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Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why It Should Matter How Your Next City Attorney Is Selected

After 39 years of service to the City of Long Beach, City Attorney Robert Shannon has retired. The City Attorney is elected by the voters every four years (without term limits) which is unique in California as most City Attorneys are appointed. (City councils directly appoint the city attorney in 464 of California’s 478 incorporated cities. 

Of those, approximately two-thirds are contract city attorneys from outside firms; the remaining one-third are hired as in-house city attorneys. Voters directly elect their city attorney in eleven charter cities and city managers appoint the city attorney in three charter cities.)

The City Attorney's Office consists of 68 employees, including 21 attorneys. Their duties are set forth in the City's Charter, which provides that the City Attorney shall be the sole and exclusive legal advisor of the City, City Council and all City commissions, committees, officers and employees. He/she is charged with municipal legal responsibilities as complex as any in the state. 

The City Attorney must be a resident of Long Beach.

When a City Attorney leaves office before the completion of his or her term of office (Shannon’s term ends in 2014), the City Charter and Municipal Code provide that the City Council shall designate an Assistant City Attorney or Deputy City Attorney, who shall become the Acting City Attorney and shall serve in that position until the City Council appoints a successor for the unexpired balance of the term. Any person serving as Acting City Attorney must possess the qualifications prescribed for the City Attorney.

Upon Shannon’s retirement, the City Council selected Assistant City Attorney Charles Parkin as Acting City Attorney. Mr. Parkin is a resident of Long Beach and has been serving in the City Attorney’s office since 1995 and as Assistant City Attorney since 2012.

There are 12 months remaining for the balance of the term for the City Attorney and there are some on the City Council who are advocating to solicit resumes and to have the City Clerk and the Human Resources Director review the resumes and recommend 5 candidates to the City Council for interview. The interview process would take place in closed session out of the view of the public. (see link to League of California Cities suggested ways to recruit and select a contract City Attorney. 

This process would make sense to replace a City Manager who is employed directly by the City Council, but not for a City Attorney. Selecting a successor City Attorney who is not currently employed in the Long Beach City Attorney’s office is asking for trouble, especially when you see the list of pending litigation and other legal matters currently being handled by the Office of City Attorney.

Some argue that whomever the City Council selects will have an advantage in the 2014 election for City Attorney. This may be unavoidable but the City Council should not make this situation any more political by soliciting resumes from potential candidates. (Applicants cannot be prohibited from seeking public office if chosen because of First Amendment rights.) 

What is more important is that the Office of City Attorney continue to work on the issues pending. For this reason, I agree with outgoing City Attorney Robert Shannon (see link to his memo  ) that the City Council should leave in place the current Assistant City Attorney, Charles Parkin, until the voters elect a new City Attorney.
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