HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif.—Voters will decide in November whether to give the city council the power to override the elected city attorney by hiring outside legal counsel.
The city council voted for the ballot measure on June 21, among a few others.
Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates told The Epoch Times it would give the city council “unbridled authority” over the city’s legal affairs, which “compromises people’s choice about who they are.” real of the city lawyer”.
“The city charter and the vote of the people designate me as the sole legal, exclusive and legal adviser to the city, no one else,” Gates said.
It comes after weeks of residents’ disapproval of council’s interest in changing the position of elected municipal prosecutor to appointed, although council ultimately decided against it.
Several residents in the public comment portion of the meeting claimed that the council believed voters were not wise enough to elect the best officials.
But Councilman Dan Kalmick said: “I think our residents are not stupid.”
He said the city attorney as department head should be appointed like other roles in the city, such as the police chief.
“The city attorney is not the city council’s independent watchdog” because he cannot act without following council rules, Kalmick said.
Councilor Kim Carr said issues around elected office were becoming increasingly politicized, and Councilor Natalie Moser agreed.
“It’s a technical position,” Moser told the board, and “we want to make sure we’re not acting based on a few people, but rather [choosing] from a pool of good candidates” whom they consider to be in the public interest.
In the end, the council concluded that it did not care whether the position of city attorney was elected or appointed, just that the position was filled by the ideal professional person. They also agreed that time limits were unnecessary.
“You are free to give advice and we are free to accept or reject your advice,” Pro Tem Mayor Mike Posey told City Attorney Gates during the meeting.
Several public commentators objected to the ballot measure, saying they did not want the council consulting with other lawyers whom voters did not elect.
In response, Mayor Barabara Delgleize said, “At the end of the day…seeking a second opinion does not remove…the City Attorney’s authority.” Delgleize explained how normal client-attorney relationships allow clients to consult with a second attorney.
According to the council, because they are already hiring outside attorneys, this vote would not change much, it would only clarify that the council controls all legal affairs in the city.
“We hire outside legal services all the time,” Councilwoman Carr said, praising Gates for his service but adding that it’s impossible for the city to solve every legal problem in-house.
But Michael Gates said outside lawyers are only hired “minimally”.
“If I need a specialist, I hire sparingly on a consultation-only basis, just a few hours at a time to save taxpayer expense… Otherwise, we do all the legal work in-house “, did he declare.
Voters will also choose whether to continue to elect their City Clerk and Treasurer or whether to be appointed by their City Councillors.
City councilors formed a special committee to revise the city’s charter, which proposed 18 new amendments on June 7.
Two weeks later, City Council voted 6 to 0 – with Councilman Erik Peterson absent – to create four ballot measures:
- Focus on language and technical changes in the charter, including changing the term “mayor pro tempore” to “vice-mayor,” inserting gender-neutral terms, and making it easier for council to cancel a scheduled meeting if necessary.
- Removing the requirement that city attorneys must attend a law school accredited by the American Bar Association and requiring that the city clerk and treasurer meet minimum qualifications when filing a candidacy or nomination.
- Move the City Clerk and Treasurer from elected to appointed positions.
- Give the city council control of all litigation and legal matters, who can consult outside lawyers in the event of a conflict of interest involving the elected city attorney.
The next steps are for city staff to prepare and send back the final written ballot measures for council’s consideration at the July 5 meeting.