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City Attorney: should the position be Elected or Appointed?

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Presentation on theme: "City Attorney: should the position be Elected or Appointed?"— Presentation transcript:

1 City Attorney: should the position be Elected or Appointed?

2 “The City Attorney is to be elected by the people. This is a guarantee that the legal head of the government will be able to fearlessly protect interests of all San Diego and not merely be an attorney appointed to carry out wishes of council or mayor.” Excerpt from a 1931 election brochure which asked voters to change the San Diego City Charter and elect an independent City Attorney. San Diego City Charter and elect an independent City Attorney. San Diego voters approved the recommendation

3 CityName AlbanyRobert J. Zweben ComptonLegrand H. Clegg, II Huntington BeachJennifer McGrath Long BeachRobert E. Shannon Los AngelesRockard Delgadillo OaklandJohn A. Russo Redondo BeachJerold A. Goddard San BernardinoJames Penman San DiegoCasey G. Gwinn San FranciscoDennis Herrera San RafaelGary T. Ragghianti League of California Cities Elected City Attorney’s Roster

4 City, StateName Batesville, ArkansasScott Stalker City of Williamsburg, VirginiaMike McGinty Claremont, North CarolinaBob Grant Columbus, OhioRichard C. Pfeiffer, Jr. Conway, ArkansasMike Murphy Danville, VirginiaWilliam H. Fuller, III Jacksonville, TennesseeRobert Bamburg Jacksonville Beach, FloridaStephen Stratford Maumelle, ArkansasJaNan Davis Milwaukee, WisconsinGrant F. Langley North Little Rock, ArkansasPaul Suskie Plant City, FloridaKenneth W. Buchman Reno, NevadaPatricia Lynch Reynoldsburg, OhioJed Hood Rogers, ArkansasBen Lipscomb Russellville, ArkansasTrey Smith Seattle, WashingtonThomas A. Carr Sherwood, ArkansasSteve Cobb South Milwaukee, WisconsinJoseph Murphy Springdale, ArkansasJeff C. Harper Springfield, GeorgiaCharles W. Barrow St. Louis, MissouriJennifer Joyce Stevens Point, WisconsinLouis J. Molepske Washington, MissouriMark Piontek Wisconsin Rapids, WisconsinSusan C. Schill Nationwide: Elected City Attorneys This is simply a sampling of cities throughout the United States who elect their City Attorney instead of appoint.

5  1975 – Sparks Articles of Incorporation (Sparks City Charter) passed by Nevada Legislature: Sec. 1.060 Elective Officers; Qualifications; salaries Sec. 1.060 Elective Officers; Qualifications; salaries 1. The elective officers of the City consist of: a) A Mayor. b) Five members of the Council. c) A City Attorney. d) Municipal Judges, the number to be deter- mined pursuant to section 4.010. Why is the Sparks City Attorney Elected Today?  Voters said:  7,893 “Yes”  670 “No”  1974 – November ballot question to Sparks voters:  Should the office of the City Attorney of the City of Sparks remain elected?

6  1979 – Reno Gazette Journal Editorial:  “ The object of a democratic government is to let the people decide who their officials will be”  If the Sparks City Attorney is appointed “…the voters would then be almost entirely disenfranchised” Prior Efforts to Change Sparks City Attorney’s Elected Status to Appointed  1979 – Sparks considers changing its Charter to appoint instead of elect its City Attorney

7  1990 – Sparks City Attorney’s Opinion: Prior Efforts to Change Sparks City Attorney’s Elected Status to Appointed  City Attorney’s task of providing impartial, accurate and complete legal advice to city staff and the city council.  Appointment results in the city manager controlling the city attorney through the power to hire, fire and salary.  Election frees the city attorney to speak out against legally incorrect or ill-advised actions.  All three local governments in Washoe County are served by an elected attorney.

8 1991 - Pursuant to a request by its Charter Committee, Sparks City Council placed an Advisory Question to Sparks Voters:  Should the office of the City Attorney of the City of Sparks remain elected?

9 1991 Editorial; Reno Gazette Journal “Sparks city attorney choice should remain with voters” “There are some government jobs that simply should not be appointive. This (city attorney) is clearly one of them.” “If a city attorney is appointed, he would be constrained in attempting to act independently. He would owe allegiance to the city manager and other elected officials first – not the public. If he’s elected, he is an integral part of the check-and-balance system.” “Our View – Advisory Question: Vote “YES” to keep job on ballot. Don’t let it be appointive.”

10 1991 - Pursuant to a request by its Charter Committee, Sparks City Council placed an Advisory Question to Sparks Voters:  Should the office of the City Attorney of the City of Sparks remain elected?  Voters said: “Yes”

11 Underlying Themes for Retaining Elected Position for Sparks City Attorney  Citizen’s ability to exercise their right to choose their representative to public office  Public accountability  Integral part of the check and balance system  Independent legal advice without fear of losing job/salary or benefits

12 Public Criticism of Appointed City Attorney  July, 1999  “nothing more than the legal arm of the city bureaucracy”  “The single greatest barrier to citizen aware- ness”  “Fails to serve the people of the city” Capital Times, Madison, WI

13 Public Criticism of Appointed City Attorney  August, 2000  Primary allegiance is not to Madison’s citizens, but to Madison’s bureaucracy”  “…they’ve lost sight of their responsibility to the citizens of Madison…due to lack of independent leadership.” Capitol Times, Madison, WI

14 Public Criticism of Appointed City Attorney  September, 2000  “The City Attorney’s Office needs new leadership and a new approach…One way to get both is to turn the selection process over to the voters”  “The (City Attorney’s) office has been a barrier to open government…” Capital Times, Madison, WI

15  April, 2002 Advantages to Having an Elected City Attorney  The person who is elected would be a resident of the city with a commitment to the community and its people.  The person who is elected would be inclined to make decisions with an eye toward the public interest, as opposed to the special interests of municipal officials who now direct the City Attorney’s office to erect barriers to public access to information.” Capital Times, Madison, WI

16  October, 2004  “…being elected and having some independence allows him and his staff to give clear-eyed advice,…”  “The independence of being elected gives you that ability to give pure, unfettered legal analysis…What I tell my staff is we are the attorney for the corporation, but your job is to call it as you see it and let the politics fall as they may.” San Diego Union-Tribune – Quote from Oakland’s Elected City Attorney, John A. Russo Advantages to Having an Elected City Attorney

17 What the Mayor and Sparks City Council members have to say about keeping an elected City Attorney

18 Councilman Phil Salerno says: “Keep it elected, I am against changing the City Attorney to an appointive position”


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