The City of Long Beach has started taking applications for an interim city attorney to complete the remaining term of City Attorney Robert Shannon, who retired on July 2.
The City Council voted 5-3 in closed session at its July 12 Council meeting to start interviewing candidates for the position. Shannon’s term ends on July 14, 2014, and prospective applicants have until July 26 to apply.
Résumés and cover letters are to be submitted to Long Beach Human Resources Director Deborah Mills, who will, along with City Clerk Larry Herrera, review each applicant’s qualifications and recommend five candidates. The City Council will then conduct closed-session interviews.
The Council voted against Shannon’s recommendation to keep Acting City Attorney Charles Parkin as the City’s top legal advisor through next year. Parkin, who has a 28-year career with the City and was promoted last year as the assistant city attorney, was appointed to serve as acting city attorney on a temporary basis after Shannon retired.
With the 2014 election just around the corner, the Council’s decision to field candidates for the temporary job appears to be an effort to keep an open process and stray from the appearance of political bias.
But still, 5th District Councilmember Gerrie Schipske, who voted against fielding candidates, said in an emailed statement that whoever is appointed to serve out the term would get a boost in the election if that person decides to run next year, and opening up the field would only make the situation more political. She said prohibiting applicants from seeking public office if chosen goes against First Amendment rights.
“Some argue that whomever the City Council selects will have an advantage in the 2014 election for city attorney,” Schipske stated. “This may be unavoidable, but the City Council should not make this situation any more political by soliciting resumes from potential candidates.”
She added that the city attorney is not directly employed by the City Council like the city manager and that selecting an interim city attorney outside of the office would be “asking for trouble,” especially with the list of pending litigation and other legal matters being handled by the attorney’s office.
Long Beach is one of only 14 incorporated cities in California in which voters elect the city attorney. In the rest of the 464 cities in the state, the City Council appoints a candidate to the position. In Long Beach, the city attorney is elected every four years and has no term limits.
Shannon, who has worked as an attorney for the City for 39 years and was first elected in 1998 and then re-elected three times (in 2002, 2006 and 2010), told the Council in a memo on July 1, however, that publicizing for candidates to fulfill his term would only “send a negative signal to the office and staff.”
Shannon stated, “Long Beach is best served by the appointment of an experienced managing municipal attorney from within the office,” indirectly adding that Parkin is the only existing city attorney that fits the description for the job.
Shannon noted that the City is facing more than a dozen “significant” legal challenges in the next year.
Upcoming litigation includes: a lawsuit the City filed against the Port of Los Angeles and a railroad company; the disposition of hundreds of properties formerly owned by the City’s redevelopment agency; a $2.4-million claim against the City filed by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power; and legal action brought by the City’s largest employee union.
Shannon also noted that, in the last 50 years, city attorneys in Long Beach have taken on the position after first serving in the office for a number of years and have neither held nor sought further political office, in contrast to the political problems that he said have “plagued elected city attorney’s offices in cities such as Oakland, Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino.”
According to the job description, the city attorney is the “sole and exclusive legal advisor of the City, City Council, and all City commissions, committees, officers and employees.” The selected candidate will receive pay of $247,857 annually at $118.75 an hour.
Composed of five divisions (administration, workers’ compensation, harbor, departmental counsel and litigation), the city attorney’s office operates with a staff of more than 63 full-time-equivalent positions, including 21 attorneys, and had an operating budget of $8.9 million last fiscal year.
The city attorney must be a resident of Long Beach and must be qualified to practice in all the courts of the State of California for at least five years.