involvement would politicize the process, and instead proposed the council hire an independent attorney to help them choose legislative counsel.
“I’m not comfortable allowing that (city attorney’s) office in any way have anything to do with the work ahead, without first having the opinion of an independent attorney,” Ramirez said.
Thomas Brown of Burke Williams & Sorensen provided legal advice about Prop. C in February.
Brown said then that the 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.
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan opposed Prop. C, saying it was never properly vetted in the community, among council members or with the ethics board and charter commission.
“The night that Mr. Brown advised the council when the Prop. C ballot measure was adopted, he said he was providing council with the enabling language for the measure so that council can write the ordinance anyway they want,” Bensoussan said.
Councilman Steve Castaneda proposed starting the search for an outside attorney through a request for qualifications that would outline how they would work with the City Attorney’s Office.
Ramirez suggested tabling the decision for further discussion when Councilwoman Patricia Aguilar was present.
However the council majority voted to allow Googins to solicit information on the selection of special counsel and provide it to council by Aug. 7, as well as alert the ethics and charter commissions that council is starting the engagement process.
“I think the drafting of the ordinance and its implementation … with outside counsel will help us end up with a better product,” Castaneda said.
Googins said the position of an elected city attorney by definition eliminates any conflict and enables him to be more independent.
“I would argue then and now that it does not create a legal conflict from my office,” he said. “It’s not a conflict but rather is integral to an efficient office going forward.”