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Goleta Looks to Replace City Attorney After Requesting Tim Giles’ Resignation

When the Goleta City Council asked City Attorney Tim Giles to resign last week, it did so without having a plan to replace him.

This week, council members directed staff to work with the personnel committee to come back with potential interim candidates, who will likely serve for several months.

For a permanent replacement, the City Council will consider hiring another in-house city attorney or contracting with an attorney or a law firm for municipal legal services.

During a Jan. 10 closed session, the council voted 4-1 to request Giles’ resignation.

When he complied, the council voted 4-1 to accept his letter of resignation.

New councilmen Stuart Kasdin and Kyle Richards, who were elected Nov. 8 and sworn into office Dec. 6, made the motion against Giles, and seconded it.

Kasdin and Richards were joined by Mayor Paula Perotte and Councilman Michael Bennett.

Councilman Roger Aceves dissented.

All five council members voted to authorize the personnel committee — Perotte and Kasdin — to draft a severance agreement with Giles and have Perotte sign it.

Due to provisions of his contract, Giles will receive nine months of base salary as a severance payment. As of 2015, his annual base salary was $213,341, meaning he will be paid at least $160,006.

Giles’ resignation letter was obtained by Noozhawk through a California Public Records Act request.

In the letter, Giles states: “I have been informed by Melanie Poturica, your special legal counsel, a majority of the members of the Goleta City Council desire a change of legal representation and have requested my resignation as City Attorney to effectuate that change.

“Subject to executing a mutually agreeable separation agreement, I invoke Section V(C) of my employment agreement to process the separation pursuant to Section V(B) of the agreement, and on that basis hereby tender my resignation as City Attorney.

“I appreciate the opportunities I have had to work on exciting and challenging legal projects while representing Goleta. I wish the Council success in your future endeavors and will be available to assure a smooth transition to new legal representation.”

According to Giles’ employment contract with the city, if a majority of the City Council asks him to resign, he can do so and designate it as a termination for the purposes of getting severance — which is a lump sum payment of nine months base salary and accumulated vacation time.

In exchange for that severance compensation, Giles would have to execute a general release and waive all claims, according to his contract.

Giles’ last day is Jan. 24, and the city will not have an interim replacement by that point.

Members of the council would not comment on why they asked for Giles’ resignation.

“It’s the city’s policy not to comment on personnel matters,” Kasdin said in an email to Noozhawk.

“Unfortunately, because this is a personnel issue, I am unable to make a statement,” Richards said in his own email.

Bennett told Noozhawk that “we’ve been advised to keep our mouths shut.”

Aceves explained his dissenting vote, saying, “In eight years I’ve found Tim to be a highly qualified attorney. In my former life as a police officer, I had the opportunity to work with many, many attorneys and would put Tim up against any of them.”

He said the other council members “have their own reasons that I’m not privy to” regarding their votes.

“Quite frankly, we don’t have a succession plan, and that’s why there’s such a huge void,” Aceves said. “I wish council had thought about that so we could have a transition.”

Perotte did not respond to Noozhawk’s request for comment.

At Tuesday’s meeting, council members discussed the need for legal support for many “critical items” coming up on the city’s agenda, and voted to have the personnel committee compile a list of interim candidates — perhaps from a municipal law firm or a retired city attorney — who could fill in for several months.

City Manager Michelle Greene will work with Perotte and Kasdin to put together a list of candidates to bring back to the full council, but discussion of individual candidates will be done in closed session, she said.

Greene told Noozhawk that experience, availability, cost, familiarity with city legal issues and location — how close to Goleta — are all issues to consider for an interim position.

All the council members were supportive of moving quickly to get someone into the spot.

“Failure to maintain access to adequate legal advice and services could result in financial exposures to the city,” stated a staff report for the agenda item.

The council voted 4-1 to use that approach, but Aceves again dissented, maintaining that the full council should be involved in the hiring process for such a crucial position.

During the meeting, Aceves noted that he was a member of the City Council that had hired Giles, adding, “In the current situation, I was the one vote who didn’t want to move forward with the release.”

There was no mention at Tuesday’s meeting whether the city will consider appointing Deputy City Attorney Winnie Cai to the interim post. Cai, who has worked for the city since 2013, was present on the dais for Tuesday’s meeting in place of Giles.

The city attorney is one of two positions hired directly by the City Council, along with the city manager. Both Aceves and Bennett were on the council that hired Giles in 2008 as the city’s second legal counsel.

Attorney Julie Biggs worked pro bono for the pro-incorporation group that led the successful campaign to create the City of Goleta, and then served as a contracted city attorney from 2002 to 2008, Bennett noted.

Looking forward, Bennett said he supports hiring another in-house attorney, so council members, the city manager and staff can get access by just knocking on a door. A contracted, off-site attorney wouldn’t be as efficient or convenient, he said.

Bennett said he doubted there would be cost savings from moving to a contract position, but it would be an issue to consider.

Regarding the choice of hiring an in-house or contract attorney in the future, Richards said, “I believe this transition offers us an opportunity to discuss what’s best for the city of Goleta.”

“I’m very eager to learn more and engage in a discussion about the implications of this choice,” he said in his email to Noozhawk.

The city currently contracts with outside legal counsel for ongoing litigation, including the State Lands Commission case involving the agency’s approval of restarting Venoco’s oil-production facility at Haskell’s Beach and the Department of Finance case regarding Redevelopment Agency funds.

Part of the city attorney’s role was to manage all litigation and strategize with special counsel, Bennett said.

“Giles in my opinion was very good at that, picking firms and individuals that had expertise on particular issues confronting us, I wouldn’t expect any change there,” he said.

Aceves said his concern about releasing Giles was that the move came “without a real plan to move forward.”

There is a lot of ongoing litigation, including the Department of Finance case, on which millions of dollars of city money hang in the balance.

“If the city loses, we potentially have to pay $14 million back to the state and we, quite frankly, don’t have that kind of money sitting in the bank to do that,” Aceves said.

“I’m afraid that nothing’s going to get done and something’s going to get lost.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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