Elected City Attorney

Chula Vista, California

Election of city attorney to add to political storm

By Tanya Sierra

November 8, 2008

CHULA VISTA – In June 2010, the political landscape in Chula Vista will
change again, this time in the office of the city attorney – which some say
will be a powerful position at City Hall.

Voters said clearly on Tuesday that they want to elect their city attorney,
the way it is done in San Diego, Los Angeles, Long Beach and other cities.

The elected city attorney, though, will be stepping into a political tempest.

Chula Vista's four council members and the mayor have said they do not
believe that politicizing the City Attorney's Office is in the best interest of
the city.

Councilman Rudy Ramirez, who debated the issue in community forums
several times, said it will be difficult to hold the elected city attorney

“We are so dependent – as nonattorneys – on that advice for a lot of the
decisions we make and the direction that our city goes in,” Ramirez said.
“We're at the mercy of that person and that person's advice.”

[Blogger's note Nov. 9, 2008: The voters apparently want the city
attorney to look out for them, and not just for elected officials.  For
too long, the city attorney has considered his/her job to be to help
officials do whatever they want to do, and get away with it.  Perhaps
there should be two city attorneys--one to give legal advice, and
the other to defend officials.]

Community members who lobbied for an elected city attorney say City Hall
needs accountability, and that will come with an attorney elected by the

No residency requirements will be placed on the position, so an attorney
who lives in North County could run for the office.

“Hopefully the person that runs does so because they respect and honor
the law and truly represent the people and city of Chula Vista,” Councilman
Steve Castaneda said.

As with City Council candidates, those interested in the city attorney
position can take out nomination papers with the City Clerk's Office 113
days before the election.

Last month, Chula Vista resident John Moot, an outspoken attorney who is
a partner in a San Diego law firm, said he would run for the office. This
week, after the proposition passed, he said he would have to wait and see.

“A lot depends on how this economy plays out,” Moot said in an e-mail.
“Fortunately, the election is not for two years and there is time to see where
both the economy and the City Council is in a year or so.”

Having Moot, a former Chula Vista councilman, in office could further divide
the council.

Moot has been an vocal critic of Castaneda and is closely aligned with
Mayor Cheryl Cox, even though he is a Democrat and she is a Republican.

In the meantime, officials must decide whether to make interim City Attorney
Bart Miesfeld permanent until the election. Miesfeld has been filling in since
Ann Moore retired this summer, saying she wanted to be an attorney, not a
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By Cheryl Cox, Mayor of Chula Vista
October 25, 2008

Do voters really want one more politician in Chula Vista?

[Blogger's response: The City Attorney already IS political in Chula
Vista.  The job of the appointed city attorney seems to be to make
sure that the voters don't know what's going on behind closed
doors, and to insist that conducting business as usual is perfectly
legal.  The city attorney's current job is to help elected officials do
whatever they want to do by coming up with a legal justification and
sticking to it, no matter how much it violates the letter or the spirit
of the law.  We learned how much you like to operate in secrecy,
Cheryl, from your shenanigans when you were a board member in
Chula Vista Elementary School District.  We just don't like it.]

Proposition Q would create more politicians and more politics. Proposition
Q is bad for Chula Vista.

Does turning the position of Chula Vista's city attorney into a political one
make better government? No.

Does it make what a city attorney does more transparent? No.

Does it make the position more accountable and less corruptible? No.

Chula Vista's city attorney is an appointed professional whose duty is to
protect Chula Vista taxpayers by providing legal advice to the mayor,
City Council and city staff. While saying that the city attorney should be
more responsible to the electorate sounds like a good idea, it unwisely
burdens the city attorney with representing a consistently shifting idea of
what the “public interest” really is.

[Protect the taxpayers?  Is that what you call the Laurie Madigan
deal pulled off by the law firm, Stutz Artiano Shinoff & Holtz, that
has represented both you and Ms. Madigan?  And how about
protecting the people?  You weren't doing that when you
authorized the expansion of a power plant near Otay Elementary,
and a big giveaway to Gaylord.]

The city attorney's primary role is to represent and advise the municipal
This initiative would create a city attorney whose
primary role is to get re-elected
, regardless of the impact of campaign
politics on the best interests of the city and the increased possibility that
officials and departments might consider hiring, at taxpayer expense, their
own legal counsel to represent them.

[Come on, Cheryl.  The appointed city attorney knows very well that
his/her job is to get the people in power reelected.]

The City Council, city departments and agencies rely on fair, objective and
nonpolitical advice from the city attorney. Proposition Q isn't about good
governance. It puts in place a politician with a built-in incentive to
grandstand, litigate and use the office for political purposes.

We should not replace a competent professional with a politician.
For one
thing, politicians have to solicit campaign contributions.
Contributions from those with an ax to grind?

[Your appointed city attorney has to grind your axes, Cheryl, and
those of the entire city council.]

An elected city attorney has nothing to do with the size of a city's
population. It sacrifices competent, professional legal opinion for being
good at politics.
This would not be an independent voice! It would be
linked inextricably to the political influences of special interests
and electioneering.

[Heavens!  Do you mean that someone might point out to you the
negatives of something you want to do?  Horrors!  Keep your
hands tightly clamped to your ears, Cheryl.]

If Chula Vista elects a politician as its city attorney, the city is in trouble.

Has an elected city attorney worked well for San Diego? Ticket guarantees,
pension underfunding...

[Pension underfunding?  Okay.  Stop right there, Cheryl.  Casey
Gwinn, the city attorney who was involved in the
scam was sitting solidly in the lap of Mayor Dick
Murphy.  He was exactly the person that city officials wanted; he sat
silent when he should have given negative feedback.  He was just
your cup of tea.  It's city attorneys like Mike Aguirre that give you
the shakes, because they really do represent the people.]

...and millions wasted on politically motivated lawsuits? Proposition Q
doesn't restrict this type of behavior. It allows an elected city attorney to file
lawsuits without prior council approval.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said that he has “never asked Mr. [City
Attorney Mike] Aguirre for anything other than good, timely, well-
researched legal advice. To this date, I have not been able to get it. Mr.
Aguirre continues to wait until the last minute to put out legal advice, and
it's frequently in conflict with what he's told us before. . . . I can't get legal
advice that is really necessary when you run a $3 billion corporation.”

[Jerry Sanders was playing politics when he said this.  But I think
that we should give him his own appointed attorney. I think cities
should have two city attorneys, one for the public and one for the
officials.  And I think the public should hear what BOTH the elected
and the appointed attorneys have to say about each issue.  This
would put pressure on officials to make good choices.  An
appointed attorney thinks his job is to protect officials from

Today, Chula Vista's appointed city attorney doesn't have a vote. He's not
the sixth member of the council. And he (or she) shouldn't be.

[An elected city attorney wouldn't get a vote either, Cheryl.  Why do
you misrepresent the facts?]

The piece above was written by Cheryl Cox, mayor of Chula Vista.  Maura
Larkins wrote the responses.]