Sunday, November 09, 2008

Why Chula Vista mayor Cheryl Cox doesn't want an elected city attorney

San Diego Union Tribune, South edition
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 government. 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 pension underfunding 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 accountability.]

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.]

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