Sunday, November 09, 2008

Does Chula Vista need TWO city attorneys?

I suggest that cities need two city attorneys--one to give honest, accurate legal advice, and the other to defend officials.

The voters of Chula Vista want the city attorney to look out for them, and not just for elected officials. Shamefully, Cheryl Cox and other officials want to keep the status quo, in which the city attorney's job has been to help officials do whatever they want, and get away with it. Alternatively, the attorney tells the council what to do, and acts as a de facto city council without being elected.

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 accountable.

“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.”

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

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 politician.

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